The Missing Link in Motivation (Tapping into the Power of WHY)

Years ago, as a new high school athletic director, I found myself in a challenging situation.

Weighing in around 240 pounds, I was out of shape—and I had completely neglected my personal health. All of my focus was zeroed in on my job. Everything else was an afterthought.

And while this may have helped in the short term to get a lot of work done and excel at my job, long term, it was a recipe for disaster.

At the time, I thought “doing my job” meant giving that area of my life 100% of my focus.

Man was I wrong.

The truth is, by neglecting other areas of my life—like personal health—and failing to have any kind of balance in my life, I was giving my B- or C+ game to the world.

Thankfully I had an accountability partner to set me straight.

Dr. Declan Connolly, a respected exercise physiologist and my undergraduate advisor while at the University of Vermont told me, “Leaders ain’t fat, and if you want to get the respect of elite coaches and athletes, you need to practice what you teach about mental performance and walk the walk.”

Damn.

He definitely wasn’t pulling any punches. And even though what he said was difficult to hear, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

From that moment on, I decided something had to change—I had to change.

And through the experience that followed, I began to learn the incredible power of “Why” for cultivating REAL, lasting motivation and commitment.

MOTIVATION: MOVING FROM SURFACE-LEVEL OUTCOMES TO A DEEP, INTRINSIC WHY

That moment with Dr. Connolly gave me clarity on my personal why and I started to focus on nutrition, fitness, and health as much as work. I didn’t want to live with the pain of giving the world my B- or C+ game.

I wanted people to take me seriously in my pursuit of being a world-class mental performance mastery coach.

Since that pivotal day, I am proud to say that I have lost 50lbs, completed three Ironman triathlons, and will run my first 100-mile ultra-endurance race in a few weeks.

Where did my focus on fitness and a better lifestyle come from? It came from having a coach who helped me get clear on my WHY and that why drove me to improve my focus.

Without that pivotal day and a renewed focus, the MPM Certification would not exist and you would not be reading this article right now.

It’s an all too common mistake to look at college or professional coaches and athletes and assume that their why is only of winning. We mislead ourselves to think that an outcome is big enough to dial in their focus at the level it needs to be to fulfill their personal potential.

Yes, winning is part of what gets them in the door day in and day out, yet after 9 Super Bowls and 6 World Championships, is it just winning that drives Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

Or does it run deeper than that?

Amateurs view motivation as a feeling—and they believe that they must “feel it” in order to show up and pursue their goals. Elite competitors know motivation is about ACTION—and they show up and do what needs to be done each day whether they feel like it or not.

How? It has less to do with willpower than you might think. The reason they are able to take action with or without the feeling motivation is because they’ve mastered TRUE motivation.

True motivation comes from knowing the answers to four key motivators:

  1. WHAT do you need to do?
  2. HOW will you do it?
  3. WHO are you doing it for?
  4. WHY does it matter?

All of these four things stem from a deep, intrinsic WHY that drives you to take action with purpose.

Each moment. Each day.

Simply focusing on an outcome goal like “win more games” or “look better in a bathing suit” will NOT provide the motivation needed to stick with things when they are hard.

There has to be a strong why driving the key motivators outlined above.

Years ago, when I realized I was out of shape and neglecting my health, it wasn’t enough to simply desire to “be healthier.” I had to discover how being the best me in ALL aspects—including my health—tied into my ultimate vision and mission for my life.

Once I had done that, doing the things I needed to do to get healthier, whether I felt like it or not, became a whole lot easier.

If you can learn how to guide those you coach to make this motivational shift—to move from surface-level outcomes to a deep, intrinsic WHY that gets them fired up to take action every day, you will begin to see the level of focus, motivation and “staying power” in the face of adversity SOAR.

WANT MORE MOTIVATED CLIENTS AND ATHLETES? ASK ‘WHY?’—AND THEN ASK IT AGAIN

The first step to developing a more focus and motivation is to tap into your clients’ and athletes’ reasons for why they play or what they want to accomplish and why they are working with you.

Keep asking them why it’s important for them to win or to look good in a bathing suit or to cross the finish line of their first marathon.

Now, before we go any further, there’s something you need to be aware of, and ready for. Most of your clients or athletes will undoubtedly give some surface-level answers to start off with.

That’s normal, and something you should expect. This is where high-level mental performance coaching comes into play.

You have to help them dig deeper.

Getting and staying in great shape or getting to elite levels of competition takes a lot of hard work. It takes showing up and doing what needs to be done when you feel like, and when you don’t.

To tap into that kind of TRUE motivation and unlock the power that has to ignite a fire that can withstand that ebbs and flows of “feeling like it”—whether we’re talking about eating healthier, working out, or—you have to dig a little deeper…

So that initial question about why you compete in this sport or why do you want to improve your health, needs to be followed up with another “Why?” question. And then you continue this process until you get down to the TRUE “why” that holds the power to ignite and sustain motivation, even when it’s hard.

SEE IT IN ACTION

Below, I’ve provided an example of how this process of using “why?” questions can be used to find a deeper motivation that will drive consistent energy, focus, and performance.

Why Question #1: Why do you want to improve your skill in the sport of basketball?

Answer: To win more games.

Why Question #2: Why do you want to win more games?

Answer: Because that’s how people determine whether you are “good” or “bad” at this sport.

Why Question #3: Why do you want to be perceived as “good” at basketball?

Answer: If I’m being honest, a big part of that is so I can make my parents proud. The other side of this is that I’ve worked really hard, and I will feel like a failure if my team ends up losing a bunch of games.

Why Question #4: Why is it important that your parents feel proud of you? Why is winning more games going to make you feel like a success rather than a failure?

Answer: My parents spent a lot of time and money to allow me to play, and I want to make sure they feel like it’s worth it.

Now that I think about it, just as important as winning games is for me to KNOW that I worked my absolute hardest and did everything I could to help my team win.

******

Let’s look at where we started, and where we ended:

Initial “why”: I want to get better at basketball so that my team wins more games.

Deeper “why”: I want to get better at basketball because it’s important for me to SHOW my parents how thankful I am for the time and money they’ve invested into helping me be the best player I can be. Naturally, I want them to be proud of the player I’ve become due to the hard work I’ve put into it. I also want to be able to KNOW, without a doubt that I’ve done everything in my power to help my team compete at the highest level possible so that I don’t have to look back and wonder, “what if…?”

WOW—what a difference!

Now, you tell me…

Which has more power to ignite and sustain motivation when you’re feeling tired, worn down, and generally not “feeling like” working out, eating better, or showing up for practice ready to give 100%?

YOUR TURN: TAP INTO THE POWER OF WHY FOR MOTIVATION THAT STANDS THE TEST OF TIME

Most of the people you coach are operating on a surface level “why”.

And, no doubt about it, it’s holding them back from tapping into the powerful motivation they need to consistently do what they need to do to reach their goals and realize the type of life they want.

In my experience, it takes most people 4-6 “why” questions to get down to the TRUE motivation.

And once they tap into these deeper motivators, it makes a world of difference.

Helping them to get clarity on their WHY will then open the door to HOW you can help them improve their focus so that they can execute your training program and get better results.

Further reading: For more information on the importance of knowing your why please check out this article I wrote on 3 Strategies For More Motivation, Focus and Commitment as well as this article on How To Build Your Athletes’ Motivation, Commitment, and Focus.

YOUR NEXT MOVE: IF YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR COACHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL, YOU NEED TO MASTER THE MENTAL SIDE OF PERFORMANCE

Knowing the what, when, and how of coaching mental performance—and trying to fit all of the pieces together on your own—can be burdensome.

That’s why I created the Mental Performance Mastery (MPM) Certification. Inside the MPM Certification, I’ll teach everything you need to add this crucial skill set to your coaching toolbox.

You will learn how to help your athletes and clients overcome mental barriers that trip them up and build the habits, mindset, and behaviors they need to be at their best when it matters most.

Not only will you develop a deep knowledge of the ten most valuable mental skills needed for peak mental performance, but you’ll also have a proven method for consistently and predictably developing these skills in those you coach.

The MPM Certification will open to new students for a limited time on May 28th, 2019. Join the free Insider’s List below to save $200 on the certification and be the first to know when it goes live.