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Overcoming Fear of Failure in Jiu-jitsu

Achievement motivation is the need for an individual to show competency in a skill area. For someone practicing jiu-jitsu, achievement motivation would be a central tenet for the practitioner to behave in a way that leads to effective learning and application of the Gentle Art. Research into the psychology of achievement motivation began in the 1930s and continues well into the present. One of the most prominent theories came in the 1950s when research suggested that a person’s desire to achieve was determined by the expectancy of attaining a goal versus the fear of failure. In other words, a person will only engage in a task if the hope for success outweighs the fear of failure. Thus, the lower your fear of failure and/or the higher your hope for success, the more likely you will be to engage in an effortful activity.

Such it is in jiu-jitsu where the hope for success constantly battles the fear of failure. Jiu-jitsu is challenging, and the hope for success always seems to wane in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Whether your next sparring session is against the class bully or maybe you tweaked your knee in the last class, you will always face some kind of uncertainty about whether or not you should be training. The big challenge is to stay the course and face your fears. Learning how to overcome your fear will be crucial on the journey towards the pinnacle of achievement in jiu-jitsu.


Own Your Fear

It is ok to be afraid. Fear is natural and, in many respects, keeps us alive. It is important to acknowledge your fear and walk with it before it becomes maladaptive. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of the brown belt that always annihilates you? Are you afraid of getting hurt? Are you afraid that you cannot afford it? There are ways around these thoughts. Acknowledge them and face them: getting annihilated by the brown belt is a great learning experience. You can get hurt anywhere and personally, I would rather sprain my knee than develop serious long-term health consequences from inactivity. If you cannot afford it, cut down spending elsewhere or pick up some extra work to supplement your income. There are ways around your fears. Own them and move forward with them.

Reframe Negative Thoughts

Negative thinking is perhaps the worst thing you can do. Negative thinking decreases motivation and snowballs into worse thoughts. The early theories of depression and anxiety posited that negative thoughts were a never-ending cycle of more negative thoughts and more negative behaviors until finally, your brain is wired to think negatively. These

Positive thought concept drawn on a white background

theories have not much changed since their inception. When you have a negative thought, such as “I am not good in jiu-jitsu”, turn it into a positive one: “Even though I have a long way to go, I am learning more everyday.” This type of shift in one’s mentality is monumental in the endeavor to think more positively and eliminate negative thoughts. There is success in every failed endeavor if you can reframe your thinking.

Practice Meditation or Other Breathing Exercises

Whenever you begin to feel fear, your body elicits a fear response. The experience of fear elicits a variety of neurotransmitters and hormones that float through your body creating a stress response. This stress response, also known as the “fight or flight” response, can lead to other physiological effects such as negative emotions, elevated heart rate, heavy breathing, and poor decision making. Slow, deep breathing can reduce the physiological response of fear. Meditation practice and other breathing exercises can keep you more equipped to handle the stress of being fearful.


Do Not Avoid Your Fear

This is similar to the Do “own your fear”, and it is important I rephrase it here because oftentimes, people will avoid things that make them fearful. This avoidance only perpetuates fear. When you avoid the stimuli that makes you fearful, you are teaching yourself that it is ok to run and hide. Avoiding activities that make you fearful because you might fail them will prevent you from taking chances and seizing opportunities as they arrive. On the other hand, taking chances even if you might fail will create resilience and better adapted to handle obstacles as they arise. If you got smashed in your last training session, avoiding your fear will keep you from training again whereas facing it will increase the odds you will show up to the next class. If you’re afraid of competition then sign up for one.

Focus on Outcomes

Focusing on outcomes can give you anxiety about whether or not you will win or lose. In a vast and arduous journey such as jiu-jitsu, focusing on the end result can leave you overwhelmed. For example, if you are a white belt, how does the thought of receiving your black belt feel? It likely feels great and will motivate you for a while until you have your next rough training session or until you suffer a minor injury. Then you will wonder why you even do this in the first place. If you reframe your mindset from the outcome to the process, you will appreciate it more. In other words, if you are a white belt, how does the thought of learning a new technique feel? This question is not as overwhelming and you are probably happier about learning something new than worrying over a belt promotion that may or may

not happen.

Take Yourself Too Seriously

I read a book once where Randy Couture was quoted as saying something along the lines of “if the worst thing that happens in my life is losing a fight, then I’ve got a pretty good life.” At the end of the day, the people who judge your failures do not matter. You will find that there are people that love and support you through most of your healthy endeavors. These are the people that matter. What you are going to find is that the more you go out and take chances and put yourself in front of failure’s face, the more love and admiration you will earn from the people that truly matter. Go out there and make mistakes. At the end of the day, who cares? Life is a journey. Appreciate it every step of the way and most importantly, have fun in your jiu-jitsu practice.

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