How have my successes stunted my willingness to compete? … and thoughts on how I plan to reduce performance anxiety

Lately, I’ve been asked by several people whether I plan to compete anytime soon. I’m never extremely certain of my answer because I have two basic feelings about it:

1) No, I should focus on training and growing into my blue belt first so that I get my game to a “competitive level.”

2) Hmm, well, why not?! As they say, “practice makes perfect.” Plus, I never feel completely “ready” anyways…

I could go ahead and type out the extensive list of “pros and cons” that run through my head, but I’ll spare you and cut it to the chase: I have a pretty considerable amount of performance anxiety. Actually, most people do to some level, and it can be a good thing (to increase adrenaline and promote a healthy amount of competitiveness), but there’s a line drawn here where it starts working against you as a competitor. It’s that line between wanting it badly enough to push you to your limits, and wanting it so much you’re scared you won’t get it.

Performance anxiety can be crippling, of course; this phenomenon is pretty straight forward, but I have to ask “why?” What makes me this way and how can I work to change it?

One major requirement in conquering this issue is that which I dread most: failure. I realize I haven’t had enough exposure to this feeling– and yes, I do feel very fortunate, but it comes with its definite problems.

Why am I deprived of this feeling? I can’t discount my decently strong work ethic, however, I believe my lack of exposure is partially a result of the way I was brought up in school and in turn, my own heightened adversity to risk. It seems to be a trend, as younger generations are sometimes labelled the “Trophy Generation” from the excessive amount of positive reinforcement in an attempt to build self-esteem, which goes as far as “participation trophies” for all children and an unwritten rule that it’s “wrong” to celebrate winning, because it would hurt losers’ feelings.

Simply put: even considering the likelihood of “losing” has the power to make an activity less fun.

So, I have two basic ideas on how to overcome fear of (and even enjoy) risk and “failure”:

1) Desensitize myself to failure by engaging in activities where I’m sure to fail. For instance, one very plain example for me would be going rock wall climbing, and of course, not just choosing the easy walls. It’s a physical activity just like a BJJ competition, it’s fun, and I’m sure to fail (fall) eventually. It will force me to take initiative in something I have little confidence in, and the worst that can happen is I fall, feel bad for a second or two, and try again.

2) Secondly, and perhaps, most importantly, redefine what it means to “fail.” Or better yet, get rid of that word from my vocabulary. Reshape my attitude, as well, by understanding that growth is the most important product of life’s endeavors. My personal goals in BJJ should not be to win and grow my ego (although those things feel nice for a time, sure), rather, they should be to learn and to become a great practitioner and training partner. Real “failure” means walking out of a competition without any new material to practice or goals to strive for.

Also, I must say, I’ve heard the idea thrown around that competitors in BJJ tend to be “cooler” or more down to earth than those who do not compete– whether there’s any truth to this, I’m not sure, but I can begin to understand how this idea may spring up from the mere fact that competition is undoubtedly a humbling experience. To me, it seems imperative to fully experiencing the sport at a level in which I can grow and become better, both on and off the mat.

I’ll end this entry with my second competition match ever– one in which I LOSE to a kumura! 😉
NAGA, women’s white belt division– nogi / light-weight:

Take a look at my full BJJ profile here.

BJJ hurts… is my body fit for this?

So when I wake up feeling like I’m 80 years old each morning with my shoulders popping in out and out of place and my neck aching so badly I can’t turn my head more than 45 degrees towards any direction, I can’t help but wonder if I’m simply “not built for this sport.” I come to find this is a typical feeling for men and women, alike. And then of course there’s Helio Gracie who trained BJJ until just 10 days before he died at 95 years old. WHAT?

But after about 2 years of training, I have to ask, is this wrong? Is it even sustainable for me? Will I regret this one day?… I wish I could answer these questions.

I’m very conscious of the fact that I have issues with “going too hard” on a normal training day. Remember those BJJ guy stereotypes that were floating around the internet a while back? I’m the “Let’s go light” person where they claim they will take it easy, but they end up at full speed after just a number of seconds. It’s obnoxious for me and for others, I’m sure. It seems like it’s in my nature to do this. Like, for instance, there are some people who subconsciously gravitate towards driving under or around speed limit… and then there are those of us who break speeding laws by at least 15 miles per hour on a highway if we, by chance, get lost in thought and don’t pay any attention what-so-ever to our speedometers (this happens to me all too often).

It takes keeping conscious of my pace to stay at a “healthy” level as to prevent injury. And I have no one to blame for this but myself, usually. People will feed to me the same energy that I feed to them, so if the person happens to be much larger than me, it gets dangerous. And I will say, I’m not a completely out of control, blood-lusting monster when I roll either…

So really, what I’m talking about is total concentration on movement and the “flow mode” that I try getting into (along with everyone else) when I roll– my real issue lies in the fact that this mode doesn’t allow me to focus on external concerns that are responsible for controlling my pace, especially a blue belt as I’m just recently exposed to most of the moves I know (and I really have no idea if this self-awareness skill gets any easier with each belt level).

Ok, so this “flow mode” sensation is great! It’s awesome! I forget my problems and anxieties– I forget about my job, and any love-life stresses… I even forget my ego (sometimes… or at least until someone taps). This is that good shit! It’s the stuff people want out of their yoga meditation, their “born again” Jesus revelation, or their 26.2 mile marathon run… their artistic expression.

I assume that maintaining a good balance between concentration of movement and concentration of aggression is a learnt skill– one in which I plan to actively seek out if I want to make my training a sustainable thing. Perhaps it will mean knowing the movements at a mechanical level or well enough to keep a quicker pace than my rolling partner. Or maybe it’s simply an ego problem within the core of my personality and my longing to “win,” or at least “not lose.”

I don’t think I could get any closer to the blue belt stereo-type… 

Felipe Costa on competition for the smaller folks

Felipe remains one of my biggest inspirations as he competes at less than 122 lbs. … hey, that’s lighter than I am! His training ideologies in this video are pretty fabulous. Not to mention, the music is PERF!

Starting a blog is intimidating

Posting this first entry feels a bit overwhelming. Whether it’s because of my busy schedule or the seemingly unattainable standards I set for myself on my ideas and chosen topics, it’s been so easy to put off for one reason or another. It’s also an awkward amount of exposure of myself, and considering the fact that no matter how much I scrutinize each sentence, there will inevitably be that population of people who interpret things in a different way that I intended. So really, it takes a considerable amount of vulnerability to write thought-provoking blog entries, and I believe I’m ready to take that on. And you know what? I say “fuck it,” and it all feels better. I’m sorry Mom, strong words have relevance and function in my life sometimes.

Aaahh, I’m starting to loosen up already. 😉 

You can expect to read about the thoughts and experiences of a girl in her 20’s as she awkwardly juggles a life split between her professional career as a graphic designer, and her passion for alternative health and fitness practices, focused on Brazilian Jiu-Jistu. I’ll extend into the things that keep me motivated to create along with an embarrassing amount dual forces within myself that reveal just how conflicted I am in deciphering my identity. Perhaps I’ll throw in some of the love-life too, because well, let’s just be real, it directly affects extraneous parts of my life whether it makes total sense or not.