Why improve?

Update from yesterday: feeling much better. Took a couple days rest, laid off the soy milk, watched out for sugar, drank a lot of water, followed through on a lot of tasks. Feeling primed to move around fast and play in the morning.

I use the word "play" advisedly. It doesn't mean I'm not making my body work hard. It doesn't mean a lack of purpose. It doesn't mean half-assing my time. I use the word "play" to remind myself I'm not running, biking, swimming, lifting weights, and learning new bike skills because I'm obligated to.

Hey, I'm not obligated to even get off the couch. I'm not obligated to improve at sports. I'm not doing this for survival or to feed my young. I'm not sponsored or representing a team. My identity is refracted more through participation than performance (though that may change with time).

I run, bike, and swim because it's fun and feels good. The hurt of pushing myself feels good. Trying new and even scary things feels good. Tiring my body feels good. Competing at my limit feels good.

But there's obligation, there's unconsciousness, and there's play. This is play. I could have all that good feeling without any organized attempt to improve my performance. In fact, the more organized and the more focused on performance, the more I sense obligation rather than play. And obligation doesn't motivate me.

Why, then, do I want to improve, both at multisports in which I expect to race and those sports, like mountain biking, in which I may never race?

I expect different answers year after year as I learn more about improvement itself. I hope, for instance, to continually better integrate focused improvement into play. But here's what I've got today:

  1. To have the most fun I can. Swimming is a good example. The better you are at it, the harder you can work it in the water and the more tough and powerful your whole body feels both in the water and out; do it poorly and you fight the water and go nowhere and it's exhausting with little reward.
  2. A sense of accomplishment and pride. At some point there are diminishing returns on each new challenge's finishing accomplishment. Though the sense of accomplishment is of course an illusion, it motivates me in short bursts to keep doing things that promote my general stability and wellbeing.
  3. The desire to use my potential. No.... that would have been true up to just now. Just now I see something. The determination to use my potential. Let's do it that way.
  4. A relentless curiosity about improvement itself. About the nature of change.
  5. And externally validating factors, which are natural to want I guess though unreliable and littered with dicey logic. Not so much validation to shore up my delicate self-worth. (You pretty much have to hit me with a bat these days to dent my self-worth. And even that just makes me question my worth to you, not me.) But I want to earn a credibility among many levels of athletes, which comes with time and proven dedication and commitment. Also, come to find out, I like being looked at with interest. I know, I'm just as surprised as you; I used to hide from personal attention. That was my M.O.. I'm warming up to it fast. Anyway, people look at you more when you do something well, or at least with confidence and enthusiasm.
That's my list. I really want to write some brilliant wrap-up paragraph here, but I haven't got one, and I want more to get to sleep. So I ask you a question:  In what moments do you enjoy your greatest sense of accomplishment?