I was sitting at a cafe with my friend a few weeks ago attempting to solve the world’s problems one macchiato at a time when we turned our attention to motivation. We figured that we had some insight on the topic given our sporting pursuits. My friend paddles kayaks at the world and Olympic level, while I travel the world to compete in bench press competitions. Neither sport is financially rewarding, in fact, both sports are a huge drain on our finances. We don’t have sponsors supporting us or fans knocking down our door so there must be something deeply rewarding that motivates us to continue.
It’s all about motivation. That’s what we decided.
But why do some people seem to have motivation spades and other seem barren? And even those who are highly motivated in certain areas – you don’t need to ask me twice to do a bench press workout – why doesn’t that motivation seem to spill over into other areas, like writing something about motivation?
Somehow we have managed to turn motivation into a virtue, similar to patience, kindness or gentleness. In this, we consider the highly motivated few as saintly or other-worldly which lets us off the hook for lacking motivation. So we try to fill our motivational void with motivational YouTube clips of people doing amazing things. Watching these is like having a single shot of espresso and then trying to run an ultra marathon. It feels good but it won’t get the job done.
There’s a simple reason why: motivation doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from within.
It’s all about the why.
Why do we do what we do?
Why do I fly 31 hours to lay on a bench and press 300+kg?
Why does my friend wake up at 4:30 am to go to the river in winter?
Why do we train day after day even when we are tired, sore, injured and can’t be bothered?
It’s because our why exceeds the what.
It’s easy to get caught up in the “what” of life and think that the activity itself is the thing that gets us going. Some think the motivation comes from winning medals or getting accolades from friends or supporters. Sure those things are nice at the time, but they don’t fill up the tank. These external factors are quickly spent, and if you only compete for these rewards then your career will be short. I’ve seen this happen often. At the first sign of hardship, whether it be poor performance, injury or just that competition is a long way off, these athletes falter and often retire. Focussing on “what” will short-change you.
If I had focussed on the “what” in my last competition, there is no way I would have left home. I had an injured shoulder that stopped me training for three weeks leading up to the event. Getting there required four planes and 31 hours of travel and even then I was not a favourite to win a medal. I was beat up, and the outlook was not good.
So my ‘why’ had to be stronger than the ‘what’.
I lift because that’s where I feel most alive. God has given me strength and I enjoy living this out. My ‘why’ is that I want to inspire those around me. My why is that I want to teach my two girls the value of hard work, perseverance, discipline and pursuing dreams. I could demonstrate this in a million different ways, it just so happens that bench pressing achieves this end. It’s not about the what.
My why is my purpose. It’s less about winning and more about competing. Four times in the New Testament Paul exhorts us to “run the race”. My purpose is to be in the game, running – or in this case, bench pressing. Run with perseverance in such a way to win the race, run well, run with honour. My why is to compete with love in my heart, so all those around me see it and marvel at the one who created me.
My why is that I always want to live a life that reflects what I hold most sacred. Hope, faith, love. Bench pressing is fun; it’s a game, nothing more. Games, however, can teach us much about who we are and what is possible. This game of bench pressing helps me to understand my why. No matter what happens, I will compete with honour and integrity. Hope this helps someone reading.