Phenomenal Grit

How to Stay Motivated

Dive in to episode three of this special four-part series of Phenomenal Grit featuring four-time Olympian and Quest Ambassador OAM Cate Campbell where we discuss how to stay motivated.

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Enjoyed the conversation? Read Cate's bespoke article below to learn more about her ideas on how to stay motivated.

Its 5:00am, just after witching hour — practically the middle of the night — and my alarm is going off. I struggle towards consciousness as I would surface from a great depth. Slow at first, the weight of sleep pressing on me, then, gradually gaining speed and momentum, I come crashing through the surface and into consciousness, taking great gulps of air and opening my eyes. Its dark, the edges of the sky are hinting at the impending dawn and a few birds are mumbling a sleepy good morning.

I ache all over. Every part of me that is protesting vigorously at the rude awakening; is not screaming at me to roll over, turn off my alarm and sink once more into peaceful, blissful oblivion.

“You don’t have to do this” a treacherous voice whispers in my head. “How important is one training session? What difference will it make? Go on, sleep in, you deserve it” it croons. I sigh and briefly close my stinging, gritty eyes. Then, instead of engaging with its seductive, tantalising call, just like I have done six days a week for the past twenty years, I push back the covers and with a muffled groan, place my feet on the floor and get out of bed.

One of the questions I am most often asked is: How do you stay motivated? The truth is, if I went to training when I felt motivated, I would maybe go three times per week – and that’s being generous. I do not wake up in the morning and leap out of bed with joy. I don’t arrive at the pool fully energised and rearing to go. In fact, most mornings I don’t feel like getting out of bed at all.

So, if motivation is not a feeling, what is it? And how can we cultivate it?

Here are three strategies to ‘hack’ your way towards more motivation.

1. Motivation is not a feeling; it is an action.

I have recently set myself my most ambitious goal yet: can I, at the age of 31 (which is practically geriatric in swimmer years), after taking 18 months away from the pool, come back and qualify for the Olympics next year in Paris? If I do this, I will be the only swimmer in Australian history to have competed in five Olympic Games. As I have already said, I very rarely feel motivated and the call of a historic fifth Olympic Games seems very far away and overwhelming at 5am when there are still well over 250 days until Paris and I’m aching all over.

However, as will all goals, they are more manageable and achievable when broken down into smaller, bite sized chunks. Therefore, when my alarm goes off, the only thing I need to do in that moment, is get out of bed. Once the first action is taken, it begins a chain of momentum and before I know it, I have arrived at the pool and completed the session.

2. Choose routine over willpower.

Willpower is a form of energy, a finite resource, and therefore needs to be rationed accordingly. One of the greatest drains on willpower is decision making. Its why, when you are exhausted at the end of the week, it feels overwhelming trying to decide what to cook for dinner that night. Routine is one of the best ways to eliminate decision fatigue.

After I set myself the goal of competing in Paris 2024, I committed myself to doing whatever it took to get there. For me, this means completing nine swim sessions, three gym sessions, two spin bike sessions, one Pilates and one yoga session per week. This adds up to over thirty-five hours of exercise. I know this is what it takes to reach my goal and plot out my training weeks accordingly. Therefore, when my alarm goes off, I do not have to wrestle with that voice in the back of my head. I do not have to reach into my nearly depleted energy reserves and rely on willpower to get me out of bed. I have already made my decision; I do not have to convince myself that it is important to get out of bed. Once I have committed to a routine, I remove ‘choice’ from the equation. I do not have to ‘choose’ to get out of bed. I simply get out of bed. I do not ‘choose’ to go to training. I simply go to training.

Mapping out what is required to achieve your goal and then committing to that program is a simple, easy way to get the most out of yourself. It’s another way of breaking down your goal into smaller chunks. But before you rush off and set yourself a crazy program to follow, make sure that what you are committing yourself to is achievable and manageable. If you go too hard too early you are more likely to succumb to overwhelm or burn-out.

3. Find the joy in the ‘doing’.

There are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is a motivation to participate in an activity based on meeting an external goal, garnering praise and approval, winning a competition, or receiving an award or payment. It is a motivation which sits outside us and more often than not, outside of our control.

Meanwhile, intrinsic motivation is internal. It is the motivation to engage in a behaviour because of the inherent satisfaction of the activity rather than the desire for a reward or specific outcome. Put simply, it is finding joy in the ‘doing’ not the ‘winning’.

While we all use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, studies have shown that individuals who have long term success and happiness are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated.

Reaching any lofty goal requires immense work and sacrifice. We may toil away for months or even years only to stumble at the last hurdle and fall short of that coveted promotion, bonus or achievement. Failure hurts more than winning feels good. If you’ve slogged doggedly through years of work, gritting your teeth against the daily grind, resenting all the sacrifices you’ve had to make along the way, then if things don’t work out, the disappointment of failure can be crushing. Soul destroying. It discourages us from taking risks in the future or wholeheartedly investing in a project.

But if we find little glimmers of joy in the ‘doing’. If we can find joy in the grind, then when faced with a setback or failure we are much more likely to be resilient. To learn from our mistakes and try again.

I am not saying that we can or should enjoy every aspect of our work or personal lives, that is impossible — and quite frankly would make you insufferable. But in the drudgery of the everyday, in the monotony of routine, if we can find little moments of joy and lean into them, we not only perform better but we are more successful in the long term. Once you start looking for them, you’ll notice them hiding in the most unexpected places.

In my career I have taken more than 18,600 000 strokes, swum more than 576 000 laps, equating to roughly 28 000 kilometres. I have broken world records, won world championships and been to four Olympic Games. But I have also lost far more races than I have won. I have missed out on an Olympic gold medal by eight one-hundredths of a second. If I did not find some joy in the monotony of training. If there were no glimmers in the hours of gruelling training, I would have retired years ago.


As it is, despite being sore and tired and hungry all the time, I also recognise that this is the last time I will be this fit and strong. This is the last time I will be preparing for an Olympic Games. If I qualify, it will be the last time I pull on that green and gold tracksuit and represent my country — which has been the greatest honour of my life. Because of this knowledge, I am able to approach the final 700 000 odd strokes I have left to swim with deep appreciation and gratitude. I may not feel motivated all the time, but I do feel immensely privileged to have made it this far, and I hopefully have a little further to go.


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