From Motivation to Mindset

A few months back, I noticed a change in the way that I was training, specifically my Jiu Jitsu. When my opponent was attempting to out maneuver me, I found that instead of working to keep my position, I would allow them to pass with ease. I typically pride myself in grinding my way through adversity, so this was extremely uncharacteristic of me. I took a few weeks to analyze my training regimen and performance output to see if I could pinpoint what had changed.

As I evaluated myself, I took some time to research motivation and how that affects performance, particularly in sports. I found an interesting study focusing on an expanded sports motivation scale. This study helped me evaluate myself and why I train the way I do.

The authors described three main types of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation. Intrinsic motivation (IM) is when someone participates for the enjoyment of the action without regard to material rewards or external influence.[1-5] Extrinsic motivation (EM) is participating in an activity for the end result and not for activity itself.[1-5] The individual is propelled to action for the external rewards. Amotivation is lacking motivation in general, causing the individual to quit performing the behaviors.[1-5] For athletes, this means they may quit an aspect of training or participating in their sport all together.

IM breaks down into three sub-categories: IM to know (curiosity, exploration, etc.), IM towards accomplishments (mastery motivation, create unique accomplishments), and IM to experience stimulation (aesthetic experiences, fun, enjoyment, etc.). [1-5] EM also has three sub-categories: external regulation (to receive praise or avoid criticisms), introjection (external source has been internalized into feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame), and identification (the person chooses to perform the action because they believe it’s important i.e., helps them grow as a person, reach personal goals, etc.)[1-5] Although, I don’t believe it has to be one over the other but probably more of a spectrum.

I believe that self criticism should be accompanied with a healthy dose of introspection. After examining myself and my training, I found that for Jiu Jitsu I am intrinsically motivated towards accomplishments. I enjoy the challenge of the movements and concepts, and I enjoy putting them to practice in real time against a resisting opponent. Since Jiu Jitsu is a never ending challenge, I have no problem mustering the motivation to continue making each training session.

However, when it comes to other aspects of my training such as cardio, I’m extrinsically motivated by identification. Meaning, I don’t enjoy the 50-80 flights of stairs I run every other day. I only exercise like this because I know how important having good cardio is for self defense. I guess you could say, a means to an end.

Since I’m extrinsically motivated by identification for cardio, when training I listened to speeches that I found motivating (before this year, I didn’t listen to anything while working out). When reaching a point where I felt tired, the audio helped me push myself and grind through the misery. However, when I would roll (live sparring in Jiu Jitsu), as I mentioned earlier, I would allow people to pass my defense without much resistance.

I decided to stop listening to any type of audio while doing the EM workouts. I found that it was more difficult at first but became easier as time went on. I replaced the external audio with my own voice as internal dialog. I quickly found that my live sparring began to change. I pushed myself more and wouldn’t let anyone out maneuver me without putting in some hard work (unless it’s for a specific reason i.e., helping a less experienced person practice, setups, etc.).

Motivation is the driving force behind any action or inaction, like pushing myself when running the stairs. However, motivation can be fleeting. Having the discipline to ignore the motivation for inaction is the key. Motivation without discipline is the path to a weak mindset, just as, motivation with discipline is the path to a strong mindset. It doesn’t matter if that mindset is for grinding through physical activity, geared toward personal safety, or being positive and happy.

I came to the realization that using external motivation to take my mind off the discomfort was hurting my mindset. I’m not saying that this would be the case for everyone or that listening to music or audio for motivation is necessarily a bad thing. I can, however, make the argument that in life, whether it’s a hard workout, difficult time, or a self defense situation where we may be in the fight for our lives, we don’t always have more than our own voice to help us grind through that adversity. Which is why it’s vital for us to create a strong mindset and for me listening to my own voice in times of discomfort helped bring that back.

This experience took me back to my Marine Corps days of embracing the suck, relishing in adversity, taking pride in the pain, and liking it. As I’ve done this over the last few weeks, I must say my training and Jiu Jitsu have continued to improve faster than it did before and I’ve felt my motivation towards cardio start to shift from EM to IM.

In the end, it really comes down to doing what is best for your mindset. If and when the outcome of your training isn’t going in the direction you want, it’s very important to examine your methodology to be able to make the appropriate changes that will bring the desired outcome.



1-5 Pelletier, L. G., & Tuson, K. M. (1995). Toward a new measure of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and amotivation in sports.. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 35-53.

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