“This is not about going back. This is about life being ahead of you and you running at it.” -Penny Chenery in Secretariat
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch a film that I have been meaning to watch since it was released four years ago. Upon completing the movie I was inspired, I was reinvigorated and I was reminded that anything is possible so long as one very important component is present . . .
The story of the last horse to win the Triple Crown, Secretariat (1973), offers a plethora oaf lessons to grab ahold of, but two very important characteristics came into play in the horse also known as Big Red.
Upon his death (1970-1989), as per usual for a racing champion, an autopsy was performed, and it was discovered that Secretariat’s heart weighed an estimated 22 lbs, compared to 8.5 lbs of a normal horse – more than twice the size of what one might expect.
Such a phenomenal anomaly is profound and unheard of, still not known to be matched to this day. But it was what his trainer, owner, jockey, groom and even other observers noticed about him that made for an unbeatable pair.
He loved to run.
In fact, in preparation of the final race to earn the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, the trainer chose to run him rather than rest him in the days leading up to the main event.
Now we obviously can’t get inside a horse’s head, bur for those who have spent their lives around animals, diligently observing them and paying close attention to their behavior, one is quite capable of discerning particular predilections and motivations. And Secretariat’s was to run simply because he enjoyed it.
Paired with a powerful heart that enabled unbeatable endurance, he out ran a worthy opponent in Sham (who had a heart weighing 18 lbs), winning the Belmont Statkes in 31 lengths.
The lesson for us? Regardless of how talented we are in any arena – speaking, math, music, sports – if our heart isn’t sincerely enamored with the task at hand, our fullest potential is less likely to be reached.
Professor of organizational behavior at Yale and professor of psychology Barry Schwartz revealed a study involving more than 11,000 West Point US military academy cadets regarding what type of motivation, internal (seek understanding, grow as an individual, improve the world) or instrumental (external reward such as money, prestige, attention) reaped the better or desired outcomes. And some of what they discovered was not surprising, but some was.
As you might expect, cadets with a strong internal motivation (coupled with a weak instrumental motivation) were more likely to graduate and be successful in their military career. What was unexpected were the cadets who sought both internal and instrumental motives, interestingly enough performed worse on every evaluative measure compared to those in the category mentioned prior.
As a result the findings revealed that in order to attain a favorable outcome, activities and instruction should be structured in such a way that instrumental outcomes don’t become the motive, even if such outcomes occur as a byproduct.
For example, eating well and working out shouldn’t be done to fit into a particular dress to impress so-and-so at the upcoming reunion. Rather, living healthily should be done to improve your longevity and increase your physical capabilities, thus the quality of your life.
The idea the professors point out is not to pursue paths that are void of instrumental value, but to make sure that instrumental value is not your primary motivator.
So today, take some time to be with yourself and take part in a bit of self-reflection. Consider the amazing ahh and wonder Secretariat inspired in others without the purpose of doing so. He didn’t do what he did to gain accolades, a movie deal or higher stud fees; he happened to be born with a gift, and then, happened to love doing something that a large heart helped him to thrive in.
I have no doubt that even if his heart had been the standard 8.5 lbs, he would have loved to run and would have been absolutely content. And based on the findings in the study, pursuing something akin to the Triple Crown that many pursue directly, most likely will be won by someone that simply loves doing whatever task is required to reach the end goal. Ironically, for Secretariat, the Triple Crown was just the cherry on top.
~Secretariat doing what he loves~
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