How To Build A Healthy, Lifelong Relationship With Your Sport


We all want to have a long-term, healthy relationship with our athletic endeavours, so we do what we’re supposed to do -- train, eat right, get enough sleep.

And that’s all crucial, no doubt. But here’s the problem -- far too many of us fail to take the same approach when it comes to our minds. The brain needs nurturing, too!

After all, athletics -- whether you’re playing a college sport or simply hitting the gym -- require both mental toughness and deep self-reflection.

You’ll need to set goals and hit them. You’ll need to bounce back from adversity. All the while, you’ll need to make sure you’re being responsible… not getting too addicted to results and being honest with yourself about what you want/why you’re doing this.

Not an easy task, but psychologists might have the answer…

Apparently, the key to maintaining a healthy, lifelong relationship with athletics comes down to the difference between two mindsets: harmonious passion and obsessive passion.

Harmonious passion: You become addicted to a certain activity because of how it makes you feel. You want to get better for the sake of personal fulfillment.

Obsessive passion: You become obsessed with external factors like results, rewards, and recognition. Aka, you’re more concerned about the number of likes that your #gym Instagram posts get than how you actually feel about yourself.

According to a 2012 study, people who display harmonious passion are happier, healthier, and less prone to burnout. Meanwhile, those who display obsessive passion are more likely to be depressed, have anxiety, and favor the use of PEDs.

Two quotes to help explain...

Ricky Soos, former Olympian and current running coach:

“As obsession with numbers goes up, joy in what you’re doing goes down. Sport turns into compulsion. If left unchecked, obsessive passion can, in varying degrees, lead to depression. As an athlete becomes more single-minded, they begin to withdraw from their normal support networks.” 

Phoebe Wright, former 800-meter runner:

“It’s so easy to love something when you’re winning. I struggle to know if I actually loved running, or if I just loved the positive feedback that came with it. In college I had emotional support and could focus on getting better for the sake of getting better. When I turned pro, [that wasn’t the case]."
Ricky Soos

Ricky Soos

Here are three tips, courtesy of Soos, to make sure you're practicing harmonious, and not obsessive, passion:

1. Focus on the process, not the results

Two-time Olympic marathoner Des Linden does this by always linking results to her own personal development. “I ask myself: What did I gain from the last four months beyond a number? How did I grow as a person?”

2. Stay true to what you loved about your sport

Regularly reflect on why you originally picked up a sport and how it made you feel.

3. Periodically remove objective feedback

Every so often, pay absolutely zero attention to your reps or your pace or whatever other metric you typically rely on. Just be in the present and enjoy it.

Kendall Baker