When we first commit to a new endeavor, motivation surges through us, propelling us forward. We are inspired by our new undertaking, filled with visions of success and the excitement of the journey ahead. However, this initial high eventually wanes, and so too does our intense fervor when it becomes clear that our vision will not be so easily obtained. There will be challenges that we did not anticipate, and our initially hazy image of what it meant to dedicate ourselves to this goal is replaced by firsthand knowledge of the day to day reality of what the hard work looks and feels like.
It is at this point that we are faced with a choice: we can either surrender to the challenges or we can persevere through them. If we chose to continue, what motivates us must evolve. A simple desire to achieve our ultimate goal will no longer be enough to drive us forward. Instead, we become motivated by the process, not the end product. We find joy in the work. We live in the now.
In martial arts, rank progression is the initial motivation for many would-be students. Achieving a Black Belt is a tangible and seemingly “ultimate” goal of joining a martial arts program. But, as it turns out, there is a lot of work required to get to Black Belt! There is even a lot of work required to earn your first rank. A martial arts student is not able to live off of a desire for Black Belt alone. Those who are able to adjust their expectations and embrace the practice and work itself are not daunted by this new reality. They are able to find motivation to come to class and to practice, not just to “become a Black Belt.” They are fueled by an internal motivation. For those who are solely focused on the external motivation of rank advancement, there are many obstacles. They will not feel they are advancing fast enough, will worry about the pace that others are moving, or will feel bored with practicing the same things repeatedly and, sooner or later, this goal-centric motivation will not be enough to keep them in class.
That’s the secret to becoming a Black Belt. First, join a martial arts program. Second, don’t quit. But the only way to accomplish this seemingly simple task is to find ways to let your motivation grow and change with the new challenges you face along the way. The desire to become a Black Belt alone is not enough. What you need is a desire to do the work of showing up to class each day. And then one day, you will realize that you reached that “ultimate” goal of Black Belt. But now you understand that you are just beginning a much larger journey.