Finding Your Inner Success

Focus on improvement, not winning, leads to real victory


As a high-performance coach, most of my clients’ questions centre around success and failure. Understandably, they want to win and avoid losing at all costs. However, I also have clients who don’t consider themselves elite athletes, but their questions touch on the same desire; winning instead of losing. In both cases, my suggestion is the same.

Regardless of what we aspire to, we all rely on different forms of motivation to fuel us. For many high-performers, some of that fuel comes from wanting to achieve tangible rewards; championship titles, gold medals, world rankings, even money. They’re referred to as external motivators.

For some of us, maybe most of us, we’re not in the game to garner those sorts of rewards. Instead, our rewards may be to improve our time, beat a friendly rival, lose some weight. They’re still external motivators; where success is reliant on a measurable outcome.

When I was competing at the Olympics, the fuel that drove me was the desire to win a gold medal. I believed achieving that one goal would make my life complete — I would be a success. When that didn’t happen, my life went sideways and I struggled to find any viable reason to continue competing.

Regardless of whether you’re trying to be the best in the world or the best at your local gym, when our motivation has an external condition — winning — it can lose its impact if it doesn’t come to be.

I encourage people to utilize a form of motivation that connects with a more powerful and sustainable part of us; our soul. There’s no chasing when we utilize intrinsic motivation; motivation registers inside of us as palpable emotion — excitement. That excitement comes from a simple goal we can all set and achieve — getting better.

When we improve at anything, we tap into an innate experience. We are all hardwired from birth to want to get better. I’m reminded of that every time I listen to our daughter practice her piano. When she realizes she’s improving, she wants to practice more. Why? Because she loves the feeling of getting better. We all do.

What I’ve learned from a lifetime of competition, both as an athlete and a coach, is external motivation, however enticing, is limited in its ability to draw out our best. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, can inspire action in any of us without ever losing its appeal.

The next time you want to move up the tennis ladder or fit into that new bathing suit, don’t let external results be your fuel. Instead, focus on tasks that will help you improve at whatever it is you aspire to.

Utilizing this strategy, you may surprise yourself with how quickly and easily you achieve your external result — your reward. The bonus is, this strategy doesn’t just work in the gym or on the tennis court, it works in every area of life; at work, at home, everywhere. And, if you practice it, not only will you become more successful at achieving your goals, you’ll become a more fulfilled, happier person.