I just read an really interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that relates so much to athletic performance and to motivating different types of athletes (as well as myself, business leaders, employees and peers!). The article, Do you Play to Win -- or to Not Lose, divided people into two categories; promotion focused and prevention focused. Those who are promotion focused take chances, work fast and go all out to win. Those who are prevention focused are more conservative, work more deliberately and avoid taking chances that would cause them to lose. As someone who distributes behavioral assessment tools in my business, I have a deep appreciation of how behavior traits apply to all areas of life. And, they are not judgmental (there's no good/bad, right/wrong), they're just important to recognize in order to be highly effective in whatever area.
So, in your athletic life, how do you train? Are you focusing on doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal (winning a slot to Kona, qualifying for Nationals, achieving a PB)? Do you tend to train really hard and get right out onto that ragged edge that threatens over-training and potential injury in order to achieve your goal? Are you motivated by people who tell inspirational stories about success (e.g. how Julie Moss crawled to the finish line of Ironman in 1982) and give compliments and positive feedback? Or, on the contrary, are you focusing on not doing anything that would prevent you from achieving your goal? Do you train deliberately, following your training plan to the letter to insure that nothing will go wrong? Are you uncomfortable with compliments, or do you like stories about people and situations that you shouldn't follow (e.g. Lance Armstrong's rise and fall!)
As I mentioned, neither category is good nor bad. They're just different, and recognizing which one you fall into will allow you to seek out the situations that will best provide the environment for you to thrive. And for a coach, we'd want to recognize whether we tell our athletes to "allow your heart rate to rise up to high zone 3" or "don't allow your heart rate to go into zone 4". Promoters (Play to Win people) will respond better to the former; Preventers (Play to Not Lose people) to the latter.
I recommend the full article to dive deeper into the distinctions and to learn more about how you can be more effective in your athletic performance by putting yourself into the ideal environment. You can find the article here.