top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

18 steps on how to stay motivated.

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Planning old school
Planning is the key to most success

So, you have decided to enter the Mongol Derby or another event that will take time, dedication and priority. You have done the research and know what the training will entail, now it is just a case of putting this into action. However, you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated.

Not a problem at all! It happens, it has happened to me in every single event I have trained for. What is essential is realising you are in a rut or a none starter and acting upon it. Here are a few things that have helped me over the years. With varying success!

1 - Visualisation of the goal
Winning iron man
My attempt to visualize Iron Man victory

Try and envision yourself taking part in the challenge and enjoying it. Visualise finishing and how happy and satisfied you will be. Imagine how proud and happy you will be. If you want to go one step further photoshop your face onto a picture of the event. I did this with Iron Man and it helped. It seemed like such an out-of-reach goal that I literally had a picture of my face on someone else's body finishing the race to make me believe it could be done!

2 - Write it down

Write down why you wanted to do this in the first place. Write down the feelings you had on entering the race and watching previous races. How did it make you feel? Empowered? Excited? Terrified? Do this when you first enter and keep it safe so you can re-read it in times of need.

3- Make a specific plan

The issue with the Mongol Derby training is that until recently I only had a loose idea in my mind of what I needed to do. At no point had I written down a purpose-built plan as I have done for previous events. I find working backwards on a general plan is best. Plot the race day date work back from there, planning how you will build up to it, factor in tapering off the week prior, event preparation, travel etc it wall needs to be on there. Then you can hone in on each month and work out what you are going to do each week of that month. See the below example for my last-minute attempt at the Derby planning.

Excel document plan
Make a detailed plan and stick to it

4- Make goals feel easy to achieve

When creating a plan, ensure you are not trying to cram too much in one week/month. This results in being over-faced. Gradually build up, make a plan that is achievable, and if anything, make the goals too easy so you feel as though you are constantly ticking off little wins. The little wins encourage consistency, which then leads to the main event being a success.

Small goals success = motivation = repeated habits = more success = main event ready!

motivational meme

Constant positive reinforcement of success in training is motivational. Breaking training down into manageable chunks makes you focus on ticking off the smaller tasks rather than slaying the entire beast. Repeating these small positive actions creates new positive habits.

If you are for example a sofa dweller and want to run 5k you aren't all of a sudden going to have all the new habits in place to stay on course 100% of the time. You would break it down into just reducing sofa time, to being more active, to going for walks, to increasing the distance of the walks, to run - walk intervals, to building up each kilometre. Each little bite-sized chunk breeds from the success of the previous and embeds habits you may not have previously held. I joke about being obsessed with adventure sports events but the truth is once you get into new habits they become part of your life quite naturally and what once seemed ridiculous becomes second nature.

The thought of riding 1000km is daunting. Add in no marked route, self-navigation, survival, and unfamiliar semi-wild horses, all in a country on the other side of the world and the Mongol Derby is a minefield of potential training panic. Focusing on all of these factors at once is impossible. Training for all of these at once is also impossible. The mistake to learn here was I was always thinking about the event as a whole and it was scaring me. The event seemed impossible, when in fact all I had to do was break it down and focus on one thing at a time. Focus on riding goals rather than the Mongol Derby. Focus on fitness goals rather than the Mongol Derby. Focus on all the other components individually and the Derby will hopefully follow!

5- Enjoy the process!

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin

People are sometimes too outcome focused. I am guilty of this. You worry about what will happen on the day and forget that the end event is just a small fraction of the past year or two of learning and improving. There will be so many triumphs leading up to the event and it is important not to rush past these as tick boxes to a greater goal. Enjoy the improvement, bask in the glory of honing a new skill or lifting a heavier weight, the whole process is there to be enjoyed.

6- Don't rush

Already briefly noted in item five but do not try to cram everything in at once.

If you have put a plan together and you realise you are trying to push yourself too hard too soon, or perhaps something has happened in life that has caused an unavoidable setback? Take a deep breath and re-plan. Do not try and make up for the lost time in the short term, that is how you end up tired, unmotivated and injured.

I was guilty of this when training for Iron Man. I ended up injured time and time again because I missed a training session and tried to make up for it the next day. In the long run, it ended up hindering training and I could have potentially been fitter going into that event. I should have slowed down and re-planned rather than pushing through and getting injured.

Your body needs time to gradually adapt to whatever new training and forces you are imposing onto it. It is important not to rush this. Build up slowly and reap the long-term rewards.

7- Positive reinforcement (giving yourself well-deserved rewards for good habits and success)

Do not punish yourself for failure! You are going to fail, time and time again and it is important that you deal with this in a healthy manner. So what? You may not hit a fitness target or you have a nasty fall from a horse. Acknowledge that this is not where you want to be and amend the plan slightly. I used to be a prime suspect for negative reinforcement and punishment if my body didn't get to a goal on some random date I had picked. I would spend hours in the gym making up for "lost time" when it really wasn't needed and was not enjoyable at all.

Motivational meme

I find positive reinforcement to work wonders especially when self-punishment is eliminated from training. (I am working on this, but hey we are only human!) Personally, if I reach a goal I have a mini celebration party. I post something on Instagram to commemorate the success and then I go and buy myself something. Sometimes it is something as daft as a candle.

8- Focus on the firsts.

The older we get the rarer it is to have a first time you did something or new hobbies and skills we acquire. If you have ventured into a task that requires new skills then enjoy learning these. See them as opportunities to grow rather than just things you have to learn for an outcome. I never thought I would have any desire to learn to ride a road bike for Iron Man, in fact, I started off hating it, I was useless and it was dangerous. However, once improvements started to be made I began to enjoy the process of progress and eventually began to quite enjoy road cycling.

cycling during a duathlon
First cycling event and hating life
Iron Man cycling
Iron Man and loving cycling because I had taken the time to learn

You never know whether you will end up loving or hating it a new skill until you give it a go!

9- Be consistent

We have all seen it all over the gym motivational posters and PTs Instagrams. You are better off doing five small workouts than one large one a week. They say it because it is true. Simple as.

10- Celebrate every win!

Some call it bragging, I like to think of it as updating and celebrating. No matter how small something may seem in the grander picture don't be ashamed to pat yourself on the back! Each little goal is a link closer to the larger one.

People complaining that you are "bragging" politely remind them that you are celebrating your little wins and if they can not be happy for you then you do not require that negativity in your life. (Additional finger snaps are optional).

11 - Track progress

Take videos and pictures of everything. Get friends and family to do it on the sly too. Sometimes you feel like there is no progress because you see yourself every day when in fact there is monumental change! I very much felt like my riding was still rubbish until I watched back some videos and noticed that my posture had slightly improved and I was less tense. Small changes that you may not pick up are always visible on a camera. For example below, without the below video, I was unable to see how a simple, small adjustment improved my race riding seat. Having the video with the combination of the feeling means I can tie the two together in my head now.

On the flip side if you are not progressing and are unsure as to why, sometimes helps to see a video or image flag the issues. The camera never lies and the correct adjustments can be made accordingly.

12- Use your support systems

If you have supportive friends or family then use them! Be careful not to waffle on for too long as they will likely have their own issues and goals in life to deal with. However, if you have someone you can talk to about problems and seek advice or even just vent to, it really does make a difference. I am exceedingly lucky to have a family who thinks I am an idiot but are interested, a boyfriend who is exceedingly supportive and friends who understand that training needs to take priority over getting drunk for a while.

For Mongolia in particular I would imagine that most people taking part are keen horsemen and women and therefore will have friends who ride. Utilise these people, spend time riding out with them, see if they have any tips or thoughts on something you have not. Even better, see if they will do the race with you!

13 - Speak to people who have already succeeded

Failing the above, the old internet can work wonders again. Get speaking to people who have been through similar situations and ask them how they managed. If possible speak to people who have competed in the event and ask them what they found hard, what they enjoyed, and what advice they would give.

There is no better ammunition than picking the brains of someone that has been there and walked in the footsteps you are following. If you can strike up a friendship with previous competitors or perhaps people in your event pre-race then perfect! There is no shame in an internet friend from common ground.

14 - Tell the world about your story

Instagram screen shot
Instagram, my preferred story board!

This is why I started this blog. Like me, you may only have a few readers but imagine if a few years on someone picks up your story with their goal of competing in the same task you are undertaking. Being a voice for others, (whether they want help or are just here for the near-death stories!) is in itself motivating.

You do not have to start a blog. The only reason I do this is that I like reading back on events I have finished because most of the time I fail to believe it was actually me. Instagram, Facebook, Tikitok, whatever your poison is use it to help others that may one day be in your position and also use it for the selfish reason of motivation of course!

Another slant on this point is making yourself accountable to your friends and family. This is a powerful tool. Sharing setbacks may encourage people to come forward with help or kind works to help spur you on when needed. On the flip side when you reach small goals you will get congratulations and well wishes from people wishing they were you and reaching those same goals too. The internet is a powerful tool for many things, most of all motivation. When used wisely it can make training all that bit easier.\

If you are a particularly egotistical type, this tactic works wonders. You have told the world you are doing something, imagine if you don't at least try now! How embarrassing!

Caution: Do not end up scrolling mindlessly for hours. That is 100% counterproductive.

15- Apps
Horse riding and training apps
There is a useful app for everything

There is an app for just about everything these days. I tend to work best off a pen and paper or a spreadsheet but even I have utilised two main apps for Mongolia. Equilab and Daily strength I can highly recommend. Equilab is essentially Strava for horses. Daily Strength is a workout-tracking app for reps and sets. However, it logs each workout and reminds you what you last achieved on that exercise so you can progress. It is the closest app I have managed to find that replicates the old-school gym sheets.

All sports have their own little app, have a look around on Google or speak to previous competitors about what they found useful.

16-- Don't be a perfectionist

Perfectionism is a particularly dangerous thing when it comes to goals because it often feels productive just thinking and planning rather than doing. It can also cause people to put off training for ages out of fear of not being good at it. This was a reality check that I very much needed in summer 2022... you are not going to be good at something when you start off or after a long break!

Here’s my example:

  • Motivated to conquer the Mongol Derby 2023.

  • I have done a fair amount of research over the years and have an idea in my mind of what the event will be like and how in a perfect world it would go. I would pick all the right horses, never fall off, make it to a horse station every day for a good night's sleep etc. I have essentially put a perfect, unrealistic expectation on how the event will go for me.

  • As I start training I notice that I am more unfit than I realised and my riding has gone down the pan.

  • Turns out, that getting back into the swing of riding and fitness is not as easy as I thought.

  • I start to panic about how my perfect picture of the Mongol Derby is never going to happen (I mean it was never going to anyway let us be honest). Training is not going how I thought it would in my head. If training is this hard I am screwed on the day. Enter discouraging emotions.

  • Discouraging emotion leads me to stop training as training is not this perfect rose-tinted Instagram journey I had in my head. This leads to a lack of motivation and seeking comfort in a sofa and chocolate rather than going out and riding in the rain.

I find that I become easily discouraged due to feeling like something is going less than perfectly or not to some great plan. So instead of failure, it's better to stop and not try.

I have found the solution to prevent this is to maintain my high standards, and detailed plans but try not to be too hard on myself when things do not pan out as expected. Realistically my riding was not going to be great whilst I was unfit and unpractised so why on earth would I think it would be. Rather than chastise myself for not being where I thought I would be, I assessed where I was, revised the plan and used that expectation as a new small goal.

Perfectionism can be the thief of all joy and in the words on Winston Churchill the emeny of progress. Ditch it and just make a start no matter how imperfect it appears to be from your preconceived ideals. The plan can change, you will not get the time back, just crack on.

Motivational meme

17 - Commit to yourself

Commit to yourself and then re-commit yourself each time you fail because that is bound to happen. You ultimately need to look in the mirror at the start and say "I am going to do this" and then continue to do so every day until the end. No one else is responsible for your success or failure. Yes, people can train you, help, and cheer you on, but only your body and mind are going through this event. If the positive mirror talk doesn't work then maybe try saying "How awful would it be not to finish!? Bloody hell, best get to it!" I find that works.

“It’s funny how day by day, nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.”

C.S Lewis

One year from now, you’ll be one year older no matter what. You alone have decided to do this so you may as well give it a shot and show up so the future you is grateful you did.

18- Give yourself a day off

You are human. A pretty dam awesome human if you are taking on whatever challenge you are but you are only flesh and bone. You need rest. Make sure you have at least one rest day a week whatever your goal. Time to switch off and think of other things, go out with friends, go shopping, whatever you need, just hit the reset button.

I always find that an active rest day that involves a stretch-only session or a light swim works wonders for not ceasing up. Just do not get pulled into doing more than required.

Even God rested, and if the boss man in the sky can, I am sure you can too.


Ultimately, different people are motivated by different things. It depends on previous experiences, childhood, personality and support systems. Everyone is different and I am not going to dive into the psychology of it all, this is after all meant to be a tips and tricks blog post, not a psychology dissertation! The above works for me and I use each tactic as and when I can to spur me on. Without any of this, it would just be a total pool of panic in my true fashion.


bottom of page