Focus on trust, not motivation

People often ask me how we got a 90% half-marathon completion rate for the hundreds of novice runners we worked with over the years. Actually, they are usually more specific than that. They ask: “How did you motivate them to do that?”

I try to explain that motivation is a bit of a red herring. What we do with any athlete, novice or elite, is understand their physiological starting point (These days, using wearable technology, we only need someone to go for a couple of quick jogs to get a read on this). We then put in place a training programme, and tell the athlete what she’s going to experience on that first run. Then we tell her why she’s doing a different kind of run next time, how it’s going to feel, and what the performance improvement is going to be for her strength and endurance. And so on, until the goal is reached.

The effect of our predictions coming true (this is how you’ll feel, and this is the performance improvement you’ll experience) is magical. The athlete trusts the coach. Because she trusts the coach, she sticks to the plan. Because she sticks to the plan the performance improvements are achieved. Sticking to a plan is motivating. Nailing performance improvements is motivating. And then going the distance is almost trivial.

For a wearable fitness device to succeed, the user must trust it, just like a coach. That means getting things right in the moment: accurate information and advice that makes sense right then and there.