This was while I was in college and playing basketball. Travelling to games I would sit in the back of the minibus, hood up, headphones in, and play songs on repeat to psyche myself up.
But motivation, like good fortune or public opinion, is a dangerous thing to rely on.
In Wooden: A Lifetime of Reflections On and Off the Court, John Wooden talks about the perils of motivation. “I believe that for every artificial peak you create, there is a valley. I don’t like valleys. Games are lost in valleys. Therefore, I wasn’t much for giving speeches to stir up emotions before a game.”
Motivation is like caffeine and other stimulants. What happens when you don’t have it? What happens when you can’t get your fix?
“If you need emotionalism to make you perform better, then sooner or later you’ll be vulnerable, an emotional wreck, and unable to function to your level of ability.”
Every extra thing that you rely on to perform at a high level makes the impairment of your performance more likely. You introduce more variables, more things that must be right, and consequently, more things that could go wrong.
“I prefer thorough preparation over some device to make us “rise to the occasion.” Let others try to rise suddenly to a higher level than they had attained previously. We would already have attained it in our preparation. We would be there to begin with. A speech by me shouldn’t be necessary.”
One thing that separates the best from the mediocre is not motivation, but what they do in it’s absence. They do not quit, or defer their practice till another day, or make excuses. They do not need motivation to get the job done. How can they do this?
Because they have done what the amateur, the dilettante has not. They have built discipline. They have created systems of support that help them to handle disorder and distraction. They understand that “excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus and tenacity,” and have attacked the development of their skills with these qualities.
Now, when I walk to training, or when I sit down to write, I still have my headphones in. Sometimes I have my hood up. But I do not need to psyche myself up.
Peak performance comes not when you’re motivated, or when you’ve had a perfect morning, or when you feel good—in fact, you cannot predict when it comes.
But when you stop relying on the “right” situation, on being in the “right” frame of mind and just trust in the work that you’ve done and the hours you’ve put in, a funny thing happens.
You start to perform at your best.