Talent Doesn't Lift Weights, You Do: Ignite Your Motivation

Sam MacIntosh

Coach and Assistant Editorial Manager

Sports Psychology, Nutrition, Olympic Weightlifting


In the first installment of this series, we learned about myelin, the neural insulator critical to the development of skill, and examined how to stimulate its growth with deep practice in your weightlifting training. Deep practice is practicing actively, mindfully, and with awareness of your errors.


It's the most important of all of the signals your brain requires to grow more myelin, and the sum of these signals required to develop skill mastery is coined by the journalist Daniel Coyle as the talent code:



deep practice + ignition + master coaching = talent

Deep practice is the action, and thus the most critical of all of the three elements. But deep practice is hard. It requires dedication, and dedication doesn’t happen of its own accord. A motivational process must happen beforehand to kick start the hard work. In the world of the talent code, the process is called ignition.


Ignition is the motivation and passion that gets the deep practice wheel turning

Ignition is the engine of myelination.


Ignition is the motivation and passion that gets the deep practice wheel turning. If myelin is the car on the superhighway to your goals, ignition starts the engine1. And it’s not enough for it just to spark: it has to burn continuously to keep the car moving.


In this article, we’re going to look at ignition: what yours is, why it motivates you, and how to incorporate ignition into your goal setting.


4 Ways to Harness Your Ignition for Weightlifting: 1. Identify the Moment of Your Ignition

The good news is, your ignition for weightlifting has already happened. You just need to commune with the moment more consistently to channel its energy into your training.


Step one is to think hard about when your exact point of ignition was. Pinpoint the specific moment in time that you decided weightlifting was for you. Your moment could have occurred watching a video, working out in the gym, or spectating at a competition. Write the moment down in as much detail as you can. Where you were, how old you were, and what was going on around you. This moment sparked you to jump down the weightlifting rabbit hole. Each of these details could be significant.


For example, mine was watching Matthias Steiner win the Olympic Gold at the Beijing Olympics. Steiner lifted a monumental clean and jerk to slide into first position to fulfill a promise to his wife, who had died the year before in a car accident. Steiner's final lift was the most profound feat of sport I’d ever seen, and I instantly fell in love with weightlifting. I was twenty-five years old.


4 Ways to Harness Your Ignition for Weightlifting: 2. Identify The Why of Your Ignition

Write down why your moment of ignition meant so much to you. The moment’s meaning to you is what Coyle calls your primal cue2: the motivational signal that issues a deep call to your inner self to take action. It’s your why for participating in the whole rodeo.


Whereas deep practice is a slow, consistent, and uncomfortable process, ignition from a primal cue strikes like lightning: shocking, illuminating, and deeply personal. Fleeting as this cue can be, it’s easy to remember the flash, but more difficult to remember why the cue meant so much to us. But the personal significance of the cue is where the meat is.




"It’s critical that you identify what you want out of the weightlifting experience. Assess how realistic the ultimate goal is, and what you’re willing to give up to achieve it."

You could have been a short guy who saw Liao Hui snatch 166kg at 69kg and reconfigured your idea of what the perfect athlete looked like. Or a woman who watched Hookgrip videos of Lydia Valentin and realized that feminity and strength aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe you tagged along to a CrossFit competition and loved the idea of pushing yourself with the lifts and being cheered on. Don’t judge or question your reason. Whatever it is, it’s valid. Note down every element.


4 Ways to Harness Your Ignition for Weightlifting: 3. Make Your Ignition Mission Statement

Now we’ve gone a way to understanding your ignition, it’s time to look at how you’re going to bring the heat of its inspiration to your training day-to-day. Being inspired is one of the best feelings in the world, but it’s only the first step. And inspiration tends to disappear when your alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning.


I want you to imagine yourself thirty years in the future. When your future self looks back on what they achieved in weightlifting, what does the story look like? Is he or she an Olympian? Divisional Champion? Is there an Olympic total he or she is proud to tell their grandkids about?


Ignition is the fire to fuel your training.

You need to be able to primally connect to your motivation every day -not just on the competition floor.


This is an opportunity to flesh out what you want to achieve and highlight the window of time you have to achieve it in. I may be contesting biological determinism, but I’m not debating that you’ll eventually get older and lose the physical capabilities you have now. Identify what you want out of the weightlifting experience, then assess how realistic the ultimate goal is, and what you’re willing to give up or do to achieve it. This brings your ignition into the real world and gives you a practical base.


4 Ways to Harness Your Ignition for Weightlifting: 4. Write Your Game Plan

  1. Take the inside page of your training diary and write your future self’s best memory into a one sentence mission statement. Once you have it, mark a year you want to achieve your mission by, and note how far away that is in years. For each year, write down a single goal that will bring you closer to fulfilling your overall mission.
  2. Start your plan of attack with the year we’re in now. Note your annual goal and break it down further into six-month and three-month goals, then focus all of your training around achieving the most immediate goal.
  3. Look back at your main mission statement and short and long term goals frequently to focus your time in the gym and make it as productive as possible. Training can feel like a constant battle, but ignition fires you up to win the war.


If Ignition is the Fire, a Coach is the Catalyst

So far, the talent code seems simple: passionate motivation fuels deep and concentrated practice, and knowing more about myelin subverts society’s notion that skill is genetically predetermined.


But there’s one more element of the talent code yet to be examined. Master coaches are the catalysts in the talent code, with an uncanny knack of fostering skill and motivation in everyday humans3. According to Coyle, history has thrown out precious few of these coaches, but each of them have several practices in common that every coach can learn from.


Next time, we will examine how the talent code can inform your coaching in the gym and find out if you have what it takes to grow prodigious talent in your team of athletes. We’ll be heading over to Coaches Only, Breaking Muscle’s premium content site for coaches and gym owners who are dedicated to developing their coaching knowledge and practice. I’ll see you there next month for the third and final installment of this series.


This article was originally published on Breaking Muscle UK.


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Photo 1 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo 2 courtesy of Rx'd Photography.



1. Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code (2009, Arrow Books) p. 98.

2. Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code (2009, Arrow Books) p. 101.

3. Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code (2009, Arrow Books) p. 161.

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