One of my favourite topics in psychology is motivation. Put very simply motivation is the thing that makes us do the things we do. Whatever reason you have for taking action is due to motivation.
Frequently, people make comments such as "I am not motivated" or "I feel very motivated". In psychological terms, it is better to think of motivation as a direction rather than magnitude. That is, you are always motivated. So instead of saying you are not feeling motivated and that's why you went to have a coffee rather than completing a report for work, you should recognise that you are very motivated. You are motivated to drink coffee and not work. It just happens that going to a cafe and working in the office are mutually exclusive - you need to make a choice and the outcome of that choice is the direction of your motivation.
So what's this got to do with martial arts?
I try to make my training as realistic as possible because I want my martial arts to be effective self defence. I have a family who I want to protect. However, the (enviable) problem I have is that I am not in danger. The fact that I barely leave my house after 6pm or go to bars or clubs anymore means that I tend to stay out of trouble. So this presents me with an interesting situation: I train for something that is not present and is not likely to be an issue for me. Yes yes, I know evil doers lurk elsewhere as well!
The founders of many martial arts were in quite a different situation. For example, many forms of Filipino martial arts were developed in response to invading forces - just as many other martial arts have their origins in war. So the men and women who were using martial arts in those times were motivated to ensure they only practiced techniques that worked - because their lives were on the line. They faced situations where they had to fight or be killed.
In terms of motivation being a matter of direction - those in times of conflict are probably motivated to develop and train high percentage realistic techniques rather than techniques for recreation. Put another way, if you somehow knew that you would be facing a life threatening conflict in a weeks time, what techniques would you train? How would you prepare? I'd practice 100 metre sprints but that's another story...
I try to make my training realistic and I pressure test techniques against progressive resistance, despite the fact that I am not in any realistic danger. I do it because I find it an interesting way to train and it provides me with focus. But there is so much more to martial arts than self defence. I have a great respect for those who train for the sake of learning a martial art without concern for self defence because they are realistically training for the environment that most of us live in - one where the chance of attack exists but is unlikely.
So circumstances can influence motivation which in turn influences behaviour. As I get older, I am looking at my martial arts practice and thinking about how to ensure that I can keep training for many years to come. My motivation for training is changing. I think I will always train for self defence, but I can now see the need to train for self protection as well.
The difference between self defence and self protection for me is that defence is against an external force and protection is against an internal force. I know that psychological health can have a large impact on physical health. For example, by keeping stress under control one can prevent many forms of chronic illness. Martial arts, of course are a perfect way of managing stress. I have spent years training for self defence and now is the time (at 43) to start looking at self protection. And as I get older, I can see my circumstances influencing my motivation and behaviour time and time again.
So be motivated to combat the toughest (and most likely) opponent you will ever face (you), but don't forget there are others to protect also.