Why do we set ourselves challenges?

Why do we set ourselves challenges?

Whether at work, through triathlon, or other walks of life, what motivates us to achieve, to be the best we can be? I was talking to a university friend about this a week or so ago. She’s one of those people who excels at everything she sets her mind to; graduated with a Cambridge first, rowed for the university, in the army reserves yet still managed to have a social life and be the life and soul of all the parties. Last summer she had a horrible bike accident and amongst many other injuries, ended up with a nasty, high level, spinal injury. When I first heard the extent of her injuries, the medic in me didn’t believe she would ever walk again – until I visited her in hospital. Her overwhelming positivity, self-belief and confidence in the powers of optimism and persistence made me realise that, if anyone was going to cope with one of the biggest curveballs life can throw, she would. And sure enough she is. 8 months down the line, she’s defeated all the odds to walk into the house on a crutch. Positive thinking can’t solve everything but it can get you a hell of a long way. Her life has been turned upside down but she’s inspired everyone who knows her in the way in which she’s faced up to a challenge she didn’t sign up to. I know I think of her every time I face a set back or am having a bad day and I suspect all her friends would say the same.

Anyway, back to the conversation. At the moment, in my life, the challenge I’ve chosen for myself is triathlon. And we were talking about why I do it, where I find the drive to push myself, and what keeps me sticking at it. She suggested that motivation for challenges we choose ourselves comes from a desire either for personal fulfillment or for status/recognition or money. And that got me thinking. I would always have said that I do triathlon for personal fulfillment. I do it to see how good I can be. It’s not just about winning – in general I’m happy if I do myself justice. Nothing else really matters. My second place in South Africa this year more than did me justice for where I was physically at the time.
Yet, as a professional, the personal fulfillment associated with a race performance comes hand in hand with status and the money. I’d never really thought about those as influencing factors for me before, but, on reflection, they do both have an impact, albeit to a lesser extent than personal fulfillment. I honestly don’t know whether I would have found the self-belief and confidence to bounce back from another failed attempt at ironman had I not been able to finish the run in South Africa. But a good race has taken the need to prove myself to myself away. I can afford a couple of average or bad days now – I know I’m good enough on a good day, so can handle the confidence beating of the odd bad day. Similarly, though I don’t like to think about money, if I’d had a bad race at South Africa I would have had to break into my (small) savings in order to finish the year as a pro. The decent pay-day associated with a decent result has
removed a pressure that I hadn’t really acknowledged as existing. I don’t need to be rich, but now, after a good result, I know I can pay my rent, buy my food, and travel to the races I want to do. Prize money can once again become irrelevant to me.

So, while I still argue the most important thing for me by far in triathlon is personal fulfillment, I guess, as a professional, while I don’t really like to admit it, both status and money also add, even if subconsciously, to my motivation to succeed.

So, rambling aside, since South Africa, what have I been up to? Well, after surviving the winter germ free I seem to have picked up every single bug going around. 2 colds, a stomach bug, and now inflamed tonsils. Nice. It’s taken me a long time to recover this time – maybe it’s age, maybe it’s just that I know I don’t need to be on top form right now. But I could certainly do without any more bugs! Just as I thought I was starting to get some semblance of form back I get struck down again…. Other than stimulating my immune system, I’ve really enjoyed helping promote Action for Children’s East Anglia Byte night. http://www.bytenight.org.uk. This is a National sleep out in October, to raise money for Action for Children, a charity which helps keep young, vulnerable people off the streets and start to rebuild their lives. I went to visit one of their supported housing projects in Suffolk and it really did open my eyes to how tough life can be for young people without family support. I think sometimes we stereotype homeless people, and if I’ve learnt anything from this, it’s how wrong this can be. I gave a talk at their corporate launch a couple of weeks ago, and, while I think my talk went down ok, I was completely upstaged by Leanne, an inspiring and eloquent 19 year old who was brave enough to tell her story to the audience. Please do have a think about taking part or encouraging your businesses to take part in this event. I’d be very happy to come and do a talk/ training session to any company that gets 20 people (with the requisite £500 sponsorship per person, or a smaller number who raise the equivalent funds) to take part…Other than that, I’ve been into a school to talk about Ironman (clearly I wasn’t entirely motivating to the whole class as, after 40 minutes of talking about Ironman and why I do it, the final questions were ‘What’s Ironman?’ and ‘How many phones do you have?’) And, in amongst fighting bugs have been trying to get a bit of speed back into my legs.

So all in all life is good. I’m back off to Calella next week to race Ironman 70.3 Barcelona. While I can’t see myself having an amazing day, it will be a fun trip and you never know, I may surprise myself. I’m really excited to go back to the venue of one of the most ‘pinch me’ days of my life when I went sub 9 there in 2012. After that I’m racing Staffordshire 70.3 but my real target for the summer is Ironman UK in July.
Enjoy the run into summer and see you at the races!

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