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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Clarity > Motivation

Last week, author James Clear was a guest on the Finding Mastery podcast with Michael Gervais. Clear's book, Atomic Habits, has spent 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list as I write this, and has provided some of the most applicable wisdom of any book I've read. The premise is based on the formation of small ("atomic") habits to create powerful change.

At the 50:43 mark in the podcast, Clear uses the example of running to emphasize clarity over motivation as a driving force in establishing consistency:

"I think the core lesson here is that many people think what they lack is motivation when what they really lack is clarity. And there are a lot of things in life that actually we will do them if we're very clear and specific about when and where they're going to occur. But most of the time people wake up and they think, "Ah, I hope I feel motivated to go for a run today, or I hope I feel motivated to write consistently." And if you just leave it up to that, life gets busy and things creep in and you often don't have the time to do it. But if it's already pre-decided when and where you're going to do it, specifically what action you take that then leads into this new habit, it's much easier to stick with the program."

I've always believed that running success at the NCAA level is created during summer and winter breaks. Applying Clear's wisdom, it's at those points when the athlete has to create clarity in their training. When they are on campus, runs are scheduled. Strength sessions are scheduled. Workouts are scheduled. There's coaches and teammates who foster a sense of accountability for showing up.

As a result, there's much less training variability across teams - and across the nation - when school is in session. It's when that structure disappears that athletes can gain a competitive advantage if they create it on their own.

Across the board, the best athletes I've had the privilege to work with in the NCAA reached the levels they did because they got clear and specific about their training during breaks. Many of them gathered teammates and went to a destination up at altitude. They not only scheduled their training, but being away from home removed many of the distractions that could get in the way of their development as an athlete.

That's not to say everyone needs to spend every break in Boulder or Flagstaff to be an All-American. It's just that relying on motivation to train is a fickle strategy because it's a fleeting fuel source. Creating clarity about "when" and "where" prioritizes training, and helps an athlete stay consistent on the days when it isn't the most appealing option.

To realize the success that comes from consistency, the best athletes see motivation as merely an added bonus. It's clarity that's required.

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