We often treat motivation as a panacea. When performance is seen as failing in a public personality—as recently happened with Olympic gymnast Simone Biles—there is invariably a chorus of voices blaming poor motivation. People say that the person in question “didn’t want it enough.” But if someone with a superhuman track record of competitive performance, physical and mental toughness is not perceived as being motivated enough, is motivation really the issue? Or are we ignoring a more complex truth?
A good portion of my career has been spent on motivation—both in an academic sense and a practical, trial and error sense. In news that is surprising to no one, my focus has been on helping people harness and sustain motivation for physical exercise. You’ll notice that I didn’t say create. That’s because physical wellbeing is just one of those universal things. So, while not everyone prioritizes wellbeing, nobody actually wants to feel or perform poorly either.
But if everyone has at least some motivation to channel into physical wellbeing, what’s the issue? With billions being spent on health and fitness, why is consistency still such a tricky, sticky wicket?
Part of the answer is that we don’t really understand motivation. I don’t just mean the creation or maintenance of it either; I mean what to do when we’ve got lots of the stuff.
Usually, it’s a one-note answer: go harder. And sometimes, it’s the best note to play. But it’s definitely not the only one. Skill is the other major variable. It generally doesn’t get enough love. Skill is harder to scale. That’s why there’s no Peloton for strength training or, say, ballroom dancing. The closest thing is probably MasterClass, which is not close at all.
You can think of effort and skill as a matrix:
As I mentioned, a great deal of fitness tends to focus on bottom-right quadrant. Low-skill isn’t a bug here; it’s a feature. This is the best use of machines—and other exercises with low technical variation. If you have a surplus of motivation, you can channel it into going harder.
You are not limited to machines here, of course. If you are a world class weightlifter, for example, you can simply lighten the load and go for broke with a very safe margin for error. But that option is reserved for people who have learned the technique required in their bones.
The upper-right quadrant is another story. Combine high effort and high technical complexity and you wind up increasing risk. The upper-right is where competitive sports live—from rugby and MMA to motocross and free solo climbing. However, there’s no reason to go there if you don’t compete as an athlete. More risk for the same results just doesn’t make any sense.
The bottom left quadrant is pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes, a nap is your ultimate performance enhancer.
That leaves us with the upper-left quadrant. It is the sleeper here. It is underrated—often overlooked. But this is where I recommend most people spend a good percentage of their time. Not at the extreme end (where we’d find a purely cerebral game like chess) but right around the middle. This is where you experiencing the greatest ROI on your time and effort. You work up a sweat but also put money into your technical bank account.
Effort pays off in the moment. A few extra calories burned. A feeling of leaving it all on the table. But skill development has the greatest long-term impact on your physical health. You just have to be willing to think long-term.
If scientific development comes from standing on the shoulders of giants, then willpower is best invested when standing on the shoulders of great technique. Those are the moments that you can truly (and safely) push—and in a way that is consistently repeatable.
The simple truth is that nobody has the energy or drive to work at the true limits of their physical capacity all of the time. Not even full-time athletes. So, if you can’t go hard, you can at least go deep. The investment in your skills gives you the opportunity to develop more effective training options, explore what you enjoy, and keep your mind engaged. Maybe most importantly of all, it is lifelong. Like (literally) riding a bicycle. Skill is stable in a way that physical attributes and effort can never be.
At Bang, we help our members develop the technique, body awareness, and internal language required to harness—and maintain motivation in the long-term. And then we put it to work in powerful ways.
If you’ve trained with us, you know this. If you’re thinking about training with us… Well, now you know too.