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How to stay motivated over the long haul

Bob Bowman is best known as swimmer Michael Phelps’s long-time coach. In his book The Golden Rules: 10 Steps to World-Class Excellence in Your Life and Work he provides a revealing look at how to stay motivated and what it takes to keep motivation up when you’re working on a long-term goal.



In the pursuit of your goals and your dream vision, one critical ingredient you’ll need is passion—that intense interest or affection that starts to develop once you hit upon something you’re drawn to. Passion often separates the high-level achievers from the mere dreamers.


But even people who love their jobs and their pursuits—even schoolteachers, sports writers, and professional swimmers—face days when the motivation to execute the Game Plan once more lags, or isn’t there at all. Something is getting in the way; perhaps it’s some type of adversity, or it may simply be the routine of the pursuit, the burnout effect, taking hold. And, as a result, the normal attention and energy they devote to the pursuit wanes.


To help you get through the dog-day moments when they crop up during your vision quest, let me offer some of the strategies I’ve used with my swimmers.


On the Dark Days, Convince Yourself to Stay in Focus

Some days you just have to work at going to work, especially if you’re ultimately pursuing a bigger prize. Regardless of your mood, you must stay committed to your Game Plan and your daily goals. Admittedly, I don’t always feel like running down to the pool deck and coaching Olympic gold medalists.


After one of our practices during the summer of 2014, about a year into our training for Rio, Allison Schmitt, one of Michael’s teammates, spoke with a reporter who was visiting Meadowbrook that day—and she admitted that the repetition and the routine and the work does get to her at times. When he asked her if she had a secret for combating those bad days, she nodded. “I get by with a fake-it- till-you-make-it attitude.” What’s that mean? he asked. “Eventually, if you tell yourself enough that it will be fun getting in the water,”Allison replied, “you’ll trick yourself into being happy even when you don’t want to.”


Trust me, plenty of days come along when I’d rather be doing a hundred other things. And when those days crop up I, l must “fake” my interest until the spark reignites the fire. Through the years, I’ve learned something: It always does.


Make Every Day Seem Not Like Every Day

As a former competitive swimmer, I know that the routine of the sport can wear on the spirit as much as it does on the body. In the years prior to the London Games, when Michael was having trouble getting motivated for another Olympic run, I introduced Friends Friday; the swimmers could bring a buddy to work out with them. Michael invited a range of friends, including members of the Ravens. When these stars showed up, everyone at the pool—including me—got pumped up. And when I used to coach very young swimmers—the ones still in grade school and high school—I would sometimes have a thirty-minute storytelling session before a weekend practice. The kids would share something they learned at school that week. Again, it was something to break up the routine while letting the kids get to know their teammates a little better.


Find Another Passion to Offset the Grind that Comes with Your Primary One

After about a decade of coaching I began to realize that I was becoming a one-trick pony. That swimming dominated my life. So I turned to the ponies. I became interested in horses and in horse racing. I began to do what I usually do: I immersed myself in the sport. Every book on horse training and breeding that I could find, I read. Every video available, I watched. What the horses did was make me a better swim coach. They provided me with a diversion from my No. 1 passion; I wasn’t always thinking about swimming, or overthinking about swimming. They gave me balance. As you pursue your dream vision, here are some words of caution: Don’t let the vision become so important that you neglect other interests or fail to develop new ones. These “secondary” skills can provide much needed perspective.


Adapted from The Golden Rules by Bob Bowman