Five Keys to Sustaining the Motivation to Finish

By John Ellsworth

In my work with athletes I hear all sorts of reasons why it’s too tough to finish. Some of them are indeed creative, but most of them I have heard a thousand times before.  For some, the task no longer offers enjoyment or intrinsic rewards.  Sometimes meeting failure so many times can build a negative habit of disbelief which is hard to extinguish.  I hear from students that “others” expectations of them far exceed their abilities and they simply lose interest because it’s impossible to please their parents.  Emotional outbursts can sometimes mask themselves as fear and worry about injury. When there is fear there is often a reduction in motivation.

Remember, confidence is directly related to repetitive task success regardless of how large or small the task is.  If success is perceived to be always out of reach then motivation will slowly expire.  If the wind can no longer fill the sails and provide the momentum to move forward doubt will creep in and we will develop a belief system that does not support desire and motivation.  With this type of thinking going on we will strongly consider giving up.

One of my students can’t seem to get the academic grades his parents want, or win a tournament even in the face of hours of practice, desire, and motivation. This smells of either external pressure or higher than usual performance expectations. I am here to tell you that “it’s not how you start, but how you finish that is the most important” regardless of the time it takes to get there. If you have a plan based on reasonable and measurable performance objectives you will achieve incremental success.

Regardless of the school project or the skill mastery required to succeed at a sport there are methods you can use to keep the fire burning and the motivation to succeed at the forefront of your brain.

1. Have a written plan with a goal in mind and milestone objectives.  The size of the task might seem gargantuan and therefore seriously challenging to envision success.  The #1 objective is to accomplish the task or complete the project on time. In the process of execution it’s important to have little successes along the way. We do this by breaking the task into little “increments” to be accomplished over a period of time.  This reduces stress, anxiety, and makes the task much more manageable. By making the task increments more manageable they are consequently easier to complete and therefore satisfaction comes more often and confidence grows.  The success inspires the athlete to tackle the next milestone.  Accomplishment builds intrinsic value and therefore self reward for the accomplishment.

2. Momentum is your # 1 supporter.   Accomplishment builds confidence which builds belief in self, which develops the trust one needs to execute without distractions.  I call executing without distractions a “functional performance.”  Functional performing requires clear and conscious process oriented thinking.  You need momentum!

3. Avoid distractions.   Distractions come in two forms; internal and external.  Internal distractions are the thoughts, and feelings that block us from conscious process oriented thinking. The good news is that we have the power to control internal distractions. Where external distractions are things outside of us we cannot control and actually have no real bearing on our success or failure unless we let them. Distractions creep in when confidence is at a low point, concentration wanes, or boredom sets in.  If too much information congests the mind you will becomes distracted.  The mind can realistically only give one subject 100% of focused effort.  Research suggests no 100% focus can last a maximum o 45 minutes, depending on the subject, which is just about the max amount of time anyone can focus with true clarity. Too much mind chatter causes mental congestion and confusion which causes thought drifting and loss of focus. To avoid distractions you need to know your limits and be aware of what distracts you.


4. Take time outs.  The #1 objective is to focus for as long as possible without getting distracted.  To beat the distraction monkey it’s important to know your concentration time limit.  When you reach your processing capacity take a planned time out.  Almost every sport has time outs. They are designed for regrouping, rest, stress reduction, and strategy.  You are a performer so why not build in scheduled timeouts during your performances to clear and rest the mind.  I like to suggest 4-8 minutes for mind clearance. Walk the dog, take a quick ride on your bike, listen to music or enjoy a cup of tea. The whole idea is to fill your mind with something unrelated to the task at hand.  When you return to the task you will feel energized, alert, and ready to move forward.

5. Lighten the load.  We create way to much stress for ourselves.  If it’s not for the high expectations we create for ourselves it’s about the expectations others create for us that we stretch to accomplish.  All day long we collect what I call “stress nuggets.”  By the end of the day these nuggets weigh us down physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Life is about much more than the “performing” we do to reach that pre-determined goal.  Whatever it takes please be sure to reduce the stress. Incorporate these 5 tips to keep the fire burning.  It’s not always about the end result, but more about the process and the joy we encounter while on the journey.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

Leave a comment: