Winning by knockout is the best feeling in the world. Seeing the referee standing over your opponent waving off the fight, you feel almost immortal.

But, in a well-matched fight anything can happen. Sometimes you’re the hammer, and others you’re the nail.

In an instant, one mistake can render YOU helpless – all your hard work cancelled out. You become the mortal and your opponent feels that immortal quickening as they absorb your soul!

Nothing else can be done at that moment. But in the hours, days, weeks, and even months after the fight, things can feel very different. It doesn’t matter who you are, your motivation and determination has been severely tested.

 A seed of doubt is planted. “Have I got what it takes? “Can I come back from this? “What does everyone think of me now?”

Some fighters bounce back more determined, while others spiral downward, disappearing from competition, and maybe stop training altogether.

And while it’s important to recognise when we’re being our own worst enemy, there are also external factors that can make a huge difference to our motivation to come back stronger than ever, or even come back at all…

by Don Heatrick
@donheatrick

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Motivation Types & Self Determination

In part 1 I broke down the different types of motivation, how they formed a spectrum from low to high self determination, and how this affects your ability to grow from setbacks. Catch up on that now if you missed it.

And I promised that here, in part 2, I’d share tools to shift you toward the intrinsic motivation that triggers your best performance and most resilient determination.

To do this, you must leverage your three innate psychological needs – a highly practical secret buried within self determination theory.

Motivation Super Power & We’re All Neurotic

But first, it’s important you know how your personality traits affect how volatile your motivation and self determination will be. Knowing yourself better makes a huge difference to how you find your motivation, and how easily you can expect to bounce back too.

Motivation and the neurotic personality trait

Although our personality traits can evolve over time, they are largely consistent and affect how we interpret the world and what really drives us. And knowing how you filter the world, and what drives your behaviour is a game-changer.

If knowledge is power, self knowledge is a super power.

Motivation and filtered attention

The research on the Big-5 Personality Traits is extensive, and sheds light on what makes you tick, and importantly what DOESN’T make you tick too. It exposes both your innate strengths AND your weaknesses.

We are ALL equally cursed and blessed! Dropping any false bravado and recognising both your strengths and your natural flip-side weakness is fundamental to performing your best.

We all sit on a spectrum between low to high neuroticism, a personality trait characterised by a tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, and self-doubt. And this affects not only our strengths and weaknesses, but also how we chase our goals

To find out where you sit on the spectrum, you can carry out an online Big-5 or OCEAN personality test. The 16 Personalities Assertive to Turbulent trait score correlates to this too.

If you score as LESS neurotic, or more assertive, then you’re motivated to chase a positive goal, to achieve something good. And will naturally be inclined toward higher self determination and intrinsic motivation along with all the performance enhancing benefits.

If you score as MORE neurotic, or more turbulent, then you’re motivated to avoid failure, to avoid something bad. And will naturally be inclined toward lower self determination, extrinsic motivation, and find it harder (but not impossible) to achieve intrinsic motivation.

Neurotic trait motivation

Being more neurotic or turbulent will drive you to high standards and to achieve excellence through hard work. But this can tip into maladaptive perfectionism which stifles your best performance, as opposed to adaptive perfectionism which is associated with better sport performance.

Conversely, less neurotic, more assertive individuals can lack high enough standards. Remember we’re all equally cursed and blessed!

High standards are good, but you must be motivated to achieve excellence through hard work aimed at realistic goals while maintaining a perspective of failures and successes, being able to learn from mistakes.

Motivation & Imposter Syndrome

Although ALL fighters experience Imposter Syndrome at some stage – that feeling that we fall short of what others believe us to be – we also must realise that having a more neurotic or turbulent trait also makes Imposter Syndrome more likely, especially in high stakes situations like fights.

Recognising and understanding your own traits helps you navigate your own self-talk and motivation, steering away from your weaknesses and into your strengths. And if your coaches and teammates know you better too, they can avoid accidentally killing your momentum.

Motivation & The Three Innate Psychological Needs

Research shows that the secret to sustaining this momentum, drive, or motivation comes from satisfying three innate psychological needs…

The need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Get this right, and everything changes; life gets better, your results accelerate, and nothing can keep you down!

motivation 3 innate psychological needs

But, what do these three innate needs mean to your Muay Thai? And how can you leverage these as a fighter or a coach?

Motivation & Competence

Competence is a sense of mastery over your given situation and having the required skills to match. A search for the optimal challenge, not too tough, and certainly not too easy either! You want to stretch but not snap.

If something is too easy, you become bored. And too challenging, you become anxious and overwhelmed. There’s a sweet spot. Every day you should strive to psychologically push yourself to succeed about 80% of the time, and fail 20%. That ratio has been shown to produce the greatest progress.

Just the right amount of challenge vs skill, or test of competence. Playing it too easy will see you stagnating instead of growing. You can see that optimal competence doesn’t mean always winning.

You must be curious to discover where your current limits really are, and be willing to fall over every now and then in order to push your limits out further, instead of letting them shrink around you.

You and your coach should strive to constantly build your Muay Thai skills, both technically and tactically. And to practise to keep those skills sharp, especially the fundamentals. Keep those plates spinning.

You should fight at an appropriate level, anything from sparring, amateur fights, pro fights, up to title fights. Whatever level makes you stretch but not snap. Don’t play it too safe to protect a fight record that doesn’t represent your true ability.

Identify what will both bolster your shortcomings and amplify your strengths, set relevant targets and then get to work. Adopt an attitude of “Try it out.”

 But ultimately, feelings of competence don’t enhance intrinsic motivation unless it’s accompanied with autonomy, or an internal locus of control.

Motivation & Autonomy

Autonomy is a sense of making your own choices, steering your own ship.

Not to be confused with acting selfishly, rather it’s acting through your own choice.

Well meaning, but authoritarian coaches can fail to foster autonomy in their fighters and students.

Good coaching encourages and inspires, rather than dictates and manipulates fighters into action.

Autonomy doesn’t mean you must act independently from the desires of others. It means acting with a sense of choice, using your own will – even if doing so means complying with the wishes of others.

For example, a coach may ask a fighter to carry out extra running outside of the Muay Thai sessions in the lead up to a fight.

However, if the fighter believes in this, and agrees to do so because it matches their own goals and values, the need for autonomy is satisfied.

On the other hand, if the fighter would rather rest up and feels forced to run, autonomy is killed off!

Coaches must inspire a purpose behind every action. Educating fighters with the “why” behind their training is as critical as “what” to do, and “when” to do it.

Armed with the purpose behind every action, fighters can feel how it links to their values and goals, and autonomy is fostered instead of resistance.

Frame feedback as constructive (aligned with values and goals) instead of criticism. Consider where you think you think this person is on the neuroticism scale, and how they’re likely to interpret your feedback, however you intended it to be received.

Make recommendations that allow fighters to pick what suits them best. For example, suggest between 1 to 3 cardio sessions each week – allowing them to dial it up or down as they see fit.

Encourage a fighter to develop their own fight style, suiting their own preferred ranges (long, medium, close, or clinch) and their own fight modes (aggressive, elusive, tricky, or counter). 

Generally support fighters in setting their own goals and making decisions about their training or competition schedule.

And this support crosses over into the final psychological need, relatedness.

Motivation & Relatedness

Relatedness is a feeling of being connected, valued, loved BY others, AND connecting, valuing, and loving OTHERS too.

It’s being part of a like minded group or community that shows an interest in each other’s activities.

It’s the security of having those you can trust, and that trust you. Those relationship attachments like parents, family, friends, teammates, and coaches.

It’s having relevant role models that display the characteristics and take the actions that you deem valuable – that your community and social groups deem valuable.

And relevant role models are stronger when they are the same sex as you, and when you see them a step or two ahead of where you want to be.

A positive and supportive training environment, with coaches and teammates that want each other to succeed will increase confidence and motivation, and boost the performance of EVERYONE in the gym.

Negative members, especially if they’re high performing, will rot your environment and hold everyone back. Those folks will cut everyone else down in order to appear superior. And sabotage becomes your culture instead of growth.

Motivation and Relatedness

This reminds me of an old martial arts fable

A master gathers his students, and draws a straight line in the sand with his foot. He then asks his students how they can make that line smaller?

Suggestions come, such as cutting the line into two smaller ones, or rubbing out the line entirely.

Finally, the master simply draws a larger line parallel to the first, making it appear smaller.

This demonstrates an attitude that builds your whole team’s performance. Aspiring to achieve, and even surpass what’s been shown to be possible by those in your community, is that rising tide that lifts all boats.

Motivational Wrapping Up

The truth is, any story worth telling has its ups and downs, otherwise it’s boring! And the comeback is a classic tale.

Embrace your setbacks as crucial parts of your own tale, that make your successes earned and not expected.

Make it your goal to understand yourself, and recognise how perfectionism can hold you back if you can’t allow yourself to be seen to come up short.

Be curious. Where are your real limits, and push them out further by taking on challenges that stretch your skills and competence.

Accept responsibility for establishing your own goals, and making your training schedule and Muay Thai practice fit you.

Be inspired by others further ahead of you, and inspire others that see YOU as a role model for their next step too. Because you are.

Here are the key points from this week’s video resource…

  • 00:00 – Intro
  • 01:14 – Motivation Types & Self Determination
  • 01:46 – Motivation Super Power & We’re All Neurotic
  • 04:23 – Imposter Syndrome
  • 04:55 – The Three Innate Psychological Needs
  • 05:21 – Competence
  • 07:05 – Autonomy
  • 09:10 – Relatedness
  • 10:53 – Motivational Wrapping Up

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

Follow Don Heatrick on Instagram:

@donheatrick

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