Getting the fire back


I was thinking today about the peaks and troughs we all go through with training.  Sometimes we feel like we’re rolling really well and sometimes we feel like we’re stalling.  Stagnating.  What is it that makes some sessions feel so tough and others we walk away from excited and motivated.  As a white belt you assume that it must be about the result.  Who are you tapping and who’s tapping you.  You assume that once you develop the skills to dominate your partners it will get rid of the tough sessions and all will be smooth.  And then as you advance you realize that you still have those peaks and troughs, through blue, purple, brown and yes even black belt level.  And if you’re paying attention you realize that it’s not necessarily about whether you’re “winning” or not.  Some of your flattest nights can be when you have a many to none tap ratio.  So what’s actually going on?  There are of course many answers to that question, but here’s one.

It’s a question of motivation. Not the “can I be bothered going to class” kind of motivation.  The other kind.  The fire in the belly, I love what I’m doing, rising sense of excitement and joy kind of motivation.So what makes people motivated in this way?  Despite what corporate sales managers across the globe believe it doesn’t come from external incentives (like commission, or say, a tap). The research shows it comes from three components.

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Autonomy is the feeling that you are in control of your own destiny.  Purpose is the idea that what you’re doing is in some way meaningful.

Mastery is what I want to talk about.  Mastery is not about being the best or feeling like you know everything there is to know.  It’s about a sense that you are in the process of mastering.  That you can feel your progress.  There’s something intrinsically enjoyable about realizing you’re a bit better today than you were yesterday.

What’s the secret to developing your sense of mastery?  Ironically it’s about not getting stuck in your A-game.  You certainly felt that sense of mastery on your way to developing your A game.  As you built the skill in the particular techniques that became your most successful.  And then you could use that game to control the roll and against the right people, dominate.  And often this is the game people go back to when they’re having a tough patch – hoping that going to your highest percentage techniques will let you win and therefore feel great.

But that’s not how it works.  Because when you use what always works and find that it still works it’s nice – but it doesn’t’ give you that sense of growing mastery.  The mastery bucket on your A-game is already pretty full so it’s harder to find a sense of  extra improvement.  Rather, it pays to go into the opposite direction.  What’s the new thing you want to work on, the thing where your mastery bucket is empty – where there’s plenty of scope to feel a sense of improvement.  That’s where you’ll find the fire in the belly again.

What does that mean practically speaking?  If you go into a night of sparring with no plan, just taking it as it happens – you’ll inevitably end up back in your A-game. And even if you’re getting taps they’re the same ones you’ve gotten before and you may end up feeling a bit flat.

So the key is to have a plan.  What is your intention?  What are you trying to get?  What’s the first step to the new technique you’re working on getting into your game?  What’s the position you want to get to?  If you’re clear about your development goals – just hitting the start of that technique once or twice in rolling will have you walk away feeling stoked and itching to get back on the mat again, to make the next step.

Which brings us to purpose.  What is important about training Jiu Jitsu?  Obviously it’s different for different people, but for me it’s how the lessons learnt on the mat enrich my life off the mat.  It was BJJ as much as anything that really taught me that the joy of life lies in that space just outside the comfort zone.  The value of finding new ways to do old things and old ways to do new things – to pursue a feeling of continuous development and learning everywhere in my life.

Set a new goal.  Commit to the first step.  Experience the mastery effect.

Or as one of my favorite quotes says – “Mastery is the skillful avoidance of a sense of completion”