I was just halfway through the tournament from hell. Earlier that morning I was pumping myself up for victory, knowing this tournament would prepare me for my first super fight the following month. Yet, here I was, losing match after match in my division with my gas tank at zero. I wanted to pack up my car, drive home, and forget about this day of frustration and disappointment.
I changed into my no-gi gear, and at this point, I said to myself… Screw it. I might as well have fun.’I love training no-gi and my day couldn’t have gone any worse, so I threw my expectations out the door and put a smile on as I stepped on the mat. Boom. My opponent pulls guard and I pass. She escapes. We scramble and I take her back. Before I know it, the match ends and finally the ref is raising my hand.
This moment completely revolutionized my competition mindset. Better yet, this day transformed my daily approach to training. When I hear other grapplers talk about their skills, they often downplay their abilities. ‘I’m not that good’, or ‘I’m a slow learner’, or ‘I don’t have that talent my teammate/opponent has.’ And by the way, I’ve said all those statements myself. Well it’s time to cut it out. Stop defining yourself by your limitations. Instead of going into a roll thinking about how exhausted you are, envision the ways you’ll succeed.
The practice of positive self-talk led me to maximize my potential in training sessions and in competition. I normally would be apprehensive about rolling with my coach (oh no, he’s going to set up all these traps for me to fall into), and now I approached it as an opportunity to get first-hand instruction and allow my coach to identify my strengths and weaknesses. This is a rare occasion for many grappling students! Even learning techniques was less of an overwhelming process. This crazy move with a zillion steps? It’s always a combination of skills I already have–just presented in a new way.
This shift from self-doubt to believing in my abilities eliminated a mental block I didn’t realize was there: I had unintentionally imposed limits on myself by placing myself in this box where I was a sub-par grappler. So naturally when it came time to put my skills to the test, I’d be putting forth an effort that was… sub-par. Fitting right into that inner monologue. At first, it felt cheesy to visualize myself succeeding. Me, pulling off that takedown? Me, catching a higher belt in a submission? Well… why not!?
Let’s take this out of the context of grappling. When we encounter new problems in the workplace, we don’t approach them timidly with the intention of giving up. We push through, figure it out, do whatever it takes to get the job done. When a stack of assignments piles up for me, I’ll fall into a spiral of anxiety if I focus on how long it’s going to take to finish everything. But one step at a time? This monthly report–I can do it. That slide deck–no problem.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. But no matter what your personal life looks like, has thinking to yourself, ‘I’m so bad at this’ ever helped you achieve anything? Negative thoughts serve only to humble us into a lesser version of ourselves. I believe that especially as women, we speak down to ourselves because we are conditioned not to be boastful or take pride in our accomplishments. Using qualifying statements like, ‘I’m not sure’ when answering a question, or ‘I might be able to do that’ when taking on a task. We want to give ourselves a cushion in case we fail–but doing so ultimately ensures that we do fail.
How can you incorporate positive self-talk into your life, into your grappling experience? As you begin the week, picture how great you’re going to feel accomplishing every task on your list. Start calling yourself an athlete. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 2-day-a-week practitioner or an international competitor. On the mats, you are 100% an athlete. When you’re pinned in side control, ‘I know how to escape this. This is no big deal.’
I can assure you, even if it feels unusual or ‘self-indulgent’ to shower yourself with optimistic affirmations, you will see amazing results. Your anxiety toward the future will dissipate as you reach a more mindful state. And when you are able to focus your full attention on the current moment, your potential becomes limitless.