Creating an Inner Desire
by JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D.
To excel as an athlete you must be hungry—hungry for success, for results—hungry simply to become the best runner you can be. It starts with a dream, but somehow you must be inspired, or you will never be able to reach your goals. We often read about athletes overcoming physical disabilities: Lance Armstrong surviving cancer to win the Tour de France twice, or Marla Runyan running in the 1500 meter final at the 2000 Olympics while legally blind. Out of these challenges, these athletes developed a fierce, burning desire to succeed. They show us that desire is sometimes more important than talent or a healthy body.
Steve Prefontaine had one leg shorter than the other, and did not necessarily have “the perfect runner’s body.” Yet from an early age he developed an insatiable love for running. Through his drive and determination Pre went on to break the American record in every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters, a feat never attained by any other American man. When, at the height of his running career, he placed fourth in the Olympic 5,000 meters in Munich, he considered quitting the sport. His coach Bill Bowerman told him: “If you’re gonna run, be at the track and I’ll give you the workouts; or if your gonna stop running, then do that. You decide. I can’t coach desire.”
The drive must come from within, regardless of whether you’re a novice, a serious athlete, or competing at the elite level. The good news is that building and maintaining a high level of self-motivation is a learned skill that anyone can acquire. Motivation is energy, and that sense of self-directedness is one of the most powerful sources of energy available to an athlete. From internal motivation you gain the willingness to persevere with your training, to endure discomfort and stress, and to make sacrifices with your time and energy as you move closer to your goals.
What are the key characteristics of well-motivated athletes? Through extensive work with athletes over 20 years, I have developed a constellation of traits that define the champion’s mentality.
Enthusiasm and Desire: Top runners have a love for the sport, a fire inside which fuels their passion to achieve an important goal, regardless of their level of talent or ability. To accomplish anything of value in life you need to begin with some kind of vision or dream. The more clearly you can see that picture in your mind, the more likely it is to become reality. Wherever you place your attention, your energy will follow.
Courage to Succeed: Back up your desire with courage, the incentive to make any dream become reality. It takes courage to sacrifice, to work out when you’re tired, to seek out tough competition when you know you’ll probably lose. It takes courage to stick to your game plan and the relentless pursuit of your goal when you encounter obstacles. It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before—physically or mentally.
Internal Motivation and Self-Direction: Champion athletes decide early on that they are training and racing for themselves, not for their parents, their coaches, or for the medals. Direction and drive need to come from within. The goals must be ones that you have chosen because that’s exactly what you want to be doing. Ask yourself, what keeps you running? Who are you doing it for?
Commitment to Excellence: How good do you want to be? Elite athletes know that to excel at their sport, they must decide to make it a priority in their life. They make an honest effort each day to be the best at what they do. At some point you must say, I want to be really good at this; I want this to work. To notice significant growth you must live this commitment and regularly stretch what you perceive to be your current limits.
Discipline, Consistency, Organization: Winning athletes know how to self-energize and work hard on a daily basis. Because they love what they do it is easier for them to maintain consistency in training and in competing. Regardless of personal problems, fatigue, or difficult circumstances, they can generate the optimal excitement and energy to do their best.
Ability to Handle Adversity: Top athletes know how to deal with difficult situations, and facing adversity builds character. When elite athletes know the odds are against them they embrace the chance to explore the outer limits of their potential. Rather than avoiding pressure they feel challenged by it. They are calm and relaxed under fire. Setbacks become an opportunity for learning; they open the way for deep personal growth.
Running offers a wonderful chance to free ourselves for short periods and experience intensity and excitement not readily available elsewhere in our lives. To develop an inner desire and maximize your true potential, make the most of the talents you have, and stretch the limits of your abilities, both physically and psychologically. Running can become a means to personal growth and enjoyment of the pursuit of your goals. Try incorporating the profile above into your mental preparation, and you can learn to live more fully, train more healthfully, and feel exactly the way you want to feel.
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized sports psychologist, past winner of the San Francisco Marathon, and has placed 2nd in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.