“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Before you can effectively set your goals, you need to first understand what motivates you. After all, these are your goals — not someone else’s goals. Your goals need to be meaningful to you. They need to reflect who you are and what you’re after. They need to resonate with your big “why” for pursuing them in the first place.
So before discussing goals, let’s start by talking about motivation.
What Motivates You?
When we talk about motivation, it’s helpful to distinguish between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. This distinction is based on the source of the motivation: internal versus external.
Intrinsic motivation comes from your internal drive or desire to engage in an activity or behavior for its own sake. There’s an intrinsic joy, fulfillment, or personal satisfaction you derive from simply engaging in the activity. External rewards or reinforcement are besides the point. For example, you may be intrinsically motivated to run because you gain self-fulfillment from doing so or gain personal satisfaction from mastering challenges associated with it.
Extrinsic motivation involves engaging in an activity or behavior to earn external rewards or reinforcement. The external rewards can take the form of praise, recognition, money, or other external incentives. For example, grades can be a form of extrinsic motivation in school or salary in one’s career. Medals, race shirts, recognition on social media can all be extrinsic motivators in sports.
More emphasis is often placed on intrinsic motivation because it tends to be more sustainable over time. When motivation comes from a place of genuine interest or a sense of purpose, we tend to stick with an activity or behavior longer. Intrinsic motivation fosters stronger commitment and greater persistence. But extrinsic factors can also be important motivators. The key point is that, as athletes, we draw on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to varying degrees.
To know yourself as an athlete, it’s important to identify the factors — both intrinsic and extrinsic — that motivate you. What’s important to you individually?
How Motivation Relates to Basic Psychological Needs
Another layer to understanding your motivation comes from Self-Determination Theory (SDT) developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Central to the theory are three basic psychological needs that we all have: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Autonomy, or independence refers to the control we have over our own actions and decisions. We are more motivated to engage in activities when we have the autonomy to do so — that is, when we have decided for ourselves that we want to pursue those activities.
Competence, or mastery refers to feeling capable and effective in what we do. A key motivator, especially in athletic pursuits, is the desire to master a set of skills related to a sport.
Relatedness, or belonging refers to the need we have to connect with others and develop meaningful relationships. We are motivated to engage in activities when we’re part of a community that provides a larger sense of belonging surrounding those activities.
With these ideas in mind, it’s time to turn to a practical application to get to know your own motivations for your athletic pursuits.