First published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor E. Frankl has now sold over three million copies worldwide. In his bestseller, Frankl details his experiences in the concentration camp during World War II and how his observations of prisoners’ reactions (including his own) lead to the ground breaking theory, logotherapy. This theory helped him survive his experience of the Holocaust. Basically, logotherapy is about an individual’s search for meaning in their life and this theory assumes that life has a meaning under all circumstances and that each person has the freedom to choose and resources available to deal with any arising situation. Logotherapy helps challenge individuals to search for meaning in life and finding these resources. As Frankl stated, “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual” (pg. 98).
So how does logotherapy apply to the sporting arena? Simply put, “he who has a why to live, can bear with almost any how”. It is about establishing your purpose in any given situation, reminding yourself of this purpose and choosing to see the opportunities in your circumstances no matter how dire they may seem. For example, it may be considered to be a negative situation for an athlete who injures themselves and is off the playing field for 6months at least. For this particular athlete, the injury is viewed as a negative because the injury keeps him from doing the thing he loves and enjoys, his sport. From his observations Frankl stated that “A man who lets himself decline because he could not see any future goal, found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. Different to the tendency to look into the past to help make the present less real. Looking too much into the pass miss the opportunities to make something positive out of a negative situation” (pg 92).
So an athlete has a choice. Based on logotherapy, it is helpful for the athlete to find the purpose (i.e., the meaning) in their current situation to help them look forward and use their skills to fulfil the set tasks (i.e., rehabilitation). Discovering their purpose helps build mental courage, especially in the face of adversity and in doing so the athlete has something to look forward to in the future and has a continual reminder of the reason for this current suffering.
“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually” (Frankl, 1946).
Athletes and coaches alike would benefit from identifying and writing down their own purpose in what they are doing in their life (in their sporting roles) to help with motivation and continue what they are doing despite issues in and out of the sporting arena. Goals are important to keep both motivation and effort levels high as well as to give a person direction. Therefore, take some time to sit down and write out what your purpose is and where you are right now in your current circumstance. By identifying where you want to be and where you are now you can see what you need to work towards so also write down what skills you have to help achieve your purpose.
Additionally, as mentioned previously, logotherapy suggests that the athlete seek the opportunities available given their current situation. For example, an athlete may realise that they now have time work on other aspects of their life such as completing a course to further their education or spending time with family and friends. The focus for the athlete is to work on the rehabilitation and establish some balance in their life as this will inevitable help the athlete cope with their injury. Also to see the opportunities in any given situation, it is helpful to remain positive, which at times seems like the hardest thing to do. So take a moment now to write down all the positive things you do on a daily basis no matter how small (e.g., saying hello to someone) or large (e.g., completing a difficult training drill) they seem. Also if there is a negative situation, sit down and take a moment to write what are the opportunities this situation is giving you to help deal with this situation.
Lastly, logotherapy can be applied in helping athletes deal better with anxiety. Put simply, by recognising the purpose of our circumstances, one can master anxiety. By getting athletes to identify the purpose of their injury, personal relationship breakdown or another issue like fear of flying which is necessary for competition. By defining purpose reduces uncertainty and therefore anxiety.
Frankl’s book is not very long and is that interesting that it didn’t take long to complete. His autobiographical style description of his experiences and observation as a prisoner of war are intriguing. It is a book that puts life into perspective and teaches lessons of resilience and optimism is the face of such adversity. I believe anyone who reads this will learn something about themselves. I have only taken a couple of key points from this book but I assure you that I have only skimmed the surface of Dr Vicktor E. Frankl’s book.
Remember, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how”.