Sports Mindset & Performance Coach

Image: ASP/Matt Bauer

The Inertia

Do you play to win or do you play to make sure you don’t lose? This is a valid and valuable question for every competitive surfer (and anybody looking to become a better person) to ask themselves.

People often answer in wildly different ways. The factors that strengthen our motivation or undermine it varies from one person to another. Whether it is in business or in professional sports, your success is strongly linked to your true answer to this question. But what are the common indicators of that success? And how can one identify what actually motivates them? Is it the possibility of great success or is it a fear of failure?

Both athletes and business professionals share the common clues into what motivates them. When I ask my clients what drives them in their sports or their career, the answer is often divided into two distinct types of response that make you one of two people:

The Away Motivated Person 
The away motivated type – a person driven by the fear of losing – is frequently not focused enough on the outcomes. They usually have a strong visual image of what they don’t want to have or experience. For example, someone who wants to quit smoking will do so because they’ve pictured themselves sick, struggling with health issues, or making loved ones sick as well. This particular visual representation is what motivates this person to stop smoking, but how sustainable is it to continually be in this emotional state?


The athlete who’s always worrying about losing and disappointing coaches and fans could be hindering their performance and results when they carry these same emotions into a competition.

In business, a person could be so focused on not losing their job or business that they instead “play it safe” and don’t take risks. A lot of this person’s time is also given to what may go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful.

Indicators you may be an away motivated person:
. You work and train slowly and deliberately.
. You are prepared for the worst.
. You are stressed by deadlines and the pressure to deliver.
. You stick to your ways of doing things.
. You are uncomfortable with praise or optimism.
. You feel worried or anxious when things go wrong.


The Towards Motivated Person 
People who are driven by the possibility of winning tend to be more pro-active as they have a positive image of where they want to be and what they want to accomplish. They are more reward-oriented than the away motivated person. The positive outcomes that they visualize, the feelings they will get from that end goal, are fueling their actions and behaviors towards getting optimal results.

Indicators you are a towards motivated person:
. You work and train quickly
. You consider alternative methods and are creative.
. You are open to new opportunities.
. You are an optimist.
. You plan for the best case scenarios.
. You seek positive feedback and lose steam without it.

The picture that’s being painted here probably makes the Toward Motivated person look a bit more aspirational. But the truth is, focusing on winning only might not always be the best thing, especially when the reward is linked to praise, trophies, and promotions. The chase of success can be draining, bringing in a lot of stress and comparison with others, which is unhealthy for the mind. Winning for recognition and having a materialistic representation of those efforts can reinforce the behavior of seeking more and the pressure that comes with it.

The Experience Oriented Type
Looking forward to the process could be extremely rewarding both emotionally, financially. I am a believer in the process-oriented motivation. When I coach my clients, I tend to help them visualize that journey to reaching the top, from instead of being hard and painful – which could definitely be the case – to fun and enjoyable, where the client would be exploring himself, getting to know his full capacity and becoming better than what he was before. Ultimately, enjoying that journey and staying focused on the process will make them winners, and the reward is the effort given to that process.

Having a healthy dose of away motivation is ok. Tim Ferris, a known author, and entrepreneur encourages people to do a fear setting along with their goal setting. I’d suggest being a 10 percent away motivated, 20 percent toward motivation, and 70 percent process-oriented person who really looks forward to that hard training in pursuit of their goals.



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