The deep motivation from within

Psychiatrist Dr. Simon Senner knows why kitesurfers are so passionate about their sport and why kiting is a healing power for the psyche. Here he deals with the human psyche, thinking and feeling, all mental ability such as emotion, perception, sensation, intuition or motivation.

In your free time you are a dedicated kiter yourself. Where does this motivation of kitesurfers to practice their sport so passionately come from?This deep drive that every kitesurfer feels is this famous virus of wind sports, that out of an incomprehensible motivation you say: I have to do this, I want to experience and feel this again. That comes from a deep self. This is called intrinsic motivation, the motivation that comes from deep within a person. There‘s a fire blazing inside you that leads you to set out for the spot, perhaps even in spite of a mediocre forecast.

So this can‘t be rationally explained in medical terms?
Intrinsic means to do something out of ‚oneself‘ and we only do that because we feel deep inside that it makes us feel damn good. Kitesurfing releases happiness hormones, endorphins, in the brain that leave such a lasting impression on us that we can‘t help but want to do it again. This distinguishes kitesurfers from extrinsically motivated people, who do not strive for a feeling, but for a concrete thing. For example, they subordinate everything to a promotion at work or the pursuit of a company car and in doing so, they sometimes don‘t realize until it‘s too late that they themselves are falling by the wayside. A company car doesn‘t give them the experience that kitesurfers feel. A company car is only a confirmation from the outside.

So intrinsic motivation is clearly the stronger one?

Out of an intrinsic feeling, I go to the spot ten times even if every time there is no wind. It is precisely because it is sometimes so difficult for everything to fit together, the wind, waves, material, physical and mental condition that we need a lot of „deep drive“. But I still go for an eleventh time, because the drive remains. I‘ll give it a try, it‘ll be a good session today. The intrinsic drive, the experience, is infinitely stronger, makes you much more satisfied, lasts longer and also carries you over setbacks. The motivation is fed by the experience itself again and again.

Can I also get this feeling from videos or pictures, or do I really have to go out on the water for it?
In the long run, you can‘t create this feeling artificially. You have to go out on the water. But the idea of a kite session can also inspire. For example, when I look at the forecast on Windfinder I go into a spiral of my own, I see the forecast for 15 knots at the spot, I have mental images of putting on the wetsuit in the parking lot, pumping up the kite, and where I’ll make the first jump. Then that feeling builds up and the endorphins are widely released. It only takes a small trigger to kick off the whole spiral. The nice thing is these mechanisms are very resistant to setbacks. Maybe I have the feeling it‘s a bit too cold, but 15 knots are the order of the day and the prospect of wind beats the negative arguments that might stop me. The overall effect is to push us beyond our limits. I have been drawn to the beach with such strength that I accept even challenging conditions. The waves might be really big, but I still try because I know that when I come off the water, it‘s the best feeling. That wouldn‘t be possible without intrinsic motivation. With this motivation, we can get rid of small counterarguments and permanently develop ourselves further

What exactly do you mean by develop further?
There are various aspects that also strengthen kitesurfers in their everyday life. Many people feel a certain pressure of expectation in their lives. What does society want from you? What pressure do I put on myself in my job? What does my social environment expect from me, my family, my partner? Am I fulfilling them? If these questions get out of hand, it can be that one no longer dares to enter certain situations and avoids them more and more. Then the fear of these situations grows and grows. If you conserve your fears, you may develop an anxiety disorder. Kiting is in many ways the exact the opposite of that. I have to permanently face uncertainty and new situations. How much wind is there outside between the waves? What happens if I might not make the jump? In kiting, there are many things I can‘t predict and that ultimately strengthens your approach to complex situations and decision making, with less fear in other areas of life as well. It trains you to feel comfortable with uncertainty.

Kiting is simply a sport where I am forced to be in the moment. Kiting teaches you to appreciate the moment

And improves overall mental health?
Yes, kiting keeps you psychologically healthy. It has been scientifically proven on a broad basis: Sport, especially in complex forms like kiting, can significantly protect you against mental illness and has a clear antidepressant effect. When we coordinate complex movements like we see in kiting, we are automatically prevented from brooding and negative, depressive thoughts, because our brain cannot complete both tasks at the same time.


So you are saying many kiters may now say they are psychologically very stable?
You still benefit, because kiting strengthens resilience. We learn to become more persistent by waiting for wind and waves. This helps us in many other areas of life as well. When we have become programmed to go to the spot again and again even when the forecast is mediocre and conditions are difficult, it gives us bite and stamina. If you arrive to a spot with anticipation and full of motivation and it‘s not what you expected, it won’t stop you from trying again the next time, the same way that with a positive attitude and a good feeling that you start your day thinking it is going to be an awesome day. I don‘t perceive it as a setback. This self-fulfilling motivation also teaches us in everyday life not to give up right away because it didn‘t work out the first time, instead to persevere and deal with setbacks.

Kiting can be very relaxing. Does it also help to relieve stress?
If we have occasional stress, that‘s no problem at all. The big problem in the increasingly accelerating world of work is that we end up in a state of permanent stress that many people can no longer break out of.  Our bodies are not designed to have so much adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies all the time, without any breaks for recovery. Constant stress makes you ill: it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, increases the risk of mental illnesses, causes back pain, digestive problems, tinnitus, inner irritability, tension, you become passively aggressive, grumble at those around you, have problems concentrating, develop sleep disorders, your immune system no longer functions properly and can even lead to continual small infections.

So you call for spending as much time as possible kiting on the water?
There can‘t be too much inner motivation to go kiting. When we finally stand at the beach after days or maybe weeks of abstinence, we really live in the moment. We are mindful of what is happening around us. Mindfulness means: you are in this moment, and what you feel there you just accept. As you have so much to coordinate when kiting, there is no time to glorify it. For example, in Hawaii, the water would be warmer or the wind more constant but instead you are simply feeling what is happening right in the moment and telling yourself ‘this is it now, here I am’ and you live in the moment. Kiting is simply a sport where I am forced to be in the moment. Kiting teaches you to appreciate the moment: I‘m on the water and I‘m embracing it. I’m not thinking where will I be in three days, or in five years and that is the definition of mindfulness.

Dr. med. Simon Senner (36), doctor, psychotherapist and psychiatrist, studied medicine in Munich and Cape Town and, after working for many years at the Rechts der Isar Clinic of the Technical University of Munich, is now the head physician of a large clinic on Lake Constance.