What motivated Michael Phelps to not miss a day of swimming for more than 10 years?

Michael Phelps’ swimming regimen is impressive. For over ten years he swam more than 50 miles per week. He would get up at 6am and swim two workouts a day, everyday. Without taking a day off for more than ten years.

What motivated Michael to do this everyday for so many years, even in the winter? To leave his warm bed and head out into the cold and then jump into a cool swimming pool?

His coach Bob Bowman has insight into this, and it highlights the importance of cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose. Sure, Michael can always slightly improve on his personal times, break new records, and add more glory to his individual record. But that’s not what was driving him to do extremely exhausting and repetitive work.

According to Bowman, the core of what drove Michael is that he got a feeling of tremendous satisfaction from bringing swimming to a wider audience. Michael felt a mission that he could change the sport of swimming, and by raising swimming’s profile, he knew he could help others discover a sport that had personally given him so much in terms of growth and wellbeing.

And indeed Phelps has elevated his sport, changing it forever. He has influenced what sports children and adults around the world choose to pursue. Before Michael Phelps, swimmers were not on SportsCenter. After Phelps, swimmers are on SportsCenter — and not just Michael but other swimmers.

This is a great lesson for all of us. It is not self-oriented goals that got Michael Phelps to do difficult, monotonous work. It was a deep sense of meaning and purpose. A mission that emotionally connected him to many other people and greatly enhanced his motivation — especially on those dark, frigid mornings in January.

What meaning and purpose can you cultivate in your own life to help energize you to do difficult things?

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Art James Heller is a positive psychology life coach and career coach. He meets with local clients in Hillsboro, OR and clients from around the world by phone and video. If you’d like to learn more please explore the site, or get in touch to sign up for a free consultation.

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