Motivation Is Everything. And Nothing.

I found myself crying on the bus.

Not sobbing but my eyes were definitely wet. Like when you watch one of those ESPN pieces they run on Memorial Day of soldiers coming home and surprising their kids at sporting events.

And this was happening fairly often.

Granted it was a strange time for me. I had gotten injured in the back room of the biggest weightlifting meet I’d ever be a part of. We just moved and I was having a hard time adjusting to the new neighborhood. Kyle and I were in the throws of getting the gym open. I was a fairly new Dad. I was getting on the bus to go to work in the dark of the morning. I was coming home in the dark of night.

And on top of all of it there was Les Brown.

For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Les Brown is a motivational speaker. He was born in an abandoned building in a low-income neighborhood in Miami. He was adopted by a single mother who worked as a cafeteria attendant. He was labeled as mentally retarded as a child. He grew up to be a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, hosted his own television show and has been named one of the top 5 speakers in America by Toastmasters.

I had gotten into Les Brown while I was training for that aforementioned weightlifting meet. I even wrote his signature catchphrase “It’s Not Over Until I Win” on my water bottle. His entire message was one of self-empowerment. In my favorite YouTube video called “Through Hell,” which features both Brown and another well-known speaker named Eric Thomas, Les lays out his recipe for success. I’ll never be able to deliver it the way he does but Brown talks about surrounding yourself with winners and cutting the losers out of your life, of your dreams being given to you for the sole purpose of accomplishing them, of being creative when working on your ideas and of you holding the responsibility for making things happen in the end.

It’s worth 7 minutes of your time to watch and listen. Thomas is the first speaker, Les takes over about 2 minutes in.

Now this may not affect you at all. Some people think motivational speakers, movies and videos are bullshit. I respect that. But if you are someone who finds themselves enthralled by movies like Rocky, The Pursuit of Happyness or Rudy, make sure you have the tissues handy before you push play. Particularly if you find yourself in a vulnerable place at the moment.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure that we would have gotten the gym open had it not been for these videos. For those of you who have ever tried to open your own business, particularly on a tight budge, particularly in NYC, know the challenge, the heartbreak, the excitement and the quick education in the school of hard knocks you receive on a daily basis. They are memories that will last a lifetime. They are also nightmares that still haunt us. If it wasn’t for these early morning words of inspiration, this voice in our ear telling us that it was possible and it was up to us to make it happen, I’m not sure we would have made it.

Hell, we may not have even had the guts to try in the first place.

Feel The Power. Then Let It Go.

 As you can hopefully see by now, motivation can be a pretty powerful thing. Personally I’ve used a lot more than YouTube videos. Music, imagery, quotes, a good training partner that you can compete with, putting a meet or a photo shoot on the calendar, writing my kid’s name on my hand – I’ve done them all. And they really do work. Particularly when you can use these outside resources to tap into your own personal belief systems and philosophies. You see, someone else telling you what to feel or how to push yourself is irrelevant if it doesn’t tap into something that is already inside of you. Your favorite song fires you up because the lyrics are conveying a thought you already have put beautifully to music and rhyme. Writing my son’s name on my hand reminded me that I wanted to be strong and set a good example for him. Plus I was at a meet far away and I missed him. And Les Brown told us what we already wanted to believe about ourselves. That we were some sort of mavericks who were bad ass enough to pull ourselves up by the boot straps and make our dream happen no matter what the odds and regardless if anyone else shared our vision.

Think about it. Consider your favorite motivational song or quote or poem or book. Does it challenge your beliefs or is it just a heightened version of how you see yourself or want to see yourself?

As with everything that works in life, motivation has a down side. When overused, the effects become dull. Consider that playlist that helped you get through the best workout of your life. Fifty listens later it does almost absolutely nothing for you. That motivational quote that meant so much to you that you got it framed to hang on your wall, it’s just become another piece of clutter you walk by in your apartment. And, yes, you will search (and find!) new pieces of motivation but, as we already discussed, it’s going to have to be something that personally resonates and that is not always so easy to find.

And this is why you cannot solely rely on outside factors to get you through your work out, your work day, your life. You need to develop intrinsic factors – a voice in your head – in order to survive the long haul. Because when you do hard things day in and day out for years there is no song, no video and no quote that is going to get you through every work out. Around here we talk about having to be your own cheerleader. Of course we have coaches and training partners cheering you on. We have the epic music playing. We have the scores on the walls of everyone who already completed what you are about to tackle. But there will be an increasing number of moments – particularly once you get used to training this way – when all those extrinsic stimulation won’t make a bit of difference. Only that inner voice that speaks your language perfectly, that knows your value system better than any motivational speaker ever could, that knows exactly what to say at exactly the right time. When you develop and hone this voice your training and life will hit a new level.

Rich Froning (who I jokingly give a lot of shit to on this blog) has it. You can almost hear him talking to himself as he let’s his competitors jump out to an early lead to only and invariably trump them in the last moments in the ultimate display of self motivation and control. I’m certain other top performers have it as well. Simon Biles, Eddie Van Halen, Jim Carrey, Mia Hamm – you can see this inner dialogue playing out as they each, respectively, do what they do best.

Just like any other mastery, this voice takes some time to develop but I certainly think it’s worth working on. Hell, I work on it all the time and self doubt still creeps in – all the time. Having gotten busy with the gym and fatherhood and about a million other things I hadn’t listened to Les Brown in a while when I decided to put him on. I still loved it but it didn’t hit me quite the same way it used to. I didn’t get nearly as choked up when he yelled out “It’s me, I have to make it happen,” as I once did. Maybe I heard it too many times and the effect has worn off. Maybe I’m just slightly more stable than I used to be. Maybe I’ve just become cynical. I sure hope that’s not the case.

Or maybe I’m just getting better at constructing my own inner dialogue and talking to myself in a way that Les Brown never could.