You started Muay Thai because you were curious and it was fun. No doubt, you discovered it was both physically harder than you thought, and more technical and skilful than you thought too.
Despite frustration – when it takes you longer to get something than you like – you love that you’re getting better at it. You’ve learned a lot about yourself along the way, exposed personal strengths and weaknesses, and your curiosity turned into passion.
As you evolve in Muay Thai, you chase progressively more challenging goals. Each one taking outside your comfort zone, but expanding that zone with you.
The bigger the challenge, the more your motivation and determination is tested. But the bigger the personal reward is too.
This cycle is what grows you as a fighter, and as a human being too. The human side, what’s going on inside your head, is uniquely personal. One person’s spontaneous ignition is another person’s wet wood and no matches.
At first, just joining a Muay Thai class took all your determination. Then it was partnering up with someone for pad work rather than just hitting a punch bag. Partner drills and controlled sparring all took you to your new limit. You may feel your next challenge is a non-decision interclub or smoker fight. Maybe an amateur fight, a title fight, or even fighting pro!
It’s a continuous sliding scale of challenge coupled with a corresponding level of required competence. What’s right for you at your stage of personal development is not the same for someone else…
We are all on our OWN journey, striving for our own goals. Only sometimes we find we aren’t.
How did I end up chasing this goal? No wonder my motivation has slowly extinguished and I no longer feel “I’m a determined person”, and even question “can I call myself a fighter?”
It’s crucial you find your OWN reason to train, or to fight if that’s where you’re at, if you want to reignite that passion you had when you first found Muay Thai was your thing.
To share a relevant part of my journey…
I had no Muay Thai coach for my first decision fight, and my two cornermen were my training buddies who hadn’t fought either.
We had no idea what we we’re doing, just watching what everyone else was doing for backstage prep and corner team.
I came from a Muay Thai gym with no fighters, only martial artists. I’d been promoted to an instructor, and after years with my Muay Thai coach failing to arrange any fights… he eventually told me I’d have to do it myself, as he didn’t have time for it, and when fighters LOSE, they LOSE motivation and this LOSES him students.
Motivation is at the heart of all this.
My motivation for my first decision fight was desperation… I’d already turned 33 and wanted to fight before I was too old. And having been a Muay Thai instructor at my local gym for 5 years at the time – without the opportunity to do more than an occasional non-decision interclub or smoker fight – I felt a total fraud.
But, because of my Muay Thai experience, for my first fight I was matched for an amateur area title, against a fighter from the home gym (KO Tottenham). I fought terribly.
I was shocked at my apparent lack of fitness and inability to perform technical skills under stress. It was a close fight, but I lost. And I learned a LOT. I went back to the drawing board and trained very differently.
I then won my second fight, my third, my forth, and many more. And within a year, I held three amateur area titles in three different weight classes simultaneously. I was invited to represent England both at the amateur world championships in Thailand and the European championships in Portugal where I won a silver medal.
All without a Muay Thai coach, just enthusiastic training partners who wanted to both help me, and learn from me.
Motivation Is Personal
I was a crash test dummy that managed to pull it off. And some of those I coached managed to pull it off too, while others couldn’t. I realised my personal psychological approach worked, but that most others weren’t baked the same way!
So why could I get this to work better than most, and how could I help those that were floundering tap into their own best performance too? Why has my passion for Muay Thai grown while others lose their motivation and spiral into self doubt?
The secret is having the right KIND of motivation.
By practically applying Self Determination Theory, we can better understand ourselves, avoid self-sabotage, and shift to what truly motivates us. Tapping into the type of motivation that research shows blows the others out of the water when it comes to being the best you can be!
And as coaches and teammates, we can avoid inadvertently sabotaging those we train with and boost their motivation instead. And that rising tide lifts all boats – just see what happens to your whole team!
I could see that mapping out motivation on a spectrum from low self-determined to high self-determined, it became obvious why my approach worked for me, and why it didn’t for others.
Your driving REASON for training or competing makes all the difference to the type of motivation you experience, and how effective it is over the long-term. And, it’s consistency over the long-term that really changes the game. I’ve seen many a fighter’s motivation burn bright, only to burn out quickly. Burning bright and burning long is the way!
3 Motivation Categories
Broadly speaking, there are three categories of motivation;
Amotivated – where you have zero drive to even attempt an activity at all! It’s like you don’t want to even bother to light the fire because you don’t have any matches or kindling, AND the wood is soaking wet!
Then there’s… Externally Motivated – where your drive to do something is in order to achieve an external reward or outcome, such as a prize, a promotion, or recognition from others. It is driven by external factors such as incentives, rewards, or social pressure. For example, someone who’s extrinsically motivated to train may do so because they want to win a competition or receive praise or approval from others. It’s like you’ll make the effort to light the fire because really, you just want to eat a cooked meal.
Finally, there’s… Internally Motivated – where your drive to do something is for its own sake, rather than for any external reward or outcome. It is driven by an individual’s personal interests, values, and sense of enjoyment or satisfaction. For example, someone who is intrinsically motivated to train may do so because it’s fun, rewarding, or satisfying on a personal level. It’s like your fire just spontaneously combusts!
Spoiler alert, this last type of motivation will result in your best performance in ANYTHING you do. However, there’s more to this picture…
6 Types Of Motivation
At one end, we have Amotivation, no desire to act at all – or low self-determination. And at the other end we have Intrinsic motivation – or high self-determination – where we act just because it’s fun. And these two extremes are like the banks on either side of a river of External motivation.
And there are 4 stepping stones across this stream, each moving closer to our goal of intrinsic motivation (spontaneous combustion) and further from amotivation with no drive at all (wet wood and no matches).
Motivation & Self Determination Theory
Let’s take each of these steps in turn and explain them through Self Determination Theory…
The first river bank, Amotivation is the lowest in self determination. Here you don’t act because it’s not interesting or too difficult. You feel, “I’ll never learn, I give up.”
Stepping onto the first stepping stone of external motivation, called External Regulation, you act because you have to for someone else – you were told to. You feel, “I have to do this or else.” At this stage your effort level is low and you shirk responsibility for any failure.
On the next stepping stone of external motivation, called Introjected Regulation, you act because of status, ego, and pride. You feel, “I do this to be better than others, or to avoid feeling guilty.” Here you put in more effort but are poor at coping with failure and give up easily.
The next stepping stone, called Identified Regulation, takes us over half way across the river, and marks a threshold into better motivation. You act because it aligns with your personal needs. You feel, “I do this because it’s important to me”. You have more interest and put in more effort. You become better at coping with failures too.
The next stepping stone, called Integrated Regulation, and it’s just one step away from the river bank. You act because it aligns with your personal values. You feel, “I do this because it will grow me, to become a better person, a more skilled person, a better version of myself.” Effort goes up even higher, and you cope with failure even better too.
Finally, you step onto the bank on the other side of the river, moving into true Internal Motivation. You act because you love the process. You feel, “I do this to quench my thirst for knowledge, and I find it fun and rewarding.” Here, effort is both at its highest AND ironically, its easiest! Failures just propel you to become even better!
You can see how both you yourself, and those around you, are likely spending the majority of their time at certain motivational steps, and how this either helps or hinders overall motivation and the results they get.
The truth is you can only reap the benefits of any of this with practical experience in the field. That is going out and pushing yourself to feel both the excitement of success and the disappointment of coming up short – testing your motivation…
By understanding this motivation continuum and the tell-tale FEELINGS that each step produces, you have a great diagnostic tool for identifying which kind of motivation you or your teammates are currently tapping into, and how helpful that is.
And it’s important to realise that these motivation stepping stones aren’t a one-way trip. You won’t remain at the same point all the time, it fluctuates depending on situations and circumstances, and you can be more or less volatile depending on your personality traits too.
We need tools to shift between different steps in motivation, and recognise what (and who) can inadvertently push us back to the start.
I’ll go into this in part 2, and provide practical actions to both better understand yourself, and make changes that boost intrinsic motivation, minimise imposter syndrome, and reveal the best fighter you can be.
But for now… In an increasingly over protective, over sensitive society, Muay Thai teaches you who you really are, warts and all. And this self-knowledge is incredibly valuable. It’s truly life changing.
If you’re motivated to train, or maybe even fight in Muay Thai, you are choosing to fast-track personal growth. When you chose Muay Thai, you chose wisely!