Mountainside: Motivation in the midst of pandemic | Outdoors – Jackson Hole News&Guide

Posted: May 2, 2020 at 11:44 pm


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Ive been thinking about motivation lately. I dont know about you, but the idea of staying in bed, eating ice cream, starting cocktail hour at noon and watching movies 24/7 is becoming increasingly attractive to me as weeks at home stretch off into the ever-elusive sunset.

But to date I havent succumbed to these attractions, at least not completely, which has me thinking about why. What is it that wont allow me to embrace piling on my own Covid-15? What is it that gets me to leave my house on these blustery spring days when conditions arent really perfect for anything? I guess you can say Im motivated to stay fit and to be outside, but why?

Motivation is one of the few aspects of athletic performance that we can control or attempt to control. Most of us are limited in our physical endeavors by the body we are born with. There isnt much we can do to change our physique. Sure, we can train for speed and endurance, lift weights to build muscle mass and diet to stay lean, but for someone who is 6-foot-7 a sport like gymnastics is not going to come easily, and a 5-2 person isnt likely to excel at basketball.

Mountain sports are somewhat more forgiving in terms of body-type limitations, but our innate abilities are still just that. Innate. Something sets apart the good from the great, and part of that is inherent physical ability. A lucky few of us are born with raw talent. But we can develop the other aspect that allows athletes to excel. Thats motivation.

Its hard for me to articulate what motivates me to exercise at this stage of my life. Ive just always done it. Ive had some kind of fitness regime since I took up organized sports in high school, and thats a while back now. For as long as I can remember, Ive pursued at least a couple of hours of exercise most days of the week. If you asked me in college what motivated me, I would probably have said being part of a team and the joy of competition or, more specifically, winning.

I was lucky. I happened on a pretty successful crew, and winning was definitely a powerful reward for us in those days. I not felt not only the internal thrill of victory and the pleasure of achievement and teamwork but also the external recognition such achievement brought with it. That was a pretty heady mix of emotions, and they definitely motivated me to work hard.

After college I became a recreational athlete skiing, biking, mountaineering and climbing for fun rather than competition. Now when I think about what motivates me, Id say it is a mix of things, including the satisfaction of achieving a goal, the exhilaration of working hard in the outdoors, the beauty of the natural world and the social aspect of being out with friends recreating together. But, to be honest, I am not always conscious of what is driving me. It is just my lifestyle. I do it in part because everyone I hang out with does it. So maybe that, too, is part of my motivation.

Sports psychologists say athletes are driven by intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are internal and intangible. You push yourself because it makes you feel good. You experience pleasant sensations such as excitement, fun and aesthetics. For example, you ski because you love the sensation of speed and the feeling of floating through untracked powder. You find joy in the beauty of the sun glinting through snow-covered trees and the view of mountains off in the distance. Those kinds of rewards can be hard to articulate and are more about how you feel inside than something you can tick off on a list of accomplishments. But for me they are an important motivator.

Extrinsic rewards are the tangible things: winning, recognition, sponsorship, glory and fame. Extrinsic rewards are seductive. Who doesnt want to be recognized for his or her accomplishments? Who doesnt like winning?

External targets are also critical to anyone who wants to be a professional athlete. You need to be the first, the fastest, the greatest, the strongest or whatever to be sponsored, so you need to achieve specific milestones in order to be successful. It doesnt matter if you do something that makes you feel good. If its been done before no one is going to pay your way for being second.

I remember back in the early 1990s Todd Skinner and Paul Piana were developing a bunch of climbing crags around Lander. In 1988 the pair free-climbed the Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. That was a first and a milestone in the climbing world. Skinner and Piana used techniques hang-dogging, rehearsing climbing moves, bolting routes on rappel that are commonplace now but were controversial back then. People thought they were cheating, but maybe they were really critical, or jealous, of the fact that Skinner and Piana were the among the first Americans to successfully support themselves as rock climbers by actively publicizing their accomplishments.

It was something most climbers hadnt really done before, and it seemed as if it cheapened the pure motivations that had driven climbers in the past, the intangible because its there sentiment first articulated by George Mallory when speaking about his efforts to climb Mount Everest in the 1920s.

The fact is, promotion and external rewards are critical for anyone who wants to pursue athletics professionally and, therefore, have to be part of their motivation. You have to be looking for new ways to do things, new ways to break a record, new ways to be noticed if you want to be noticed. The controversy surrounding Todd and Paul seems almost quaint now, but it was a big deal back in the day. People who never met them dismissed their accomplishments with disdain. I, who knew them and knew their passion and joy for climbing, understood that they were figuring out a way to live their dream, and I found that admirable, but it was different. It put a price tag on achievement.

Id say mountain athletes are still uncomfortable with self-promotion. We prefer quiet, unsung heroes who come back from a great physical feat and almost offhandedly let out that they have done something never done before. We like people to be humble and understated.

You just have to read National Geographics Feb. 3 article The Problem with Colin OBrady to get a sense of that. The article doesnt really question OBradys physical accomplishments hes got lots of epic endurance records to his name it is more about how hes touted himself to achieve fame and fortune that makes people uncomfortable. Hes made it his life work to capitalize on his physical accomplishments, and his self-promotion and boosterism turn off a lot of people. He seems to choose goals based on how they benefit his image rather than on the purity of adventure. Or at least thats the way he comes off in the National Geographic piece.

Ultimately, for those of us who are never going to be famous, or sponsored, for our athletic pursuits, intrinsic motivation is better suited for helping us enjoy success and longevity in our sports. Performance and process-oriented goals directed internally rather than at a particular outcome allow us to feel accomplished and satisfied even when we fail. And, when external rewards are absent i.e. a global pandemic means you have to stay close to home and dial down your objectives its internal motivations that can motivate us to get off the couch.

Still, I realize as I struggle to get on my bike when the sky is gray and the wind blowing, external motivations have their place, at least for me. If Im honest, it helps me to think about my friends posting pictures of themselves biking or skiing on social media when Im feeling lazy. It helps me to remember that if I want to keep up with others this summer, I have to put in the work. It helps me to overcome the voice that tells me Im not going to have any fun riding my bike into a headwind if I know that other people are putting in the effort. It helps me to remember that suffering is, in its way, one of the rewards.

And so, while I like to think Im a pure, intrinsically motivated athlete, a little external pressure is useful, especially when the alternative staying at home watching television is becoming increasingly seductive.

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Mountainside: Motivation in the midst of pandemic | Outdoors - Jackson Hole News&Guide

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May 2nd, 2020 at 11:44 pm

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