How Are We Motivated?

Photo used with permission of Sam Burns

by Professor Sam Burns

Why do we need to be motivated? It seems like every other article I read is about motivation, or motivating others, or yourself or, or, or….

Do we need motivation for reassurance, or is it more like preemptive praise? Is the absence of motivation a mark of subpar performance or even a lack of participation? Is it just a byproduct of an increasingly weak-minded society; one that applauds mediocrity with trophies and doesn’t have winners or losers so no one’s feelings get hurt? Why must the need for motivation be linked to a need for acceptance?

From time to time, everyone needs a little kick in the butt, a wake up call to refocus and work on shortcomings, or to see other avenues. We find ourselves stuck in a rut, or worse, sliding back. Maybe that wake up call comes from being tapped or maybe even just worried by a lower belt rank. Maybe an old training partner you used to handle with ease is quite a bit tougher now.

Examining your experiences while being completely honest with yourself, identifying your weaknesses, and then finding ways to overcome them and grow is the best “motivation”, at least in this humble writer’s opinion. I will call this “invested motivation”: being motivated by an actor/action you were personally involved in with positive or negative outcomes. So if there is “invested motivation”, the flipside would be “uninvested motivation”.

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There are some awesome motivational pieces to be found on YouTube videos, blogs, Facebook pages, memes, etc. Don’t get me wrong, they can be evocative; make you smile, laugh, or cry.

Used with permission of Sam Burns.

But do they truly motivate? How many things pass in front of your eyes every day? How many of those things stay in your memory and mind for more than a day? They are generic blanket statements with no direct, personal application. They are uninvested motivation.

I’ve heard many teachers and instructors talk about the pathways of learning: seeing, hearing, speaking, and doing. Can these pathways not also be applied to how we are motivated? Motivational videos or articles may cover one or two of these pathways, but it is in actually putting your hand in another’s lapel, scrambling for position, giving your all, and coming up on top or vanquished that pretty much covers all four pathways. This is invested motivation. You were there, present, in the moment, so you have both perception memory and muscle memory input from these experiences. You are an invested actor in the actions, and there is a whole different level of impact this has on your experience and your motivation.

I’m not saying throw out the iPad, or delete your YouTube app on your smart phone. You can still get your daily Buddhist motivational text message you signed up for after yoga class last Saturday. That’s fine.

What I’m saying is this: We, as jiu-jitsu practitioners, are different than others and our motivational needs are different, too. We choose to practice an art that puts us in direct physical contact with another human being, constantly looking for a dominant position and the choke or submission.

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Do you know how alien that sounds to normal people? That, my friends, should be your motivation! We all train and compete for different reasons. When you need a motivational recharge, focus on how far you’ve come and what you’ve done to get to this point in time. Think about how bad you used to hate shrimpies. Think about how much you hated getting your guard passed for the thousandth time when you were a white belt. Think of all the drilling. Think of all the rolling. Think of all the private lessons, all the seminars, all the tape, all the sweat, all the blood, all the time.

Your jiu-jitsu life is your motivational film. Maybe you didn’t film it. Maybe you didn’t have it edited by some tech genius with a killer soundtrack. But I bet you remember the first time you tied your belt around your waist the smell of disinfectant and sweat at your first gym, the first time you were choked out or arm barred, and the first submission you ever got. Think of all the people that have disappeared off the mat after injuries, or life changes, or a blue belt. Yet you’re still here, putting in the hours, doing what it takes on and off the mat to get better and make your training partners better.

Your motivation is all through your jiu-jitsu movie and it’s all through your life. By letting it come from within you, you’re not only able to push yourself further, but you’ll bring others along with you. People who are early in their Jiu Jitsu lives will be drawn to you because of your dedication and seemingly endless motivation. As they train with you and next you, they will learn about what drives your motivation and they’ll start to cultivate their own. They will learn to rely on themselves and their own experiences to pull them through when training, or life, or anything else gets them down.

Like any good script in any great movie, it’s all up to the writers. So let the good guy win. Let the lost dog find his way home, let the nerd get the girl, and let there always be a sequel.

Sam Burns is the owner and operator of Arsenal Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Benton, Illinois.
Sam has a passion for fitness and martial arts that has kept him training for over three decades. He is always seeking to better himself, his clients, and students with the newest techniques and science in the sport.  A student of the martial arts since the age seven,  Sam got his BJJ black belt under Andrew Sabens and the Nova Uniao Team Hawaii flag.  In addition to martial arts, he is also a certified personal trainer, power lifter, and an active 40+ year old skateboarder.  Sam is a veteran of The United States Army (75th Ranger Regt-HHC, 82nd Ariborne- 3/504PIR, 1/508th ABCT-SETAF Vincenza, Italy) , and a nineteen-year veteran in law enforcement, currently serving as a Boot Camp Officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections. 

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