Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Mindset Reset – From “Have to” to “Get to” to “Want to”

Mindset Reset - From “Have to” to “Get to” to “Want to”
Beautiful flower seedling growing in the center trunk as a concept of new life

The mind is the most powerful thing that we have. In both fencing and in daily life, we have the opportunity to change our manifested world when we adapt our mindset. It’s no easy thing to do, and in the midst of a global pandemic that has changed our daily lives, it is both more important than ever before and also more difficult than ever before. 

There are a great many things that the pandemic calls on us to adapt to. We must adapt to a new physical environments and models of learning. We must adapt to wearing masks and social distancing. We must adapt to new ways of fencing, with socially distanced instruction and new modalities of practice. It’s all well and good to recognize that we have to adapt, but how do we adapt effectively?

The answer is that we must change our mindset. This doesn’t happen easily or without focus. Changing one’s mindset is a tough process, but that’s why it’s transformative! A mindset reset allows us to push ourselves in new directions and to take advantage of the opportunities that are sitting right in front of us. 

From “Have to” to “Get to” to “Want to”

Remodeling our mindset starts with conceptualizing the change that we need. 

There was some great insight in this that came from our school superintendent, and it helped me to think of how this process can work. Teachers and school administrators are nothing less than inspiring during this time, and we are thankful for the spark that we find in them. It’s something that we can take to our fencing training in meaningful ways. As always, there is a synergy to the relationship between growth as a fencer and growth in life. If you are resetting your mindset for your fencing in positive ways, then that’s going to bleed out into the other areas of life.

Let’s get into it.

The “Have to” mindset means begins from a place of force. It’s a task that is imposed on us, one that we don’t have a choice in. A chore. I have to brush my teeth. I have to take out the garbage. I have to go to school or my job. I have to go to fencing practice. This view removes the autonomy from the equation, and we are pushed into whatever it is that we are doing. When we “have to” do something, we resist it naturally by virtue of the way that the thing is framed. 

The “Get to” mindset moves from force to appreciation. It’s a privilege to be able to get to do something. I get to go to the movies. I get to participate in a school activity. I get to have a promotion at work. I get to have something I like for dinner. I get to go to a fencing tournament. There is an important delineation here though – getting to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you have a desire to do it. There is an obligation inherent in it. Because I get to have a promotion at work doesn’t mean I necessarily want it, even though it might have been a goal of mine. In this mindset, we are generally motivated by other things. I get to get a promotion that will mean more hours, but it will also mean more money and more social status, which are the motivating factors. I might not be excited about the long hours because I will miss my family. There is a tradeoff. 

When we think of the gratitude philosophy we see this too. I get to wash the dishes because I am privileged to eat, and others may not have enough to eat. 

We see this sometimes in high level athletes. They get to go to top competitions, they get to win big titles, and their coaches and families are supportive and expecting them to. They keep going because they feel lucky to be able to do it, not necessarily out of a joy in the doing of it. 

The “Want to” mindset is the next step. It’s investment in whatever the activity is, bringing joy and fulfillment without the need for mental gymnastics or outside motivators. There are people who clean their houses because they take joy in the act of vacuuming or organizing their cabinets. Yes, it feels good to have their laundry finished, but they actually like doing it. In the workplace or school we see this too. There are those people who go to their jobs primarily because they love their job, not because they have to or they feel obligated to. School is the same. Some kids love learning, they want to go and study on their own out of a joy of learning.

In fencing, the “want to” mindset is that insatiable desire to do the sport. I want to put on my gear and pick my weapon. I love the feeling of fighting an opponent, and I can’t wait to do it. There isn’t a sense of obligation here, just a want to do it. I would fence if there were no competitions or scholarships, if there were no coaches to push me or parents expecting me to go to practice. When given the option to do fencing or to do something else, I would choose fencing. I want to do it!

Those are the different types of mindset, but the question is whether you can change your mindset? Particularly during the last long months of the pandemic, we have been challenged to maintain and grow without the outside motivations that used to keep us going in our fencing training. It’s no longer possible to phone it in or to use the “get to” method of making ourselves train. We have to “want to” in order to continue to grow. 

Steps to changing your mindset 

Transforming your mindset is not as hard as you might think. With fencing, there is a kernel of wanting to do it or else we wouldn’t have started to begin with. Now it is up to you to move from the limiting view that is holding you back and on to the better views that will propel you forward. 

Here are some action steps that will help you move from “have to” to “get to” to “want to” in fencing.

1. Understand that you need to shift your mindset

Your thinking is the place to start making changes. The first step in doing anything is to recognize that it needs to be done. How can you change something if you don’t recognize that it needs to change?

For this moment in time, this means understanding that the motivations and actions that worked for you prior to the pandemic might not work for you anymore. Whatever you were doing, it’s not what you need to be doing now. Times are different and your fencing training needs to be too. We also want to realize that this will shift again when things open back up and you have to move to the “want to” mindset with competing as well as with training. 

2. Notice your thoughts

Now that you know that you need to change, you need to identify where you are right now. Are you in the “have to” mindset about fencing? Maybe you’ve moved to the “get to” when it comes to your training. 

Sit and think about going to an online fencing lesson. How does it make you feel? Don’t overthink this and be honest with yourself. Do you feel obligated to participate, like it’s another chore on your list? Do you feel lucky to have the chance to train, but you don’t really want to do it? 

Now think about different kinds of training. Is it the social distancing that makes it less enticing, or is it the lack of competition? The feeling of fencing is not the same with social distancing measures as it was before. Clubs are different, even though we are able to train in them now. Peel apart not only where you are in terms of mindset, but also what is driving that mindset. 

This step alone will go a long way towards transforming your mindset. Knowledge is power, and self knowledge is personal power.

3. Challenge your monologue

We all have an internal monologue that runs through our head. For some people it’s explicit and others it’s more subtle, but it’s there for everyone.

Once you know where you are, you can start moving the needle to where you want to be. If you are in the “have to” mindset, then it’s a moment to cultivate gratitude for fencing. No matter how you are training, it is a privilege to be able to do this sport. Not everyone who wants to fence has the opportunity to do it. This has to be genuine or else it won’t work. There is the classic parent line “Eat your dinner, there are people starving in the world who would appreciate that meal.” We laugh at this because gratitude is not something that a parent can force on a child. You can grow it within yourself though! 

One way to do this is to think about what your life would be like without fencing.  Imagine if someone told you that you could not fence anymore, you would miss it right? Just as if you didn’t have food to eat you would feel that too. Close your eyes and think about the privilege of what you are doing, make it personal. It’s not enough to think about others who would want to fence, you have to put yourself in that place. 

Another great technique is to express it, even if you don’t feel it. Say out loud “I am lucky to be with my fencing coach/club/team. Actually say it out loud! Write down a list of the good things in fencing, the people in the sport that make it happy for you and also the ways that fencing enriches your life. Seeing it and saying it are powerful ways to change your internal monologue and your mindset.  

This technique can help you to move from “get to” to “want to” as well. 

4. Decide to be diligent

We can shape our own mindset, but it takes time and discipline to do it. This will not happen by accident, you must make a conscious choice to change. Habits that you have had for months or longer are not going to change in a day or a week. You have to give them time and continue to work on your mindset to change it. 

Transformation doesn’t come from some “aha” moment, it happens with time. You aren’t going to read this fencing blog and then all of a sudden have a burning desire to practice your fencing every day. You can read this blog and decide to work on your mindset so that you can get there. 

We tell this to our fencers all the time – it takes time! Good things are worth putting sustained effort into, and it is only through sustained effort that we can make substantive changes. Don’t expect this to click and change everything. 

5. Plan for hard days

Even as you transition from the “have to” towards the “want to” way of thinking about your fencing training, that does not mean that you won’t have days when you are demoralized or thrown backward. Sometimes it will just be difficult and you will have to push yourself to go to train at the fencing club or to click on that fencing zoom private lesson. That is ok!

Learning from the challenging days can maximize your fencing experience. Allow those times to pass through so that you don’t get hung up on them. Always come back to the step 3 above so that you can course correct. High achievers know that the motivation has to come from within, which is the key to mindset success. Don’t try to force it, instead focus on flowing with it. 

6. Be in the moment

In moving from “get to” to “want to”, the critical key is to find ways to be in the moment. Where the love of fencing lives is in the moment where you experience it, not in the championships or the medals, not in the approval of parents or coaches, not in the cool factor of being a fencer.

You can only love it for yourself, never for anyone else. Pulling yourself into the moment is not necessarily easy, and it is exponentially harder with social distancing and the upheaval of the last year. 

An exercise for fencers to do this is to put on your gear, hold your weapon, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Experience yourself as a fencer, embodying that role. Feel the weight of the mask and the heaviness of the sword. How your fingers curl around the grip and how the blade is an extension of your arm. Breathe deeply again and experience the tightness of your jacket and the stricture of the lame. Follow your attention down to your legs and your feet. Step into a lunge position and ground your feet through. Lift the sword as if you are against an opponent. Feel the power and purpose in embodying yourself as a fencer.

This is what we mean by living in the moment. When you are thinking about other things, you can never get to the “want to”. It is easier to live in that moment when you are fencing opponents in training bouts or competition. It is much harder to live in those moments when you are spending most of your training time alone. Finding ways to come back to the moment, that is how we can come back to “want to”!

Every fencer, every person deserves to live the way that they want to live. We are allowed to live in the place of “want to.” Even in the time of a global crisis, the joy of fencing is a privilege that we deserve to have! In the crush of adrenaline and obligation, it is oftentimes hard to push past “have to”. 

Take a deep breath and work back to allowing yourself to love fencing. It’s there if you let it be! 


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  1. R

    I was asked on social media why I ref in the time of COVID. I responded: because I can, i.e. I’m healthy and isolated. Then too – I’m keeping fresh for February’s NAC.

  2. Alan Buchwald

    I am definitely the “want to” fencing and, in fact, that will never change. What will change are the parameters within which I can achieve it, but either way it doesn’t matter, until I die. AB Vet 70 Foil

  3. R

    ” until I die. AB Vet 70 Foil”
    A 95-year-old sabereur died at his last tournament’s end. We said it was the second-best way to go. 😉

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