It was the summer of 2009. My club side had romped to victory in the league.
I could not have had a more demotivating season.
In fact, I was more motivated a couple of seasons later when the same side finished dead bottom of the division and were on the opposite side of weekly drubbings.
I'm not crazy.
It's a common situation because motivation is about far more than how you do as a player or a team.
When you know this, you can make changes to stay motivated through the whole year, even when things are not going as planned.
Motivation is power
As a PitchVision reader you are a motivated sort. We attract that type. And that makes you special, because motivation and passion is a more powerful predictor of success than ability.
Think about the power in that statement.
Motivation increases your chance of success, success that brings rich rewards for those desperate for a chance: runs, wickets, wins, trials and back slaps from your friends. Perhaps even back slaps from your nation.
But with this power comes delicacy. You already know from my story that if the challenge is too great or too small for your ability, your motivation drains from your soul, no matter how much you try and stem the tide.
Researchers, lead by expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have long known that motivation is a balance between challenge and ability.
So the secret to self-motivation as a cricketer, is to make sure you are neither over challenged (burnout) or under challenged (boreout), over-skilled or under-skilled. This keeps your soul filed with true grit.
Defeat grind, develop grit
It's not easy to stay full of hope though.
Everyone has a tale of enthusiasm at the start of a summer, only to be dashed by failure. There are only so many times you can bang your head against a brick wall before you start to think you are never going to make a hole.
You know the gritty characters are the ones who turn it around, but you start to doubt your own ability. Perhaps you lose some interest. You start to go through the motions at practice (if you go; it's easy to skip when you are down on runs or wickets). You enter games hoping you won't fail rather than feeling confident that you will do well.
The spiral has begun, and for many this leads to playing less, finding other interests and maybe even leaving the game. A great many base this on the idea that they are "very average" players and their talents lie elsewhere. In fact JP Duminy once told me that, after a poor summer, he was one bad season away from giving up cricket altogether.
Within 5 years of that choice, he was a near million dollar IPL player: He used motivation when down on his luck to get past that empty feeling and become a superstar.
You might say,
"That's all very well for the talented South African hero, but what about me?"
Maybe you have less time, less resources, less "talent". You might be playing against weaker opposition and feel like you are playing at too low standard to progress: That's a debate for another time, put it aside because it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is what you are doing right now.
And that is driven by your motivation.
So, when you feel the motivation leaking away, what can you do to stem the flow?
Small wins make big confidence
When your glass is half full, you top it back up. In motivation terms, this mean slowly dripping in new drops of confidence rather than trying to pour in a whole jug at once.
We know that big performances are motivating: If you score a daddy hundred you are chomping at the bit to bat again as soon as possible. But if you get a duck, you can feel the drain just as powerfully, so it's important not to rely on great glugs.
Instead, focus on the small drops; the tiny wins that you can do every day to make yourself a better player, like getting to the gym 3 times a week, like practising with purpose every time, like spending 20 minutes a day on mental training.
There are a thousand ways to achieve a small drop of success, which leads to a full cup of confidence and motivation.
It's simple to do. Write down some small goals that both challenge you but are realistic. Then plan how you will reach them, turning them into physical actions to take. Each tiny drop may seem like nothing, but it soon fills that cup.
To put it in cricket coaching terms; the process looks after the outcome.
But there is something to consider beyond the coach-talk and psychology studies.
Small steps are practical and motivating sure, but we are humans, not machines and we always need a little more humanity to stay motivated.
That's where stories come in.
Be your own inspiration
You need a reason.
Stories provide context, or a reason to do something. You only need to look back at the start of this article to see me telling a story about motivation. Perhaps the idea of playing international cricket off the back of improved motivation resonated with you. You have your context, you have your story, you have your inspiration.
Maybe international cricket is a silly dream for you. So you need to tell yourself another story. You need a convincing reason why you are doing these things, or you won't even take the first small step. The best players always have a story they tell themselves to maintain context.
Let me give you a practical example.
One year my team were in the doldrums (you might remember from earlier in the article, same year). We couldn't even come close to a draw, let alone a win. Motivation was at an all time low. Then, disaster struck. One of our players was deemed ineligible to play, and we were docked a digusting number of points. We were bottom of the league by a huge distance.
The match after, we won out game at a canter. Then we won the next, and got the better part of a draw from the next. We got more points in 3 games than we had all season. We won four from five games and if rain had not intervened in the last game we might have avoided relegation. It was an extraordinary turnaround, fuelled totally by a story.
At the nadir, we realised we had nothing to lose. The team relaxed into their roles, started playing with the freedom and confidence of condemned men. Our story was going to be of an incredible turn around, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, take the time to ask;
"What's my story?"
Think it through, write it down because journalling is not just for teenage girls with crushes. Review it often and keep looking at the big story to help you take the small steps.
Only you can know for sure your story. It has to be real because you can't fool yourself. When it becomes your context you are tapping into the essence of human motivation. Use it to soar to new heights.
The bottom line is that no matter what your personality: practical, high minded, dreamer or doer, there is a way to keep your motivation at high levels.
Tell your story, keep "topping up" and keep going hard.