As an elite athlete, you’re no stranger to setting goals, pushing your limits, and savoring the thrill of victory. Your life is often mapped out in seasons, with every ounce of your energy aimed towards the season’s goals. If you’re lucky, that feels meaningful to you. If you are not, the constant commitment of your sport might wear on you. 

I was just like that. I fully embraced the grind. And then eventually it all seemed like there was no point in trying.

The Value of Meaning

What happens when you lose your sense of meaning for your sport? The lights seem a little more dim. Not literally, but practices and games don’t have the same excitement. The results don’t play on your emotions as much, but not because you’re more stable… it’s just because the sport itself doesn’t seem to matter to you.

The process isn’t as fun either. How you got there might be a mystery, because it just seems like one day the situation was exciting and the next it was not. You wish that you would have your spark reignited.

Not Just for Sunday

Having a strong sense of purpose in life is not just a nice idea. It predicts your well-being. Several psychological theories highlight the importance of finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life [1]. 

So, what does it mean to find ‘meaning’ in life? In simple terms, it’s about understanding what drives you. For you, it may be competition, friendship, or achievement. What is your biggest priority?

If any of these things are unstable, the meaning that you had might be gone. That is where athletes like you face adversity. 

Studies show that a strong sense of life meaning is linked with better mental health outcomes, such as reduced levels of anxiety and depression. Conversely, a lack of purpose or meaning in life can lead to an increased risk of these conditions. That does not mean that having a lack of meaning causes depression or anxiety symptoms. Your sense of meaning can alleviate the feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety (and other uncomfortable emotions).

Why so serious?

Here is the problem with lacking meaning in one sentence: it confuses you to not have a reason to work, so you lose motivation for working at all.

The concept cognitive dissonance means that you have an internal disagreement between what you think or believe about yourself and what you do. For athletes, this might be that you train hard (even devote your life to sports) and don’t feel like it will bring you anywhere. You act one way, but what you believe disagrees with it.

You feel hopeless and that confusion takes over in your mind. You recognize cognitive dissonance when you have an uncomfortable feeling about your situation.

The solution: integrate your life’s effort and experiences into your meaning for playing your sport. That will reduce the uncomfortable feelings (anxiety, uncertainty, lack of motivation). Here is how you get started.

The Questions

Where can you find stable meaning in your life? Look at your situation.

  1. Understand where you are (be realistic). It is too easy to assume you have reached heights you haven’t. It is also easy to assume you are worse than you are. Take stock of where you are.
  2. Ask: what would make it all worth it? Then answer for yourself what would make it worth it. You should do this once a year at least. That means you are on track for something worthwhile no matter what happens… win or lose, move up or get cut, be healthy or injured.
  3. Do what is required to go there (if you don’t know, go somewhere). All this only matters if you do things that make your dreams a reality. Don’t look here for motivation. Look at your answer to question 2.

Answering question 2 is often difficult. Here is the best hint I can give you: look within yourself.

No matter where you go, you are there. Finding meaning within yourself is a result of figuring out what you value the most. That might mean looking back and thinking about the times you felt the most fulfilled in your life. It might mean looking forward to imagine what you want most (in detail) about the kind of life you are chasing. 


You can either have meaning or be searching for meaning in your life. Both are good. If you are without and rejecting the search for meaning, that is when you can get in trouble. If sports are not doing it for you, that means there is something blocking your pursuit of meaning. 

Meaning can be found in the challenges you overcome just as much as it can be found in the times that you succeed. Every struggle is an opportunity to learn. Every reward is an opportunity to accept how meaningful your life has been. Just remember this, those common threads of your most meaningful times are the ones that will tell you where to continue to search for meaning. 

Personal note:

I hope that you take a moment to reflect on these 3 questions. They were fundamental for me to return to enjoying my sport (and life). The comeback is always possible.


Written by Kyle Johnson.

Kyle is a Founding Partner at My Mental Game. He is a professional hockey player in France and a Yale University graduate. His key areas of interest are behavior and psychology. Read more about Kyle.



  1. Existential psychologist Victor Frankl proposed that our primary motivation is to find meaning in life.