What makes life worth living and how can we relate this discovery to long distance running?
I recently finished the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. It’s a powerful personal narrative and keen first-hand observation into what makes life bearable in the worst of circumstances. I recommend everyone read it.
Here’s a quick look at the book and what it might have to say about your next long run.
The Will to Meaning
Friedrich Nietzsche said the “will to power” is what drives us psychologically. Sigmund Freud said, no, it is the “will to pleasure” that subconsciously drives us.
Dr. Frankl, however, found that in the concentration camp the will to power and the will to pleasure were not enough to sustain a person. The reasons are obvious.
Frankl, who’d been working on the question of meaning even before the war started, proposed a different psychological driver: the will to meaning.
In 1942 the Nazis came for his family. “Frankl spent a total of three years in four camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering III, and Türkheim. He lost his father in the Terezín Ghetto, his brother and mother at Auschwitz, and his wife in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His sister, Stella, escaped to Australia. He was devastated when he returned to Vienna and found nothing left of the life he once knew and the people he loved.” (Web Source)
When he first entered Theresienstadt he had a book manuscript (his life’s work) sewn into his jacket pocket but the jacket was confiscated. Reconstructing this book became his new mission and gave him meaning greater than himself. That book became Man’s Search for Meaning.
The first half of Man’s Search for Meaning is biographical and the second half contains an extended discussion of Logotherapy taken from the Greek word logos (reason for living). Logothereapy is a practical psychological approach for helping individuals find “healing through meaning” and “promotes freedom of choice and personal responsibility”.
According to the Viktor E. Frankl Institute’s website, Logotherapy has “an orientation towards the future and the belief that humans have the capacity to move beyond inner and outer obstacles”.
What’s Meaningful about Running?If you plan on running this week there is something you find meaningful about doing it, otherwise why would you do it? Have you stoped to think about what you find meaningful about running?
I listened to Dr. Frankl’s book while running 15 miles (10 on the treadmill and 5 outside). Listening to a book on the importance of finding meaning was fitting in this moment when I was tempted to think, “why am I doing this?”.
Running for hours on the treadmill is still a grind but there is meaning in it when I return to my “payoff factors”. I don’t just want to run marathons, I want to be the kind of person who runs marathons. This touches on the following payoff factors that I find deeply meaningful
- Physical health and mobility
- The ability to do hard things (discipline)
- Wanderlust -it’s my way to travel the world
- Having a good story to tell
Your list will look different than mine.
Your Running Goals
A goal is a desire to actualize an improved version of yourself. There is a tension between the person you are now and the person you want to be. This tension is good. Dr. Frankl says,
Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being.
To become a marathoner you’re going to put yourself through discomfort to become that new version of you.
- Waking up earlier to fit your runs in
- Getting out when you’d rather stay inside
- The mental and physical grind of the long run
- Dealing with set-backs
Will it be worth it? Yes! And if you finding meaning in it, you can endure it.
On suffering Dr. Frankl says,
Create Your Own Meaning
Let’s circle back to the will to power. Unless you’re winning, you are probably not achieving higher status through your running. What about the will to pleasure? Many runs are glorious but some definitely suck. For me, I do not derive pleasure from working out.
Here’s what’s great about the will to meaning, you get to choose your own reasons for why you are training for a marathon. You create your own meaning.
Check out these recent posts from Academy members that illustrate this well!
From Academy member Gregory K.
From our coaching client Johanna M.
When things got tough Gregory and Johanna were able to tap into a deeper meaning to pull them through their season of marathon training and race day.
This works again and again.
In the Academy the first module is all about Developing the Proper Mindset of a long distance runner. It will help you reach the future version of yourself -a marathon machine.