Have you thought about why you make the choices you do? Do you take any time to deeply understand what motivates you? Why do you take exercise, train hard for events, race and compete into your adult life?
If you follow a training plan or are coached, why do you do it? If you want to become fitter? Why? If you want to lose weight? What for?
What are the things that drive your decisions and choices?
Humans are motivated by both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Parents might try and ‘encourage’ their children to do better at school with extrinsic rewards such as money. However in psychology it is well understood that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful. Taking part in activities based on your own choice, for the gratification of the activity itself, will lead to better outcomes than an activity chosen just because of a reward at the end.
Self determination is a powerful concept that refers to a persons ability to make their own choices which will lead to outcomes. Unsurprisingly, when people feel that their actions lead to better outcomes, they will be more motivated to take action!
There are 3 fundamental elements to becoming intrinsically motivated and self determined.
- Competence – gaining mastery over a task or skill and learning new skills fulfils our need to grow as individuals and promotes confidence and motivation.
- Connection/Purpose – almost everyone feels a need to be part of something, to have a sense of belonging and attachment to other people, especially other people who are doing similar things.
- Autonomy – we all like to be in control of our lives and our behaviours and goals. Developing the confidence to take direct action that will result in change is a crucial part of making people feel self determined and more intrinsically motivated.
If we look at how we coach and how we manage that relationship with you, there are some really interesting discussion points that jump out.
As your coach we seek to improve your competence and I am guessing that will be high up on the list of things you think you part with your money for? Over the course of the last five years we have worked hard to build a cycling community both locally, but also one that embraces and includes our remote coached clients. Our Facebook private group is a fantastic hub that we use to build and foster our virtual community. We organise rides, events, parties, awards nights and talks, again to bring you all together to build that connection that is so important.
Autonomy is something that I have been giving a lot of thought to over the last few months. This is the final piece of the jigsaw to becoming a fully intrinsically motivated and self determined person. But what does it mean?
I am going to use my own example to hopefully help you understand what I mean, and to help you take control of your training more effectively. When I use a coach, as I do, what am I looking for?
- Experience – generally some experience is a good thing!
- Expertise – my coach should be an expert in what he/she does but I want them to have an open mindset to change and a different viewpoint.
- Accountability – I want to be accountable to my coach but I also want him to be accountable to me. It is a two way deal.
- Communication (and listening) skills – so important in coaching.
- Training plans – for me as a coach myself this is not actually that important.
- Workouts – as a coach this is really not that important to me at all.
- Autonomy – this should probably be top of my list.
Autonomy – what do I mean? First and foremost I need to feel that I OWN my training plan. By this I mean that I am responsible for it. It is not something that is inflicted on me. When I look at my plan for the next two weeks, I am responsible for making sure that it is achievable both in terms of my time, my fitness level and my need for recovery. There is always a dialogue between me and my coach about the overall plan and the individual workouts. For example I looked at a planned workout that was meant to be a tough breakthrough session. I did not think it was hard enough to elicit any gains and it would just contribute to fatigue without any real rewards. After a brief discussion with my new coach we agreed to increasing the intensity. I had a great day, hit all the performance markers and felt really motivated because I had taken responsibility and had delivered a great result. I was stoked!
Feeling that you own your training plan is the first step to becoming autonomous and more self determined.
I will provide another example. You look at a planned workout having had a bad sleep and feeling lethargic and low on energy. What do you do?
- Aim to complete the whole session at the upper end of the suggested intensity levels, get half way and grind to a halt?
- Approach the whole workout with an open mindset of seeing how your body responds to the efforts and adapting as necessary, even if that means taking an early bath?
Lots of people take the first option. Why? Because they do not feel adequate ownership of their training to take control of the workout and demonstrate some autonomy. They feel a need to smash it because it is in the plan and they always have to beat the numbers to impress the coach. How do people feel taking the first option? Generally pretty shit!
Now let’s look at taking the second option. You acknowledge that your performance might not be 100% today for reasons you can easily understand. You approach the workout with an open mindset and are therefore flexible to change depending on how your body and mind feel. People that have a good intuitive sense of their body are generally very good at taking this approach and generally feel comfortable about the decisions they take.
I will provide another specific example. You have your bad sleep and next day your coach has set you a threshold set with 2 x 30 minutes at 100% FTP. You start the first effort at 100% and know after 3 minutes that you won’t be able to complete it. What do you do? Someone that owns their training plan, who has a good understanding of their body, who is self determined and autonomous will dial the intensity down to say 90% and maybe complete the workout. They might even dial it down again to 85% or at some point realise that enough is enough and get an early bath. How do they feel about taking that option? They feel good as they have made a conscious and informed decision based on how they felt on the day. It is a totally grown up and positive decision to take.
Your training is not about making Training Peaks boxes go green! It is about making you a better athlete over the long term. Athletes that improve take a long term view, are consistent in training (and recovering), have a knowledgeable and healthy relationship with food and take real ownership of their training, knowing through experience and intuition when to back off and when to hit it hard. Underpinning all of this is an open and honest relationship with your coach.
People worry that being autonomous, taking decisions for themselves is a cop out. As I have said to you before, we are not in contact with you all everyday so we set plans based on your level of ability under normal conditions. Taking control of your training and making it yours is a super skill that will provide you with more intrinsic motivation and sense of achievement. You take some decisions that positively affect your outcomes. That will make you feel good. Very good.