H – Heighten Hunger

Some years ago, I attended a high-performance coach summit for ski racing. A presentation began with a short video of synchronized swimmers performing at an Olympic Games. It was met with a few giggles. The giggles soon dissipated as the skill of the swimmers soaked into the skulls of the watching coaches. Many athletic abilities were being showcased under intense and stressful conditions. These athletes had to be capable of holding their breath for well over a minute while moving vigorously to tread water. These athletes were undertaking acrobatic maneuvers under and above water coordinated amongst themselves and coordinated to music they likely could not hear, all while wearing smiles on their faces. There was no question effort was being exerted and this activity mattered deeply to them in this moment.

Sport shows us that it is cool to care. Caring leads to commitment which is the cornerstone of accomplishment. There’s an almost universal appeal to watching those that are deeply involved in something. Jerry Seinfeld admits, “I am completely obsessed. And the audience wants that; they pay for that. I don’t want to see someone who’s kind of into it. … That’s what I care about. That’s all I care about. I don’t care what you do—I just want to see people and talk to people and be around people who are into it.” At the end of the day, why someone cares about something is less important than the fact that they care. Seth Godin supports Seinfeld’s sentiment writing, “what we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.” On some level, someone’s caring about something is contagious. It’s compelling to see those that are committed. We enjoy being around and want to support those that are committed. It’s cool to care. The energy for the effort comes from a deep connection to the activity for the athlete. They care enough to contribute all of themselves to improving. What is being done seems secondary to the complete commitment being brought. The willingness to work and give all of oneself to something is the commonality across sports that makes for compelling viewing.

The distance we travel on the road to progress is tied to the depths with which we see ourselves as destined to be on this path. The more we see our identity tied to these tracks, the more likely we are to stay on them. Daniel Coyle writes about a study that began in the late 90’s looking at the development of musical skills amongst youth in his book The Talent Code. The study asked the kids and their parents several questions from when the children were as young as seven years old and were about to start lessons for a musical instrument. The researchers then followed the students’ progress over more than a decade. They continued to check in asking questions and assessing their skills.

A wide range of skills presented. Some gave up, some pursued with greater diligence and intensity. Some seemed to show a natural ability and separated showcasing superior skills. Others trudged along. The researchers were keen to identify the secret sauce underlying those that were propelled to do well. Was it the intelligence of the child? Was it the intelligence of parents? Was it the family income? Was it the amount of training? The type of instruction? Did some children have better hearing sensitivity? Were they better at understanding rhythm? Why did some progress faster and further than others? What contributed to skill and what held others back? Is the separation of skill seen just a natural by-product of individual differences or is there something that we bring to the table that contributes to talent development?

None of the factors initially explored had any statistical link to student performance. The researchers had all but given up finding something when they stumbled across a throw-away question they had asked kids at the outset of their experience. The question posed, Coyle writes, was “How long do you think you’ll play your new instrument?” Researchers bucketed responses into three categories reflecting student commitment to their instrument of short-term, medium-term, and long-term. When researchers evaluated actual performance against initial commitment levels, they were stunned. Skill development followed initial commitment. Of this outcome, Coyle wrote, “Progress was determined not by any measurable aptitude or trait, but by a tiny, powerful idea the child had before even starting lessons.” Those that started with the idea that they would be doing this activity for the long-term outperformed by four times those that were not committed. The committed with much less exposure to practice still outperformed the uncommitted with four or five times as much practice. Commitment created competence.

When researchers overlaid the amount of practice as a separate variable on top of commitment, the results were even more revelatory. Those that had a high commitment to learning their instrument coupled with higher levels of practice were far and away the highest performers. Those with low commitment and low practice time were the worst performers. Coyle writes, “What ignited the process wasn’t any innate skill or gene. It was a small, ephemeral, yet powerful idea: a vision of their ideal future selves, a vision that oriented, energized, and accelerated progress, and that originated in the outside world.” It’s more than, sign me up, I’m in. It’s I’m all in. I will be here through thick and thin. The activity and identity of the participant merge. This is who I am. This matters to me.

These musical students were living what Sir William Osler observed, “The most important step in becoming successful in anything is to first become interested in it.” Author Napoleon Hill concurred when he wrote, “No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like.” The motivated are more than interested in their subject. It is more than just a like of it. They hunger for it. They thirst for it. They are called to it. Some seem blessed with a burden or have a rage to master. Goals more than guide, they provide drive, a hidden force pulling the best efforts out of those called. The mystery of motivation is that we know it when we see it and we love it when we feel it but how do we get it? What is included in this kind of hunger?

Our hunger, thirst, drive, willingness to work, or motivation is the sum of three components represented in the following sentence. This matters to me. Motivation is the sum of This, Matters, and to Me.


This can be many things. This is what captures our attention. It can be a person, it can be an activity, it can be a purpose, or it can be a feeling. This can be a positive or a negative. We can be moved to approach pleasure or to avoid pain. Both carrots and sticks serve as movers. Our target, our this, can be both a compelling positive direction as well as a fearful, negative one we’re seeking to avoid. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a great representation of the various things that can matter to us in terms of feelings that pull on our energies.

Maslow’s framework presents across five levels. The base is built on survival needs which include shelter, water, food, and sleep. Without these, we won’t seek much of anything else. Higher level needs aren’t seen let alone considered when we’re worried about figuring out where we will sleep tonight. The next level up are safety needs. These include feelings of security, protection, comfort, and stability. We’re motivated to find a balanced field from which to operate in the world. The middle of Maslow’s hierarchy are connection needs which include relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. Our relationships can be potent motivators as the author Emanuel Swedonborg noted over 250 years ago when he wrote, “Love in its essence is spiritual fire.” We can be drawn to work incredibly hard and make serious sacrifices all with the hope of improving the lives of those we care about.

If we’re lucky enough to satisfy these three layers of needs we can move up to esteem needs, Maslow’s fourth level. These include things like recognition, respect, achievement, awards, competition, status, and dominance. This is the world of material trappings, medals, credentials, titles, and prestige. It might involve pride, a chip on the shoulder, and something to prove.

The highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy are self-actualization needs. These are aspirational and can never fully be achieved. They represent the longest lasting form of motivation. This is the world of curiosity and exploration. It also includes developing autonomy and pursuing mastery. Learning, variety, creativity, novelty, purpose, legacy, developing others, giving back, justice, and social responsibility all fall in this bucket.

Our esteem and self-actualization needs are things that arise internally within an individual. We can be driven by a drive to be the best. We may be spurred by a deep desire to determine what our limits may be. How far can we go? How good can we get? We may be fueled by curiosity which motivates us to explore the edges of performance of an activity independent from performance outcomes. We may care less about medals and recognition and more about how purely we can perform this activity. How fast can we run, how far can we run, as examples.

Activities whether they be work, hobbies, or sport can become our “This” motivators. For example, author Willa Cather observed, “Writing interests me more than anything else. If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make it an adventure every day. I get more entertainment from it than any I could buy.” Her interest inspires her efforts. An alternate example of an activity serving as meaningful motivation is offered by the late doctor and running enthusiast, George Sheehan, who noted in The Essential Sheehan, “In the creative action of running, I became convinced of my own importance, certain that my life had significance.”

Our “this” doesn’t have to be singular. We can have multiple motivators. There’s strength in numbers. The more the merrier. We should be working to stack as many on top of each other as possible. We’re not trying to dilute our motivation or interest, but pile on more and more complimentary motivators. Our interest in the activity coupled with the love of improvement will be stronger than just a passion for the activity, for example. If we add a drive for being the best in our group with this activity, our “this” is growing in a way that will expand our gas tank. We can add still more engagement by building our desire through a focus on some kind of record to strive towards. Even with all of these “this” areas building our engagement to lofty levels, we can connect our efforts with how it will make a difference in the eyes of those we care. We will be able to provide well for our children if we become world class good at this activity. We will be able to demonstrate ourselves as an excellent role model in our community for youth as we work to improve in this area. Stacking supporting “this” variables is a great way to supercharge our engagement.

Our “this” is not one and done. It’s worth revisiting regularly to determine if we’re still choosing to be called by our “this.” We play a part in consciously creating our “this.”

This can start as a social benefit or fun of an activity. We’re pulled to participate because we enjoy the company of others doing the same thing. The more time we spend at our this, the more competence we develop. Then we start to be recognized for our accomplishments in the arena. Now, it’s less joining our friends for fun and more about the confidence we feel from our competence being recognized. We can then have our this become higher levels of achievement or the goal of mastery.

Finding our “this” is identifying what we like and why we like it. The more conscious we are in learning to know our interests, the more likely we are to tap in to our “this.”

Some questions to consider:

–       What do I like doing?

–       Why do I enjoy it?

–       What benefits do I get from it?

–       Are there things that are easy for me which others seem to struggle?

–       If I could spend a day doing anything I wanted, what would I do?


There is a big difference between wanting something and needing something. Sure, we want things. We want a lot of things. Until we must pay for it. Pay for it with resources of some kind. Money, time, effort. Suddenly, our interest dissipates. We think we want it, until we must earn it. Those that are willing to do the work see the outcome as more of a need than a want. It is essential to their existence. High performers don’t just want something. They need it. They are hungry, thirsty, completely committed to pursuing. They are willing to give every ounce of their energies in service of going after what it is they’ve identified as the target.

The intensity of our drive can be viewed as our horsepower or the level of RPMs at which we’re willing to rotate. What are you willing to give? To what percentage of your output capacity are you willing to operate? How much of your engine are you going to use? Our intensity represents how hungry or thirsty we are. What is the level of our desire? At its most basic it is the difference between wanting something and needing it. Our intensity is the answer to the question, “How bad do you want it?” Former NFL player, Carnell Lake observed, “You’ve got to care. You start uncovering the layers of everything surrounding the game—the money, the hype, the stardom—and it comes down to this: How bad do you want it?”

Matters can range from apathy and disinterest all the way to complete zealotry. Moreover, matters isn’t static. We can move our matters meter to make something more meaningful to us. The more something matters to us the fuller our fuel tank will be to propel us on our journey. Additionally, the more something matters to us, the more horsepower our engine will have to drive us to our destination.

Some questions to consider:

–       Do you want this or need it?

–       How badly do you need this?

–       What are you willing to give?

–       How hard are you willing to work?

–       Is this interesting or is it an obsession?

–       Is this a hobby or a hunger?

–       Do you see yourself doing this 5, 10, 25 years from now?

–       Is this part of who you are?

–       How long are you prepared to wait to see progress?


As the musical students showed, their choice to participate coupled with the connection of their identity with instrument led to leaps in learning. Their engagement followed enrollment. They chose to be there. Participation wasn’t compulsory. Our drive can’t be dictated. We can’t decree a desire upon someone. Motivation can’t be mandated. Our ambition isn’t powerful when it has been assigned to us. Purpose is personal. Our parents, teachers, coaches, or peers may influence what we care about, but they can’t impose inspiration upon us. Our motivation bubbles up from within us. It needs to be your choice.

Dan Gable’s performance as a wrestler was only outdone by his performance as a coach. He achieved great success both as a collegiate and Olympic athlete. As a NCAA coach over more than twenty years, Gable coached more than 150 All-Americans winning 15 National Titles and athletes that won eight Olympic medals. Gable understood the importance of individual commitment to performance. Many flocked to him with hopes of being catapulted by his coaching to the next level of excellence. Prior to Gable working with athletes, he was known to pose a single question: “How important is it to you?” Before Gable could impart any technical or tactical wisdom to an aspiring athlete, he needed to know what level of commitment was being brought to the table. Was the athlete there for the right reasons? Were they willing to do the work? The higher wrestling ranked in importance to the individual, the more likely they would devote their energies to training. Resilience follows commitment. We will endure when our motivation is pure. In turn, progress is the reward for persistence. Gable’s question served as a filter to weed the wishers from the workers, those that dreamt of success versus those that were willing to do whatever it takes. Enrollment is a precursor to excellence. If you don’t want it, I can’t help you regardless of how much I know. Your desire drives your participation. I can’t beat you or berate you into greatness. As different and diverse as these decisions appear, there’s something they share. For high performers, the reason this matters to them comes from within. The determination is theirs.

To be enrolled is to commit. I want to be here. It is a conscious choice. I am not doing something out of obligation but of volition. If someone is showing up with an appetite for learning, they are giving their most important asset: their attention. To begin with this puts one at the front of the learning queue. Committing one’s attention is a head start over others who have little interest in learning. When one signs up, they then show up. When they show up, they are bringing their full attention. The attention funnels focus to alert their awareness antenna on the subject at hand. They are tuned in to the right frequency with hopes of capturing all relevant information. The focus filter ensures what’s important to the subject at hand gets through and all the other distractions are kept out. It’s the exact opposite of those that don’t want to be there. Those that don’t want to be there are turning their awareness antenna off. They are doing their best to not pay attention. They are finding a window to look out of instead. A disinterested learner is an oxymoron. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to learn while being disinterested. If you choose not to look, you won’t see. Those that are enrolled want to see. They are eager to absorb information presented. The disparity in progress between these two types of learners is massive. It’s a far greater explainer of individual differences than born intelligence or prior learning capabilities. Those that recognize something as meaningful to them coupled with some belief that they are capable of learning this will dig in and make progress. These two paths accelerate in different directions. Each is a feedback loop that builds on what it started. Those that don’t want to learn continue to allocate their attention anywhere but here. As a result, they learn less and become even more disinterested as they see the gap between them and the real learners grow. However, the ones that want to be right here, right now, enjoy paying attention and improving. They are being rewarded for their efforts. Their engagement with the material grows as they gain competence from their efforts.

Defining what matters to me is to recognize something is important to us. It seems straightforward and yet it’s something many of us struggle to find. The first of the five regrets of the dying identified by palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, is a regret of living a life not true to oneself. Many look back on their lives wishing they had followed their hearts and pursued their deepest dreams and feel the regret of having led a life to satisfy others or conform to the standards of society. It’s an all-too-common outcome. Choosing may be the most powerful asset we bring to the talent table. If we want to be there, we’ll do our best to participate. Progress follows participation. Commitment follows choice as does engagement follow enrollment. Where we decide, we develop drive. Our desire determines our willingness to perspire. Excellence is a product of passion. The more we care, the more willing we are to dare. Rejoice in your choice.

Some questions to consider:

–       Is my “this” a get to or a have to?

–       Did I choose this, or have I been signed up for it?

–       Am I doing this because I want to or I’m trying to please someone else?

–       Is my heart in it?

–       Does my commitment follow my choice?

–       How important is “this” to me?

Summary Points:

Our hunger reflects how badly we want something.

Hunger is our commitment to a cause.

Our commitment consists of three variables: This, matters, to me.

This is the subject.

Matters is the meaning we place on our subject.

To me is the personal choice to engage or enroll in an effort.

Our commitment is the product of these variables.

Build any component to build commitment.