Why Competitive Eaters Can Teach Us Much More Than Motivational Speakers

Recently I was at a restaurant that had a burger challenge. I was extremely hungry at the time and it looked delicious, so I ordered it. Much to the amazement of my table, I devoured the thing in minutes. Completely devoid of any motivation to win a t-shirt or a picture on the wall, I was simply hungry. This however does not mean I have a calling to be a competitive eater. You can also probably think of an occasion or two when you ate an embarrassing amount of food, despite that not being typical for you…sometimes it just happens. After eating this monstrosity of a burger and feeling quite proud of myself, it led to me to contemplating how occasionally accomplishing something is not the same as being driven to pursue a goal.

A real competitive eater cannot just wait until they have a craving or are in the right mood to enter a contest… they have to train well in advance, consistently.

When we have a little surge of motivation we might be able to reorganize our closet in an afternoon, wrap up a project at work, or maybe even buy a gym membership. When you’re in a flow state these tasks are enjoyable, and you’re left feeling satisfied after accomplishing them. The problem is we constantly wish we had more motivation. And I’m not saying the fleeting feeling of zeal is unimportant, far from it. It’s hard to beat the feeling of walking away from something suddenly inspired. Whether it was a film, a commencement speech, Ted Talk, or a blog post, that brief amount of time where we feel motivated to accomplish our goals is pleasant. Unfortunately it is often nowhere near as powerful as the dedication it requires to actually make impactful changes to our life. What that takes is a series of positive habits, habits that were made from arduous amounts of work and likely, failure. We can’t confuse these occasional moments of inspiration and motivation as what is first necessary to take action, there is simply not enough time in the day to wait to feel like it. We shouldn’t expect that even though it’s ultimately what we want, that we will always want to do it, because we wont.

The figurative desert we have to cross to accomplish our goals is made up mostly of discomfort, with the occasional oasis of success.

People tend to look up to other people who have found success in a certain field of work or talent that one shares a passion for. Oddly though, some of the most popular motivational speakers might have no particular background that is specifically attractive to us. It is simply the words they speak. Something about their cadence, how what they say makes us feel, all with a certain authority in which the words flow out of them. We have likely all been exposed to this kind of speech, and likely from an early age. Think back to your elementary school days, when the announcement bell would ring informing the class that there would be a meeting at the gym. You’d be ushered in, take your seats on the floor, sit cross-cross-applesauce and then listen to someone talk. Although it was a break in the day, we probably actually really enjoyed what the person was saying and remember that feeling even now. However few people pursue a career in the elementary school speaking circuit just because they saw one as a child.

Does the following cycle sound familiar?
Step 1.“Ugh I really want to get in better shape.”
Step 2. *watches youtube videos of body tranformations, workouts, or diets*
Step 3. *buys new workout clothes, diet products, or gym membership*
Step 4. *tries*
Step 5. *fails*
Step 6. Repeats steps 1–6…

Why do we go through these cycles? It seems whenever we try to better ourselves, build a habit, break a habit, or accomplish a big goal, we end up not being able to succeed as well as we’d like, even though we know that we can.

Steve Jobs. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

A potential problem with motivational speakers is they fuel what we already know in ways that seems like it works because it appeals to our emotions. Knowing what to do, or if we can do it is clearly not the issue though. They might sound like a kindhearted father-figure, smiling and telling you, “I believe in you, you can do it!” or maybe we crave a little tough love and need to have someone tell us, “What are you doing with your life?? Go out and change it!” *Dr. Phil voice* or maybe it’s coming from someone who’s life situation is far worse than us, which makes us feel guilty because we have things WAY easier and if they can do it, we sure a hell should be able to. But what is it we want? Is it to actually accomplish our goal, to be able to sit back and say, “I did it.”? Is it to make an impact, feel better in general, could it even be that we feel obligated, and that it’s just what we should be doing? Only we know our underling motivation for wanting to do something. Funny thing, is it’s that same motivation that often seems to not to be enough.

Because desiring a thing cannot make you have it.

People like Steve Jobs did not get to where they did in life just because they kinda wanted to do something. It was because they dedicated a good chunk of their life to making their wants a reality through hard work and a fair amount of pain. The good news is there are very few things in this life that are entirely impossible. So forget whether or not you can do something, you can. Whether it’s the body we want, the girl/guy that is out of our league, or the career of our dreams, here’s 3 things we can all learn from competitive eaters:

1. Competitive Eaters Start Slow

It’s not an easy feat getting 74 hot dogs into your body in the time it takes most to unload a dishwasher. Competitive eaters slowly stretch their stomach to hold more food than seemingly is possible. But just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s a slow process, otherwise it could be dangerous. Tip for us: You can start off small, but do at least one thing daily that either directly or indirectly supports your goals.

2. Competitive Eaters Stay Fit

It may seem ironic that most successful competitive eaters are actually quite fit, some likely skinner than us. How is it possible to consume over 10,000 calories in a single sitting regularly and still be able to fit out the door? Just like some athletes (The olympic swimmer Michael Phelps ate 8,000 to 10,000 calories daily while training.) that consume a shocking amount of calories, competitive eaters can do the same because they are burning them off by exercise and balanced diets the other 99% of the time. Tip for us: Even if your goals are not related to your physical health, take care of your body. A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise gives you more of an edge to accomplish your larger goals.

3. Competitive Eaters Prepare Mentally

While taking care of our body is very important, what ultimately determines whether or not someone becomes a world-record holding competitive eater, or just an enthusiast, is being able to overcome constant mental blocks. Just seeing the mountain of food they have to get through, the fear of failure and pushing forward despite feeling full are all things a competitive eater faces. Too often what leads to us giving up is not being able to shut off the negative side of our brain. Many competitive eaters use meditation and breathing exercises to prepare for a competition. Tip for us: Being told we can do something by a friend or motivational speaker may help, but sometimes letting those two voices battle is counter-productive. Instead, quiet your mind, and just act.

To close, I don’t think motivational speakers are bad people. In fact I’ve enjoyed listening to a number of talks by many. I do believe however that they are not the thing that will make us accomplish our goals. They are the new gym clothes, the expensive cologne, or fancy computer. Things that may very well help us accomplish our goals but are no substitute for actually working out, taking a shower and being presentable, or writing something meaningful. We often like to skip ahead or get things we think will make our journey to success easier, but if easier is what we’re going for… well, we just might end up having a solid career in sounding smart to elementary school kids.