Written By: James Kuegler
Want to stay motivated over winter? Stop focusing on goals and pay attention to the process instead.
Along with New Years, the beginning of winter is the time of year where running shoes, gym memberships and yoga mat sales soar. A panic sets in, we fear the notion of inactivity and developing what is euphemistically called “a winter coat”. Deals are made with the self and with others...some reasonable, others less so. The focus on the endpoint, not the process itself becomes paramount, and can dramatically affect our motivation and wellbeing in a negative manner.
In our modern world we are faced with a life that has an overabundance of nutrients and convenience, unbound by meteorological constraints nor the cycle of the seasons. We pay less attention to the natural rhythms of our lives. Our modern life blunders on regardless. We may find that with our day time filled with increasingly sedentary work, many of us leaving home in the dark and getting home in the dark, we have little energy for maintaining our wellbeing. We are all prey in some degree or other to the conventional notions of beauty and what that means for us. The egregious and incorrect notion of wanting to exercise to “keep weight off” kicks in with all the negative cognitions that this brings. It is undeniably a truth that we feel better when we express our health in a positive manner and for many of us, this can fall off in the winter months. This leads to a whirlwind of goal setting, a focus on outcomes and a greater chance that we will, in our panic to maintain motivation, abandon our goals as we feel that they are not achievable.
I would suggest that a focus on a goal as an endpoint is a pathway to demotivation, ennui, and an increased chance of not expressing our health in an adaptive manner. In any discussion around motivation or achievement I reflect back to our ancestors whom I discussed before. They were very much process orientated; for example - the outcome or goal may have been a full belly of delicious life enhancing salmon, however the multiple steps to get to this point is what people would focus on. Our ancestors became acculturated to these steps, disciplined, and reflective of the process that it took to achieve success. When success was achieved it was the icing on the cake, so to speak. Attention to process begat success, which for our ancestors directly equalled survival and relative prosperity.
In my 8 years of coaching I’ve worked with hundreds of athletes of all abilities from elite to novice to increase their performance. Over this period I’ve come to realise that simply focusing on a goal with someone cheapens the experience of the athlete and is likely to negatively impact on their performance. The motivation to continue to exert themselves through extended blocks of training will impact on anyone as fatigue begins to accumulate. I have discussed before in other publications how I believe that it is the PROCESS rather than the GOAL which is important for continued motivation and success.
I am unashamed when I say that I hammer my athletes with this idea and any of them would be able to discuss with you the five core principles of my training philosophy. I am going to challenge you that if you move to a more process oriented worldview than a goal or outcome orientated worldview your chances of maintaining motivation over the winter months will be that much greater, and you’ll feel better about yourself whilst you are doing it.
There Is No Single Right Answer. Our lives are a series of interlinked systems, all which impact on each other. So, rather than focus on one facet of your existence this winter, reflect in a more global manner. Struggling to get out of bed to get to the gym? How is your sugar intake looking? Are you maintaining good sleep hygiene? Work balance ok? Rather than attack a single thing in your life relentlessly, address multiple areas in a more gentle manner. Momentum builds momentum. You may find that the more incrementally you address areas of your life where you can see the need for positive structured change the better you will feel; there is no point exclusively drinking organic cherry juice if you are using to wash down Big Macs.
Experiment From Success And Failure. We learn more from our shortcomings than from our successes. The key to addressing this is to reflect in a wise and non judgemental manner, because at times going over things that we did not achieve can be painful. Having someone to reflect with in a boundaried and safe manner is very useful tool for this. Look at what has worked, and what has influenced that success, then apply it to times when you have not achieved to a standard that you would have expected. As I said above, all things are linked. And paying attention to our challenges is only going to enhance our successes.
Patience Is Mandatory. Not to labour the point, but this is possibly the most fundamental key to success in nearly every area of life. Harking back to our hunter gatherer friends and the salmon..How long would they have spent patiently applying several steps to achieve their goal of carpaccio for dinner? Days? Weeks? Months? For a more immediate example of this I would suggest viewing Dave Wottle’s sublimely paced 800m victory at the 1972 Olympics. Wottle’s patience and trust of his process were the things that netted him the gold medal. Even for non running fans it’s a masterclass in the application of patient execution. Patience begets success. Play the long game.
Your Body Is The Best Teacher. Stepping back from the madness of goal setting and outcome focus gives us time for our bodies to let us know what is happening for us. Again, we are a number of integrated systems which make up a whole. If something hurts then pay attention to it. Also you may consider that the muscle that is distressed may be the expression of the issue not the root cause. There is a difference between the pain of imbalance and overuse or injury to the normal pain of fatigue. Learn to distinguish between the two. Also consider the effect that diet, sleep, and stress can have on our physical states. Take action accordingly and rest if you need to. Blindly staggering towards a goal that will lead to months/years of suboptimal performance in every area of your life is not a standpoint I would support. For example, I would question someone running a marathon with pneumonia simply because they have paid for it. It sounds ridiculous written down, however you’d be surprised the lengths people will go to to hurt and disappoint themselves in order to perform poorly just because they ignored their best teacher.
Relaxation Is The Key To Great Form. This sounds very running specific however if we consider our lives in general the peaks of motivation and performance generally happen when we experience a degree of relaxation. Again, everything is linked. Consider The New Zealand Warriors rugby league team. They have incorporated deep breathing exercises into their on and off field strategy. Two deep breaths to centre themselves, relax oxygen starved muscles and organs (the brain being key). I am not suggesting that this is the sole reason that their season is the most successful in years, however I would suggest that a focus on relaxation and the process not the goal is major contributor. The method of relaxation is individual however the mechanism is universal. I would strongly suggest periods of reflection, calm and mindfulness interwoven through your daily routine. This could take minutes, or seconds, however is something I would argue is integral to our wellbeing, and one which leads to greater performance in every area of our lives.
You Must Enjoy The Process. The definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Working towards a goal and hating what you are doing? Change something. It does not have to be a huge thing initially, however as I have said before momentum builds momentum, both in a positive and negative sense. Periods of joyful play through movement are one of the key things which are missing in our modern life. I would suggest very strongly that above all else, enjoying the process in a global sense is important, because adherence and discipline is hard work, and the maximum growth happens on the cusp of support and challenge. Being able to enjoy the process and see the benefits of this process will greatly add to your enjoyment and will increase your chances of remaining motivated and succeeding at what you have set your mind to.