Self Discipline

We’ve all been there. The alarm goes off, we reach for the snooze button, and the debate begins.

“I am so tired, I just wanna sleep in.”

“Is it my day off?”

“Perhaps I overtrained yesterday. Do I need a bonus day of recovery?”

“Is that a hint of a cough? Should I call in sick?”

I’ve been waking up at 5:30 am to workout for almost 30 years, and I still catch myself having this internal dialogue nearly every morning. The fact is, I am tired –  I am stiff & sore. I probably could take a few more days off than I do. I really enjoy the one day a week when I get up, take a leisurely walk with the dog, and then relax with a hot cup o’ joe and read a book. Why not do that every day?

The answers to that question are what motivate me to drag my carcass out of bed six days a week.   As a younger man, I wanted to be a bad-ass. I had to get up earlier, and work harder than everybody else. As a member of the over-50 crowd with three young daughters, my purpose has evolved. Now I train to be the best father I can be. I need to be able to protect my family to the best of my ability. I want to be able to play with my kids. We run, we ski, we hike, we ride bikes, and of course, we do martial arts. Staying in shape increases the odds that I will be around to share in their milestones; graduations, first jobs, weddings, and all the other setbacks and victories that await them.

Anybody who’s ever worked in the fitness industry can confirm – it is stupefying the lengths to which people will go, in order to talk themselves out of doing the very thing that will help them achieve their desired goals, or make their life better in the long-run. One can easily come up with an entire litany of reasons not to do something. The people who cave to this list are the poor, miserable souls who continually find themselves short of where they’d like to be. As time goes on, the goals seem further out of reach, the bad habits become more ingrained, more comfortable, and the vicious cycle perpetuates itself.

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” – Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States

Simply stated, self discipline is the ability to do that which needs doing, even though it’s difficult, inconvenient, or uncomfortable. It’s doing what you know you should, even though you don’t feel like it at the time. It’s putting off the temptations of immediate gratification for greater reward at a later date.

As adults, we demonstrate self-discipline by going to work every day, even on the days we don’t feel like it, in order to put food on the table, provide a home, and save for the future. By being self-disciplined, we can avoid the financial pitfall of never-ending debt, by postponing those purchases of the shiny, new whatever, until such time as we can afford to pay without borrowing.  By being self-disciplined, we can manage our time more effectively, focusing on what’s important, and leaving for later, that which isn’t. By being self-disciplined, we can improve our diet, work out more, and be more fit.

I tell my girls, self-discipline means, “Dinner before dessert.” Do what you know is the best for you, then you can afford to splurge a bit. Work hard in school, and the knowledge will make life a bit easier later. Train hard at track practice, and you’ll have greater success at the meet. Drill those pirouettes as much as you can, and your ballet performance will be amazing. Get your homework done and keep your room clean, and you’ll have more free time to play with your friends.

Self-discipline leads to more freedom. In the end, you will have more time, more money, and better health to spend on the things you want.

See you on the mats!

Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!

Who remembers the kids on the backs of milk cartons? If you grew up in the 70’s & 80’s you surely pondered those poor kids’ fates as you poured your umpteenth bowl of Cap’n Crunch®.  These images were part of the missing children campaign, which quickly gained the nation’s attention in the early 80’s, transforming America’s perception of reality. Our children were in danger – Stranger Danger, and something had to be done.

The Birth of an Epidemic

The 80’s saw an explosion of public awareness to the plight of children as victims. Advocacy groups for the victims of abuse & neglect, child snatching (by a noncustodial parent), runaways, and child abduction were all working to bring their individual issues to prominence.  Through their concerted efforts, and with the horrific stories of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh being burned into the public psyche via the newly created 24-hour news cycle (CNN was founded in 1980) , Congress created the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 1984. What had previously been recognized as separate issues became the monolith that it is today, and this was intentional. Kristen C. Brown of Child Find (a child snatching advocacy group) said it herself in a 1981 Senate hearing:

“It is absolutely critical that we establish a policy which guarantees that the various criteria used to determine whether or not a child is to be considered a missing child be subject to the most generous interpretation. We must not begin by discriminating kinds of missing children.”  (Best, 1990)

The specter of a dangerous stranger became the social norm; the result of an emotional campaign based on disingenuous manipulation of the statistics. There was never a huge increase in these horrific crimes. They greatly overstated the estimates, lumping in runaways (90%), and kids taken in custody disputes (5%) with the visceral images of actual stranger abductions (less than 1%), thereby inspiring us to take action.

“Now Gentlemen, I am going to indulge in one of the favorite techniques used in the past to generate a reaction on the part of legislators. I am going to tell you a story from real life, imply that it represents the tip of an iceberg and infer that only you can offer redress, justice or correction. It worked before, why not again?

-Charles A Sutherland (U.S. House 1986c, 92)

The martial art industry was perfectly positioned to help in the war on this apparent epidemic. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s we were all caught up in the fervor, doing our part to teach our students about Stranger Danger. (What a terrible message to convey to our children.) While we may have had the best of intentions, we were wrong. In fact the NCMEC finally admitted this in 2017 (better late than never).

I am afraid that once again we martial art instructors are going to end up on the wrong side of history. Today’s buzzword is Bullying. A quick google search brings up 1000’s of books, websites, and programs devoted to the menace, and advising you on how best to protect your child. The rhetoric and statistics used to warrant the products being peddled are just as scary as those used for missing children back in the 80’s. State legislatures have passed laws directing school districts to establish policies to address the epidemic. Even the martial art industry is on board, developing programs to help “bully-proof” students – and why wouldn’t we? We are supposed to be experts in self defense, right? While all of this is done with the best of intentions, we’re often missing the mark. Our over-reaction to a threat that barely exists is in many ways harming the very children we’re trying to take care of.

Currently there is too much misleading hype and rhetoric surrounding the concept of bullying. This has led to public misconception as to what the threat is and it’s severity.  As this plays out in the public forum, the public’s understanding of what bullying is, and what it is not, should evolve into a better, more concise picture. This clarity will enable us to develop better responses. The question is, are we leading the way, or will we end up on the wrong side of history?

Next week: How martial arts should help lead the way.

See you on the mat.

 

Best, J. (1990). Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Haslam, N. (2016). Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1). Retrieved from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2690955

Porter, S. (2013). Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House

Epidemic Du Jour

We’ve all seen the headlines, and it seems there is always something in the news of epidemic proportions. Like the proverbial broken clock, the media gets it right now and then, but most of the time, the only epidemic is the their hyperbolic use of the term. The media fans the flames of fear at every opportunity in a population of parents already suffering from a bad case of what authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (2018) term “safetyism.” Sadly, bullying has been no exception. A quick google search of bullying statistics would lead one to believe our children are under assault in schools rife with bullies. Being skeptical, I can’t help but wonder if such fear-mongering is warranted.

The hyped-up epidemic of bullying in our schools.

How could it be that within the context of an ever more peaceful society (all forms of violent crime in the U.S. have been on the decline since the mid 1990’s) our children are becoming more aggressive? The answer is simple: they’re not. The numbers telling us there’s an epidemic are due to a semantic shift rather than a degradation of childhood behavior. The bullying of the past has been replaced by a newer, expanded version.

“The explosion we’re seeing in bullying is due to our expanded definition of it, not to a shift in behavior, and this fact alone should serve to calm us all down.”

– Susan Porter, PhD (2013)

In his paper Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology, Nick Haslam discusses how the concept of bullying has expanded to include a more broad range of behaviors. Dan Olweus originally proposed that bullying involves aggressive or otherwise negative actions directed towards a child by one or more other people. Three elements distinguish it from other similar behaviors – bullying is:

  1. intentional
  2. repetitive
  3. carried out in the context of a power imbalance.

Over the past three decades the definition has expanded to include cyber bullying, and workplace bullying, and incorporated the relational or social bullying we see in the new & improved version. It has also loosened it’s emphasis on all three of the core elements. Notice that the Federal definition never mentions intent, and the negative actions need only have the potential to happen more than once. The power imbalance was traditionally “understood primarily in terms of size, age, or number, as when one child was victimized by a group,” thus “making it difficult for victims to defend themselves.” Now it has grown to include more subjective standards such as the perceived peer-group status, popularity, or even self-confidence. (Haslam, 2016)

Consider…. While picking up my daughter from school recently, I saw a brief exchange between her and a couple friends. While she was talking to friend (A), another friend (B) came up and asked her if she’d like to play at recess the next day. She replied that she was planning on playing with A, at which point, B walked away in tears, because she didn’t want to play with A. This also happened a number of times last year (repetitive), my daughter is popular (power imbalance, albeit perceived), and she excluded somebody (social bullying). By definition, this is bullying behavior, and as such warrants a heavy-handed response. Seriously?!

This semantic glitch is convoluting the public discourse with well-intentioned, but ultimately harmful anti-bully hysteria. It conflates a broad range of phenomena, as I discussed here and here, most of which are not pathological, but simply developmental. If we are serious about helping today’s youth, we need to step back and recognize the difference.

More on this next week…

Until then, see you on the mat.

image credit: Alexander Sidorov

Haidt, T. & Lukianoff, G. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for failureNew York, NY: Penguin Press.

Haslam, N. (2016). Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology. Psychological Inquiry, 27(1). Retrieved from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2690955

Porter, S. (2013). Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House

What is Bullying?

The Federal government, via their StopBullying.gov website, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (click here to read the definition in its entirety.) Try teaching that to a group of elementary school children! Indeed, even adults struggle with clearly understanding what constitutes bullying. Yet before we can seriously address an issue, we have to understand what it is.

Just joking around, rough housing, or bullying?

Much of the confusion comes from the fact that what society has tried to define as Bullying is in reality an entire spectrum of different, but often related, phenomena. The spectrum of behaviors spans from being inconsiderate to defamation, from rough housing to assault, from mean to sociopathic. The Venn diagram below is an attempt to give clarity to the federal definition – to more precisely delineate the different phenomena using the current vernacular, with a couple slight modifications. The physical is represented by purple spheres, the verbal, or Communicative, by blue, and Social, or Relational, by green.
bullying venn 3

Consider that teasing, name-calling, taunting, and rude hand gestures, as well as hitting, pushing, pinching, and tripping are listed as bullying behaviors on the Federal site. How does the joking around and rough housing of childhood become symptomatic of pathological behavior? One way to distinguish between healthy play and having gone too far is the willingness of the participants. Once verbal acts are “unwanted,” they could be viewed as rude and inconsiderate. Unwanted physical acts, on the other hand, become assault.

The acts labeled Social, or Relational, Bullying are different than the other two in that there isn’t really an acceptable level. Telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, and embarrassing someone in public are all rude and inconsiderate. Purposely leaving someone out seems to be the exception – are people really expected to invite everybody to their party?

What transforms these otherwise typical human behaviors from rude & inconsiderate into bullying is three-fold. Rude, or inconsiderate behavior becomes bullying when: (1) there is an imbalance of power,(real or perceived) (2) the behaviors happen repeatedly, (or could be) AND (3) it is intentional. (note: intentionality was part of the earliest definitions of bullying, but is missing from the current official definition)

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

-Abraham  Maslow (The Psychology of Science)

It should be apparent that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all fix for such a multifaceted issue. It is a detrimental mistake to lump so many common juvenile behaviors under the pathological umbrella Bullying. A sincere proposal to teach our children how to deal with all of this must therefore acknowledge the full-spectrum of what we term bullying, accurately differentiate between phenomena, and develop an age-appropriate set of skills for dealing with each.

More on this topic next week…

Until then, see you on the mat.

image credit: Acoso escolar

Grappling With Your Ego

I absolutely love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as a practitioner and as a teacher. It is a powerful martial art which can help us come to grips with who we are, both on the mat and off. As Joe Hyams so eloquently wrote in Zen in the Martial Arts,

A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves – our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside.”

Part of the beauty of BJJ is randori, free-sparring, or what we normally refer to as simply “rolling.” The nature of the art allows us to go all-out with our partners every class, and with minimal risk of injury. This assures that our technique is effective, while also honing the psychological requirements of combat. This is when we get to let loose our inner-child and just play.

Naturally, competition demands an emotional investment on the part of the participants. Thus, we’re jubilant when successfully executing a new technique, coming to a higher level of understanding, or “getting the tap,” but on the flip-side, can find ourselves greatly frustrated, or even angry, with our apparent lack of progress, when we find ourselves continually tapping on the receiving end.

Tap early, tap often, and train longer! We all want to win, but it’s vital that we learn to check our ego. Realize that even when we tap, we are still working toward whatever goal we’ve set. In fact, not tapping can be counterproductive – if we’re sidelined with an injury because we didn’t want to lose, we’re not making any progress on any level.

“I never lose. I either win or learn.”

– Nelson Mandela

Often our competitive nature leads us to hold out too long when defending against an arm-bar or choke. If our partner has the submission sunk in, and we’ve exhausted our counters/escapes, we’re better off tapping and moving on rather than trying to just power through. While strength and sheer will are both powerful attributes, unless we’re training for an upcoming competition, relying solely on them means we’re not developing the technical side of our game.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. We all have our reasons for training: fitness, self-defense, sport, camaraderie, martial art, etc.. Our purpose and goals for training must align with our changing lifestyles, and our obligations to family and profession. As we get older, we must also adapt to our body’s shifting needs and capacity. Just as we refine our jiujitsu “game,” so too must we learn to modify our expectations and find a healthy balance between family, work, and BJJ.

Brazilian jiu jitsu reminds us to celebrate victory with a bit of humility, while accepting defeat with dignity. Our wins come not only from our own efforts, but from the help of our teammates and guidance of our coaches. Tapping from our “mistakes,” gives us the opportunity to learn, and to continue pursuing our goals with intensity.

See you all on the mat!

You’re Right

The human condition is fascinating; our capacity is unfathomable. Consider for a moment what we have accomplished over the past 1000 years. Science has given us a much better understanding of the world we live in, while technology has made our lives easier. We have 24/7 access to clean, safe drinking water, nearly an unlimited amount of food, and flush toilets. We have developed some of the most fair and equitable socio-economic systems ever witnessed in human history. Our understanding of health and medicine enables us to save lives formerly lost to accidents and disease. Every child in every modern society has access to a decent education. Athletes continue to break barriers and accomplish “the impossible.” For crying out loud, we put a man on the moon!

With all of this success, with all of the collective knowledge we have attained as a species, there is still great disparity in the human experience. There are people who own luxury homes and yachts, while others live in the streets. Entrepreneurs build multi-billion dollar businesses, and others can’t find a job. World-class athletes are breaking records and defying the possible, simultaneouly the U.S. is witnessing an epidemic of obesity and all of the health problems that come with it. Why can so many individuals living in the same time and place experience such varying levels of success?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

While there are a multitude of factors leading to such diversity, (or disparity depending on your perspective) there are but a handful of traits common to those who are successful. One of the most powerful is recognizing our individual agency. Ford’s message isn’t just an over-simplified, positive affirmation; it’s acknowledging that what you focus on matters. You can either emphasize the things that stand in your way, or what you’re going to do about it.

Ask anybody in the fitness industry and they will confirm this observation: people can create a long list of well thought-out excuses as justification for avoiding the very thing they know they should be doing. All of the worldly expertise in nutrition and exercise can be neutralized with the simple declaration, “I can’t because <insert excuse du jour>.”

“God grant me the serenity 
To accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can; 
And wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Neibuhr

What are you going to do about it?

Take a moment to consider the monumental achievements of your human family. Realize that you, too, have the capacity for greatness. Identify your goals, and DON’T MAKE EXCUSES. Just get busy doing what you know you should.

See you on the mats!

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras I teach younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!”

– Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

– Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

Be Like a Child

Young children crack me up. They are curious, joyful, exuberant, and playful; their youthful vigor provides them the spirit and energy to conquer the world. All of that is combined with inexperience, and zero impulse control, rendering them irrational, foolhardy, and short-sighted. Add to this the ability to externalize pretty much everything, and you’re left with a boat-load of random, all day long. For adults accustomed to a more organized, methodical approach to their day, this kid energy can be disconcerting. I find it refreshing, and quite amusing.

All of that curiosity and vigor are advantageous to their ever-growing understanding of the world around them. The more they experience, the more they learn. As they learn to recognize cause and effect, the less irrational and short-sighted they become. Provided their random actions don’t lead to great bodily harm or death, they are surely making progress. As parents and teachers, we need to allow them the space to make mistakes and learn, while guiding them to avoid those which would be catastrophic.

Come to think of it, this is also a pretty accurate description of new white belts, regardless the age. They come in with the enthusiasm of trying something new, but their unfamiliarity with the art leads them to make mistakes. As instructors and upper belts, it is our responsibility to provide them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, while guiding them to avoid those that are detrimental to their training. (Being sidelined because of injury doesn’t help anybody) Of course, as their mat time increases, their experiences will be the most powerful teacher of all.

This is part of the beauty of life on the mat: it is a direct reflection of life in general. The lessons we learn in the finite sphere of our dojo, or training hall, correlate to the bigger world of our daily lives. These ultimate “truths,” if you will, cut across all boundaries, whether one is an athlete, CEO, or parent.

“A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves – our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside.”

Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts. 1979.

We’ll cover a number of these truths over the next few weeks.

See you on the mat.

It’s 2019 – What Are You Going to do About it?

With the New Year, there comes a sense of a new beginning; a clean page on which to write the story we want. People start out with the best of intentions, making a list of their New Year’s Resolutions, and taking the first steps in realizing their aspirations. Yet, while many aspire to achieve their goals, many will quit, and find themselves making the same goals the following year. This is so common that the entire concept has become a well-known punch-line.

One of the reasons some are successful while others aren’t lies in the difference between being interested, as opposed to being committed, to doing something.

Those who are simply interested in doing something plan on getting to it when it’s convenient. Whatever the goal, whether losing weight, finding a better job, or  finishing a college degree, the interested plan on doing it when they find the time, when everything lines up, or when they “feel like it.” So people interested in getting fit for the new year hit the gym, diligently putting in their time, for a few weeks. Soon, they start finding excuses as to why they can’t make it in as often. It becomes more and more inconvenient, until soon they’re not going at all.

The committed, on the other hand, do whatever they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They learn everything they can about the pursuit, create a plan, and prioritize their time in order to assure they dedicate enough to the effort. They don’t allow anything to stand in their way. The committed don’t wait until they find the time, they make it. They don’t wait for everything to line up, they line everything up. They don’t wait until “they feel like it.” The committed follow through on the plan knowing the long-term goal will far outweigh any short-term feeling that may come and go along the way.

What were you interested in accomplishing last year, but never got around to?

Are you committed yet?

You Are Not Just a Rock

“Like a rock, I was strong as I could be,
like a rock, nothing ever got to me,
like a rock, I was something to see.
Like a rock.
Like a rock, standing arrow straight,
like a rock, charging from the gate,
like a rock, carrying the weight.
Like a rock.”

-Bob Seger (1986)

We admire rock. We use it as simile and metaphor throughout literature, from the old testament, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect,” (Deut 32:3-4), to a cheesy ad in a fitness magazine for “rock-hard abs,” to Bob Segers’ pop hit, “Like a Rock.” Rock symbolizes strength, steadfastness, and honor. To be like a rock is to be reliable, consistent, and resolute in conviction.

Of course, there is a downside to being a rock. Nobody aspires to be as “dumb as a box of rocks.” Rocks are inflexible and extremely slow to change or adapt. Such rigidity is the antithesis of one of our most powerful human traits – our amazing capacity for growth.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Nowhere is the capacity to grow more apparent than in the world of sports. World-class athletes, regardless their area of expertise, are shining examples of this. It is a common misconception that world-class athletes are simply gifted – the fortunate recipients of gifts endowed upon them by fate, or more scientifically speaking, good genes. Such “gifts” can only take one so far, however. In the final analysis, the commonality among world-champions is not having won the genetic lottery, but having the ability to improve.

Basketball’s Michael Jordan is a perfect example. Considered by many to be the NBA’S GOAT, anybody old enough to remember knows of his accomplishments on the court. What many are not aware of, is all the work he put in off the court. As a sophomore in high school he was initially deemed too short to play varsity. Rather than quit, he used that to motivate himself. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” (Newsweek 2015) Regarding Jordan’s work ethic, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson wrote,

The thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance.

Nowadays, so many kids come into the league with arrogant attitudes, thinking that their talent is all they need to succeed. By contrast, there’s a certain humility in Michael’s willingness to take on the difficult work of making himself a more complete player. For me, one of the signs of Michael’s greatness is that he turned his weaknesses into strengths.”

Through proper training, we can become faster, stronger, and more agile; we can continually develop an ever increasing level of skill, and become more in-tune to the nuances of the game, whether it’s basketball, Brazilian jiujitsu, or life.

This capacity for growth isn’t restricted just to our physical selves. It’s important to remember that we have just as much ability to improve ourselves mentally and emotionally. We need to nurture what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and reject the fixed mindset – the belief that ability is static(Dweck, 2016)

With a growth mindset we acknowledge our potential. We don’t fear challenges, but see them for the opportunity they represent. Through the proper effort, we can deal with what life throws at us, and continually grow in the process. We can build our bodies and our minds. In this manner, we are not so much like a rock, but more similar to a plant. We continually grow stronger, adapting to the conditions of the world around us.

See you on the mat.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Jackson, Phil (June/July 1998) Michael and Me. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/jordan/is_philonmj.html