I often speak to my students about the importance of a healthy mindset for competition. One of the most important aspects of this is the definition we create for competition and our relationship with that concept. While we all have our own reasons for wanting to compete, there are definitely certain attitudes that could be considered either healthy or unhealthy. Take the boy who works himself to the bone every day because of the expectations of his parents. They push him and tell him he is amazing and special to the point that he is terrified to lose in front of them. Compare this to the girl who falls in love with a sport and can’t wait to wake up in the morning to go practice. Her parents are supportive but not overbearing and they commend her hard work rather than the results of her performances. If you are like most people, you are easily able to identify which of these situations seems healthy compared with the other.
It is my opinion that the healthiest view of competition is to attempt to compete against your own potential; to see how close to it that you can get. Instead of letting external factors push me, I want be driven internally by standards that are only bound by what is humanly possible for me. If I let external factors push me there will always be a limit and I open myself up to feeling like a failure if I do not achieve my goal. I prefer to seek external goals with an internal drive. I may seek to win a fight, tournament or title (an external goal) but I am driven by a desire to reach my own personal potential (an internal drive). I see the goals as the vehicle by which I am able to test myself.
I often see people waste a lot of energy putting all kinds of importance on the results they are able to outwardly achieve in a tournament or match. It is stunning how much energy it sucks out of them. That energy could have been used for preparing for the test at hand! This worry that they feel about the results haunts them before, during and after their matches. If they have a day where they are a little off during training (a totally normal thing to happen on occasion) they read too much into it and it affects their confidence. It hangs over them during the time they have to prepare and sucks the intensity from their training. The lack of intensity negatively affects their confidence even more which perpetuates the cycle. During the match they let every point against them break them down mentally and they lose focus of what they need to do in the moment because they are too focused on the results that are coming in the future. After the match, they are unable to see what they did well. They see the failure of their abilities in that moment as evidence that they themselves are failures and they miss the opportunity to judge their performances objectively to seek ways to improve.
By adopting the attitude that you can only compete against your own potential you will free up an enormous supply of energy. Before the match, your level of anxiety will be lower because you will not be concerned what others think of you. It is still a very intense thing to put yourself out there and compete but a loss will not make you a failure. You will know that a loss will only be an opportunity to grow and learn. During the match you will be able to focus on the moment instead of dreading the results in the future. This will free up focus so that you can seek ways to win or turn-around a rough going match. There is a doubly positive effect after the match for the internally motivated person. Should they lose, they will not succumb to feeling down on themselves. They will be clear that they were only in competition with their own capabilities and thus the fact that another person’s capabilities on a given day were superior will not matter. Should they win the match, they will not view their win as proof of their superiority as a person. They will know that the only thing proved is that their skills were better at the time of the match and there are still things they can find work on. They will be able to go over their performance objectively looking for ways to improve instead of simply reliving the glory of their dominance over another.
I suspect that I sound a bit like a broken record to the students who have to listen to me ramble about this topic both in the gym and in previous blogs where I have said much the same thing. I really don’t care :) I believe very strongly that a proper mindset is the foundation you are building your skills on top of. If you mentally crack, the rest of the pyramid will come crashing down no matter how well it is built. It is only a matter of time. Set your sights on being the best you can be and come to terms with the fact that you will never get there. There will always be areas to improve and competing is the way you will shine a light on what areas need work. An impossible goal as personal perfection is achieved the moment you decide to chase it. As long as you continue to seek improvement regardless of your external results you will always be operating at the top of your game.
The purpose of this blog
This blog is intended as a place to discuss ideas relevant to both both martial arts and life in general. Our school doesn't exist with the sole purpose of making great fighters but also of helping its members develop themselves into great people. The entries are about sharing ideas. I will not spend much time editing grammatical errors so please try not to let it drive you crazy when you come across them!