Once as an amateur, a fellow boxer asked me “Why do I box?”. His reason was to make a lot of money. Some might find this acceptable, but it’s a weak reason. Boxing to get rich is as sensible as joining the police force because you want to kill bad guys: sure it happens, but it probably won’t happen to you.

If it does happen to you, the new problems you have to face are enough to make you wish you’d never even started. You have to endure a lot to make a profit in boxing. There are easier ways to make money.

Sometimes it takes a decade to see a notable payday, but until then, you’re working some shit job? What if you aren’t paid what you deserve? What if the only way you can get a fight is to pay for it yourself? What if you lose a fight?

Suffice to say, this guy is no longer in boxing because his passion was making money, not getting better. When his main reason for boxing evaporated, so did his presence in the sport. He didn’t even make it to 10 wins.

There was another time as an amateur a guy came into my gym. He took to the sport well enough and racked up 8 wins. Before his 9th fight, he told me that the fight wasn’t his biggest concern. Rather, he was thinking about impressing the girls he’d invited to watch.

He got knocked out cold in the 3rd round. 2 days later he quit boxing because he “wasn’t feeling it” anymore. This guy was undefeated. His reasons for doing the sport–to impress girls–was weak.

People tell me they want to prove everyone wrong who’s ever doubted them. They think people are doing nothing but waiting to see if they fail or succeed. I don’t know anyone with significant accomplishments who’s driving motivation is to spite other people. A bit of a chip on the shoulder is good if it adds fuel to their fire, but it’s dangerous if the entire furnace is powered by coals of revenge.

“Why do you fight?”

“Mastery. I want to master the art of boxing.” My money hungry friend couldn’t appreciate the answer, so he dismissed it.

The best book on the subject you’ll ever read.

I don’t know if ‘Mastery’ is the best answer, but I do know when someone new to boxing asks for my advice, I tell them the following: Make sure that you find something about boxing that you like that can’t be taken away from you.

Mastery is a powerful motivator because no one can take it away.  The anticipation of improving is what gets me in the gym when I don’t feel like being there. This feeling has driven me to succeed enough to make a fairly decent amount of money—at least more than the money focused majority. This is a byproduct of succeeding at something I love–not because I was looking for a payday.

It’s fine to be drawn to something because you want the trappings of success. Everyone needs a motivation to start something. It’s usual to encounter this mindset in the beginner but as they mature, their reasons for doing a thing should mature as well. 

When you encounter the natural difficulties that arise during the pursuit of a worthwhile goal, superficial reasons will not be enough to keep you going. That’s because anything that can be taken from you is a carrot on a stick. If I dangle the carrot of fortune or fame in front of you, then you’ll go for a while but you’ll be like a drug addict chasing a fix.

Drug addicts only do what’s necessary to get their fix. The longer they go without a hit, the stronger the cravings get and the more they’re willing to do to get high. If something external is your motivation, you won’t stick through the hard times. You’ll do what needs to be done to get a fix, and that’ll be it.

In case you have to deal with an actual drug addict, I’ve written the manual. 

For long-term goals, you must find your motivation independent of external things. This is not an idea steeped in mysticism or one that requires deep introspection. This perspective is practical and there is a way to develop internal motivation.

How to Build Internal Motivation

First, understand that it is alright to be drawn to a field for superficial reasons. I’m sure professional sports team rosters are full of guys who initially just wanted to be cool or rich. There are probably more than a few doctors and lawyers who were originally drawn in by the prospect of a big paycheck.

However, the greedy nature of human beings means that many other people are drawn to a pursuit for the same reasons. As things become more difficult (and they ALWAYS do), superficial reasons won’t be enough. It won’t be long before competition forces you out.

I see this often in boxing. There is no formal process to becoming a professional boxer. Any person can fill out the forms, get a physical, get on a fight card and get paid a low amount to fight.

Other sports require a person to compete against other amateurs before being SELECTED by a professional sports team. There are many in boxing who call themselves “pros” but it’s in name only. These guys would be better off going pro only once they’d taken the time fight for free, developed a love for the sport and learned the game.

Second, realize that at its most basic, internal motivation is an addiction. People talk about runner’s high. Chasing that feeling is what keeps a person running daily, for miles, even when they don’t want to. This feeling is not restricted to the sport of running.

Once you start working out, you feel immensely better assuming you’re doing it the right way then you’re going to be incredibly motivated by the feeling you get.

At first, this addiction alone isn’t strong enough to drive you, but what you put your mind on is what grows. If each day you focus on that feeling, your hunger for it will grow into a monster that demands to be fed. Progress will become effortless.

On the flip-side, if you only focus on the external rewards you will grow frustrated with each passing day. Your mind focuses on what you currently lack. If you write for money, study something because of how much it pays or get into the boxing ring to impress people, those results are what your mind focuses on. Eventually, you will quit.

This is why the prominent bloggers caution against blogging for money. This is the same reason I caution a young fighter about getting into boxing to impress people. There are easier ways to achieve your external goals and sooner or later, you’ll realize that and hate yourself.

If it’s just about the money, you can always slang rocks.

People are motivated by three things: resources, vanity, and reproductive opportunities. Motivation dissipates upon attainment of one of these. There a few things that ruin a dedicated athlete faster than the money, women, fortune and fame. 

In the Hindu religion, there is the idea of a “Siddha”. A Siddha is a one who has achieved a high level of spiritual and physical development, essentially becoming an enlightened being. On the path to enlightenment, a Siddha gains various powers such as flying, telepathy, immortality, etc.

If at any point in his development he gets distracted by his new powers, his development will cease. Not only will it cease, but he will deteriorate until he is worse than when he started. This is a powerful analogy to the danger of doing things simply for tangible benefit.

Even if you gain your material desires, focusing on them will derail your development. For some this is acceptable—to be a flash in the pan, then fade away after their 15 minutes of fame. You won’t go far with this attitude. This is a mediocre process that may occasionally produce superior results. 

Mastery is a process of enlightenment. Self-development in the face of a difficult task that will transform you into something great. Physical training is not enlightenment in the spiritual sense, but it allows you to touch something psychologically sublime. 

Seeking personal enlightenment in the pursuit of your worthy goal is motivation for the long term. People will hate or love you. They may never see you. Money comes and goes. You may never make any. Groupies are abundant, but sparse when you’re not on top. Seeking mastery is the only way to transcend the competition.