Motivation: Use the Motives that Move You, Right Now

Motivation for cycling, and by extension physical activity, typically abounds. But it’s been a long season and you may be challenged to get psyched for 2023. Dr. Lisa Lewis breaks down her top tips to get re-motivated for the season ahead.

Feeling good, living longer, getting stronger. Better blood pressure, in-check cholesterol, enhanced mood, improved sleep, increased sex drive, upgraded attention, looking hot, and on and on.

Motivation from a teammate

Despite the plethora of benefits and rewards of cycling and cardiovascular training, people often wonder, “What do I do if I don’t have the motivation to train?” Coaches also reach out to me regularly to ask, “How do I motivate my athletes who’ve lost, or who don’t have enough motivation?”

If you are a cyclist, and especially if you are a cyclist who’s reading this article, you have all the motivation you need to push yourself – and more! But if you ever find yourself asking this kind of question, you may just need a little help accessing your motivation, and then leveraging what you have access to right then and there.

So, Let’s Do a Brief Motivation Inventory
Grab a scrap piece of paper, a napkin, or open a document on your computer, and write down 10 reasons why you cycle (or train, exercise, compete, etc). Don’t think too hard or too long, just jot them down as fast as you can. Give yourself about 2 minutes.

Now put that list aside for a moment and consider the construct of motivation. As complicated, ever-changing, growth-directed creatures, we humans are separated from the rest of the animal kingdom by our psychology – and specifically, our innate desire to grow, improve, and gain mastery over our environment(s) (Locke & Latham, 2002). In a word, we are motivated.

We pursue careers, follow dreams, take up hobbies, and aspire to be better than we are. Since you are reading this article in the PezCycling News’ Toolbox, you are motivated to be one of the following: faster, stronger, smarter, better. Motivated to enhance your cycling, you have most likely adopted behaviors and developed habits that others would consider “impressive” and “disciplined”.

A bit of coach motivation

How Do You Do It?
Motivation drives us – but not on one fuel tank alone. A variety of intentions move us. One way to conceptualize motivation is along a continuum. At one end we are motivated by 100% intrinsic enjoyment derived from engaging in the activity itself, and nothing else; at the opposite end, we are motivated in order to obtain a reward or to avoid a punishment.

My favorite theory of motivation, the Self-Determination Theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000) posits a range of motivations from wholly external to entirely internal, and all together, these motives combine, complement, and conspire to move us to act, work, and grow.

Now, let’s look at your list of reasons for cycling along this “continuum” of motivation to see what helps you to “get after it” at the gym or on the bike, day after day. Label each one of your answers with the number corresponding to the best description of that motive:

  1. Reasons including “getting something” good, or “avoiding something” bad are externally regulated. For example, some people are incentivized by fat loss, or driven by the opportunity to win a medal or trophy in competition.
  2. If you wrote down anything about “feeling guilty if I don’t go” or “being proud after a great ride!” than you are motivated by introjected regulation. Partially internalized, this motivation works by either moving you away from shame and guilt, or by pushing you toward pride.
  3. Any statements about your identity and your values are identified or integrated regulations. For example: “Training hard is who I am!”, “I really value being strong and fit, and I make sacrifices to keep myself healthy”, “I’m athletic and I want to look at feel athletic” and “I want a long, healthy, happy life”. You identify with exercise and training hard, and/or cycling has become integrated into who you are as a person. You value the outcome of your hard work and find the results personally meaningful. It may not be fun, but dammit, you feel that it’s all worth it.
  4. Intrinsic motivation is when you cycle simple for the joy of it. Examples include, “I’m in my zone/happy place/flow when I’m training”. “I love being out there and working hard”, or “it makes me happy!” Intrinsic motivation is pure, and someone operating under this motive cycles solely for the internal state that is created (as opposed to the outcome).

How do your scores look on your motivation inventory? If you notice a mix of scores 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and 4’s on your list, then you’re regulated by a range of motives that combine and complement one another. For example, someday you may feel excited to get on your trainer and feel happy just to “get out there”. A few days later you may be sore and have other things you’d rather do, but you go again because your training goals matter to you, and it means a great deal to you that you “stay on track” and hold yourself accountable. Other days, you may not want anything to do with your bike, but since you promised your riding buddy you’d go, you push aside your desire to lie on the couch all day, get dressed, and get to it.

As for the “best” kind of motivation? Research has demonstrated that intrinsic motivation leads to persistence in a behavior over time (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2007) – but as we all know, you can’t train hard, regularly, for years, on joy alone. It’s the mix of motives that help you to persist in your training, on good days, and bad.

Most importantly, you created a list of motives quickly and easily! You have plenty of motivation. These reasons, and especially the internal, or intrinsic reasons, don’t get “lost”, or drop “low”. Sometimes they’re more active than others, but they are always there with you. So, use what you have right now – today.

Keep motivated!

I encourage my clients to keep their list handy on days when it feels hard to identify and access motivation. If the “joy” of cycling isn’t active that day, what else might be? Review your reasons, focus on the one(s) that pique your interest, and use that for your fuel today. As the days, weeks, and years pass, you’ll be training regularly, for genuine reasons, and building a stronger, faster, leaner, hotter you.

Hagger, M.S. & Chatzisarantis, N. (2007). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Exercise and Sport. Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL.

Locke, E.A. & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717.

Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. Guilford Publications, NY.

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