by Gina Melnik
When athletes are stuck in the mental/emotional muck and just “not feelin’ it” anymore, there is a tendency to try to analyze the problem. They may wonder, “Where did my motivation go?” and “Why am I not into this right now?” This is because we’re trained to approach things in this way. Find the problem. Fix the problem. Find the problem. Fix the problem. However, there’s another, very different, method that can apply here.
Instead of focusing on the stuff that’s not working, you can use an Appreciative Inquiry (AI)1 type approach to strengthen your motivation by focusing on what is working or what’s worked in the past. Here are a few example AI-style questions that an athlete in this situation could utilize. They might not all apply for you, but you’ll get the idea and then you can generate any number of questions to fit your needs.
First two examples:
• “What was it that made me love lifting in the first place? What made it worth it to keep doing even when I was new at this and wasn’t very strong yet?
• “When I’m having a great session in the gym (or a great contest performance), I love it because it makes me feel ______________________________.” And then the critical follow-up, “What about feeling this way matters to me?”
I like these questions because they get at things that are sometimes hard to uncover. There are important motivators here that may go undiscovered unless we really make the effort to stop and think. Be sure that you are probing deep enough to get at the heart of things. You may need to ask yourself additional follow-up questions like shown in the second bullet point, or even a simple “why?”
Two with a different focus:
• “Think about your favorite contest-day memories. What about these memories feel so special/meaningful/fun/______?” (They can be during events or any other part of it. Could be about the contest itself or things that go with it.)
• Now ask yourself the same question about your favorite training-day memories.
Do you notice any themes? Such as more enjoyment in certain situations, at certain contests, around certain people, etc.? For example, in doing this type of mental exercise a few years back I discovered that the camaraderie among strongman athletes– particularly between the women – was a big part of what I loved about the sport. As a result, I became more engaged with the other women competing locally and that, in turn, has helped keep me engaged with the sport and doing more contests. Once you clue into the things that enhance your enjoyment and satisfaction around training/competing, you can try to have more of those things in your athlete-life.
You’re the only one that truly knows what it is that matters to you about lifting and what it is that has kept you coming back to it so far. This means that instead of waiting around and hoping that someone else will say something motivating, you can proactively work to uncover and strengthen your own internal motivators. And the reasons that come from within are the ones that will have the biggest impact.
Give it a shot next time you find your athlete-self in a funk or any other time you want an extra boost of motivational mojo.
1AI is an approach, initially developed by David Cooperrider, for creating positive change and outcomes based on focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. It is used in a variety of disciplines, including coaching psychology.
Tschannen-Moran, B. (2010). Appreciative inquiry in coaching. In M. Moore, & B. Tschannen-Moran (Eds.), Coaching psychology manual (pp. 52-62). Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
GINA MELNIK is a middleweight strongman competitor residing in Boston, MA with her husband and daughter. She has a background in psychology (Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology) and is the co-founder of the New England Women of Strength (N.E.W.S.), a community for strongwomen that want to share their passion for strongman and grow the women’s side of the sport.