Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way – 6 Ways to Keep Going When You’re Down

When there is a will, there is a way

Everyone says that “you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” What happens when you’re struggling to put your mind to it though? 

There are times that it’s easy to push through and keep on going, but there are also times when you need to find some new tactics because you get stuck. That’s especially true if you’ve failed recently, because failure challenges our belief that we’re capable. Tactical thinking is something that fencers are good at in general, it’s a skill that we develop as part of our training anyway. Just as we know that we can always look at a fencing problem in a new way, we can look at larger problems that aren’t on the strip in a different way. Make no mistake – there is always a way to keep moving forward. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Motivating yourself is mostly a matter of getting some new tools to refocus and keep going. 

Here are six ways to keep going when you’re down. 

1. Action brings motivation

This sounds backwards – how can you start doing something if you don’t have the motivation to do it? It’s the curse of the chicken and the egg. The secret here is that you have to start with some small action that you can handle in a given moment. Don’t think you have to go practice your footwork for an hour – do something that’s attainable. Even a little movement in the right direction will get the ball rolling. That snowballs and becomes more and more. 

For instance, you might watch a TED talk on motivation or pull your fencing gear out of the closet and sit it in plain sight. This is a proactive step that gets you going. If you’re struggling to get motivated to do your cross-training, maybe you pull the training video up on the TV and have it queued up. You aren’t committing to doing it for an hour just yet, but seeing the video image there gets you in a better mindset and is a step forward. 

Action is the cause of motivation, not the other way around. If you sit around all day waiting for motivation, it’s a guarantee that it will not fall out of the sky and hit you. 

2. Write down your goals

Laying out your fencing goals is an important part of getting yourself going when you’re struggling, or when you aren’t struggling. Humans are naturally goal-oriented. We do best when we can think out what’s ahead of us. To that end, visualizing your goals and how it will feel when you reach them is a giant motivator that helps improve your will to succeed. This is really powerful if you’re adjusting after a failure. Your goals will change over time, both as you reach them and when you miss the mark. 

Goals must be broken down into achievable pieces that you can reach. If there is a big thing that you want to accomplish, like maybe getting to Fencing Summer Nationals, then back that all the way down into what you need to have done in six months, what three months, one week, one day. Then you can focus on what you need to do just today to get there. 

We have written many times about the importance of a fencing journal and how it can support you in tough times and in good times. It’s a fantastic way to keep track of your fencing goals. 

3. Embrace failure

Failing can be a good thing if you learn from your mistakes. Attempting something new knowing that failure is a possibility so that you can learn from it, that’s what allows you to grow. Losing is part of the process, whether it’s losing a single point or losing a complete match. 

Throwing in the towel if things get scary or the road gets tough, that’s only going to spiral into a dangerous habit that you will continue to struggle with. Instead, shift your focus to the positive aspects of failure. There are such great things about losing! You don’t have to always win. That would be pretty bizarre to win all the time, wouldn’t it? Even the best fencers in the world lost sometimes. 

4. Cultivate habits

Humans are creatures of habit, and we thrive most when we have repeated things that we do regularly. Philosopher Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Our minds thrive on this kind of regularity, and it can become a huge buffer against getting off track. Fostering good training habits makes it so that we don’t have to use our willpower so much. Do the same thing at the same time, whether that’s every day or every week, and allow that to become your flow. 

The best way to do this is to create a schedule that you can stick to. Write out what works within all the obligations that you have around you, then just do it. Fencing classes are part of that habit, so you certainly should incorporate your classes and private lessons into your habits, but think beyond that to what you’re doing at home too.  

The more you do this, the more you’ll find it builds your resilience over time. It does not have to be difficult. As with #1 in our list, remember that you can start small and then build forward. Big changes don’t happen overnight, they happen with repeated, engaged actions. Start small. 

5. Connect with fencers

Though you are ultimately alone on the strip when you’re fighting, you’re not really alone. Your coaches, your teammates, the staff at your fencing club, even your former opponents, they can all support you when you’re down. 

It might be as simple as getting on social media and connecting with other fencers and the fencing community, or it might be a deeper conversation with your coach. We all need community and the support of others in order to get through. You can get through more easily by putting yourself in touch with other fencers, because everyone goes through periods of a lack of motivation. You are not the first to go through this, and you certainly will not be the last. Opening up is powerful, and it’s a powerful way to pull your way out. 

You don’t even have to just connect with people in the fencing community. Talk it out with friends or family if they are close to you. It doesn’t matter who you are connecting with – what matters is that just talking it out relieves a lot of the stress and increases motivation. 

Surround yourself with positive people as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to step back from those who are pulling you down. 

6. Look for your “why”

When the going gets tough, it can be a real challenge to find your motivation if you have forgotten the “why” of what you’re doing. What was the magic that brought you to fencing in the first place? Was it because you loved the feel of the sword, or the camaraderie of the fencing team, or were you ambitious and wanted to accomplish self-improvement?

Reconnecting with what brought you to fencing can help you to dig out when you’re down and push you forward. 

Along these same lines, it’s worthwhile to explore what made you feel this way to begin with. Are you exhausted with everything that’s on your plate? Are you bored with the pace of your growth in fencing? Are you afraid to fail, or maybe even afraid to win? Ask yourself what is really going on in your mind that is getting in the way of your engagement, then you can more effectively address it. 

Going deeper will bring you to the other side feeling more enthusiastic and invested in your training. It will also solve the underlying problem. 

Fencing is a way to boost your mental health by reducing stress, improving sleep, lowering anxiety, and boosting your mood. Those are simply the benefits of exercise in any form, so we want to use that to our advantage when we’re struggling against the tide of lack of motivation. 

It is not easy to pull yourself out of a tough mental space. Fencing can become a focus for you to move forward in life, and a powerful one at that. Everyone has a hard time at times, and everyone struggles with the downtimes. How you meet them, that’s what’s really important. 

Every time you hit your snooze button while you lie in bed, deciding to take the morning off from your training, it only spirals you further down. You can change your direction, and you can achieve your goals! All you have to do is open yourself to the possibilities and move your mind in the right direction. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.


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  1. R

    My greatest motivational challenge is to attack when the score is tied and even more difficult, when I’m down two-to-win. That’s when I allow my “Inside Out” character Anger yell “Attack!”// Summer Nationals’ registration is indeed overwhelmed. Keep trying.

  2. Ron Miller

    Good advice here! Thanks for this post

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