Motivation: How to Discover Your Best Potential

By David Ryback, Ph.D.

Take some time out of your stressed-out world and meditate on what’s important to you. Take a walk alone or an easy drive on a road with no traffic and think about what’s really important to you.  What will matter to you in the long run?  What will make life worth living in terms of where you put most of your effort?  What are you good at?  How do you “follow your ecstasy”?  Once you get clear about that, your motivation will climb to unfamiliar levels.  Doing what you’re good at and what makes you feel most fulfilled is how best to get motivated for the success of which you are capable.  Michael Jordan acquired his intensity for competition by knowing what he was good at and putting in all the extra effort on the court, putting in more hours of practice than any of his teammates despite his great skill level.  Hockey great Wayne Gretzky proved his natural talents to his doubters by working that much harder at what he was already good at.  Arnold Palmer learned to attack the course rather than play it cautiously even though he was already a proven champ.

“Why do I play the game?” “Chipper” Jones of the Atlanta Braves reflected.  “I think team.  I am an extension of team.  I live to ‘carry’ the team.”   Chipper’s natural advantage was to feel part of the team more than as a sole star.  His strength came from the connection to the Braves team. That lifted his potential–the connection to his teammates.

Another team player was  1996 Heisman Trophy winner, Danny Wuerffel. “I always enjoyed sports,” he said .  “I am very competitive and I mentally and physically challenge myself — test myself.  In football, I enjoyed the camaraderie — to be able to celebrate a national championship together.”

Baseball great, Brad Wilkerson, said, “Baseball is a game that you have to prove yourself every day, every at-bat, every pitch.”  His motivation came from the need to prove himself at each aspect of the game.  He just loved playing the game, and that’s what made his motivation soar.

Another Heisman Trophy winner, and then coach of the national champion Gators, Steve Spurrier, said:  “I like to make it fun and not have the players worried about not making mistakes.  I want them to enjoy the competition.”  Motivation, for him, was characterized by the big picture, not the short term: “The key to success, I feel, is taking it year by year – one year at a time.  Sometimes you can go forward, other times sideways.

So discovering your best potential, as these star athletes point out, is finding your “sweet spot”–what already makes you compete successfully and what you enjoy excelling at–and continuing to put in the effort to be the best you can be.  Take a long look inward.  What are you already good at?  What do you enjoy doing, whether or not you were being paid for it?  Find that “sweet spot” and work at making it the best it can be.


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