BY TAYLOR BROWN
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
If you are a rower, there was a point during 2020 when you had to stop rowing. The race seasons were quickly canceled, and the nation’s boathouses and waterways fell silent.
It’s no secret that our world has drastically changed. We knew that rowing would be affected, but it was harder to anticipate the mental hurdles that awaited us.
Success in rowing requires not only strong endurance and honed technique but also an iron will to succeed.
As the world creeps at a snail’s pace back to some semblance of normalcy, a question looms on the minds of many rowers: When will we be racing again? The answer will undeniably have an enormous influence on rowers’ motivation to train. How do you develop and sustain motivation right now, even when the future is uncertain?
Motivation generally falls within two orientations: performance and mastery.
Performance involves a focus on outcomes and demonstrating skills or competence compared to others. Performance orientation may lead to high achievement but may be connected also to higher anxiety and overly rigid expectations.
During 2020, when performance-oriented motivators such as racing were reduced or removed completely, many were asked to pull from less-developed sources of motivation.
Mastery involves a focus on growth and alignment with personal values. For example, witnessing your progress over the course of a season may be motivating because it shows growth, which aligns with your value of personal development.
Research has shown that mastery-oriented athletes experience greater resilience, more positive emotions, and more enjoyment. Although most athletes have some combination of both orientations, many are socialized into performance.
Mastery orientation takes practice. When, all of the sudden, your performance opportunities are no longer there, it is easy to experience low or even no motivation.
Here are three tips to cultivate your mastery-orientation, even when you’re not competing:
1) Get clear on your values.
Values are the principles that we hold most dear. They influence our daily decisions, dictate our morals, and bring meaning to our lives. Identify what is important to you and look for daily opportunities to align with those things. This will help sustain your motivation, because living within your values is the ultimate motivator.
2) Set micro goals.
Big goals are exciting but can become overwhelming amid uncertainty. Set daily micro goals. Achieving even very small goals can give you the feeling of achievement.
3) Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply awareness. When you become aware of your mind getting caught up in all of the thoughts and emotions of uncertainty, give yourself space by taking five deep breaths (four seconds inhaling through the nose, and eight seconds exhaling through the mouth). This will give you the calm perspective to sustain motivation.
Embrace the coming months as an opportunity to cultivate and solidify your mastery-orientation, so when racing resumes, you will have a deeper well of motivation from which to draw.
Taylor Brown, M.S., C.P.C., is a mindfulness, mental- performance, and leadership coach in Austin. He works with high-school, collegiate, and elite/professional athletes around the world. Connect him at Enduromind.com.