Get Your Training Mojo Back Post Race

You’ve completed your ‘A’ race. You did well; you’ve met or even exceeded your goals. You feel satisfied seeing all that training come good. All that time, all that effort paid off in the end. Now what?

One of the more interesting phenomena that athletes and their coaches come across is getting motivated again after a successful key-race performance. Of course, when we achieve our goals it is good to reflect on success and enjoy the moment. The danger is that once we have reached that goal, we can fall into old habits, or find it very difficult to set a new target. We can see the new goal as something quite daunting as we think back to the work that was required to reach the heights of our most recent success. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. Even if you haven’t experienced it yourself, how many times have you seen an athlete or a team achieve success one year, and then fail to make the grade in the following season?

One of the major reasons is that those who have been successful are satisfied with that success and think they don’t have to work as hard to achieve that same level of success the next time around. They attribute their success to the their own personal or team characteristics rather than the hard work and training that led to their success in the first place. Of course, personal talent, genetics, and internal characteristics play their part. But the danger lies in underestimating the impact of our hard work. This is what can lead to flops after a successful race.

Another question to ask yourself is are you challenging yourself enough? Unless we hit the ‘sweet spot’ of challenge, it becomes increasingly difficult to motivate ourselves to rise to it. The sweet spot lies somewhere between being too great and fear becoming a barrier, and too easy where boredom becomes the enemy within. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described the experience of flow, a mental state where people experience totally energised, focused enjoyment and fulfilment in whatever activity we are doing. I’m sure you have experienced that in your training before. Time flies, you are in ‘the zone’, and you are totally immersed in your experience and channelled into the task at hand. This goes for physical activity, musical performance, public speaking – all kinds of activities.

We are living, growing beings that need constant challenge and opportunities to develop and master new skills. Without the appropriate level of challenge, we can short circuit this process by disengaging before we know it – neither too hard, or too easy, with opportunities to experience demonstrable progress are key.

To achieve flow, three conditions have to be met:

  1. You must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.
  2. You must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills. You must have confidence that you are capable of doing the task at hand. If you don’t, the challenge becomes too hard, and you drop out of the flow state. Alternatively, if the task does not tax your skills, you get bored and lose motivation.
  3. The task must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps you to negotiate any changing demands and allows you to adjust your performance to maintain the flow state.

The figure below shows the this matrix of challenge and skill can help you to understand this mix affects your training motivation:

Find Your Folw

Figure 1. Mental state in terms of challenge and skill levels, according to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model (Finding Flow, 1997).

Re-calibrating your own training

Now you’ve completed that race, review the goals you are working on. Are they challenging you? Are you coasting, thinking that, ‘you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again?’  Are you overestimating how your personal attributes will get you through, and underestimating how your hard work was the critical factor in your success?

Take a look at the matrix above, and work through where you want to pitch your challenge level to best develop your own skills and training results. You did the work to succeed last time. When the challenge was right, you enjoyed the work too. Re-calibrate the challenge. Learn from your success. Enjoy the new plan and execute it in style. Enjoy growing, changing, and never standing still.

About The Author 

Dr Sarb Johal is a Londoner who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. As an experienced clinical psychologist, health psychologist and Associate Professor in Disaster Mental Health at Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research, he spends quite a lot of his time providing advice to the New Zealand Government on aspects of recovery from the Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand. When not working, Sarb spends much of his time writing and running, though not at the same time. He runs regularly and has completed numerous half-marathons, 4 international marathons and 1 ultra-marathon from 2010-2012. He is a certified Leader in Running Fitness, and is also training to be a Personal Trainer.

You can read more of his thoughts on health, wellbeing and mental fitness at Sarb's Blog: Complete Coach



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