In my years of teaching martial arts, I’ve seen so many students come and go. What makes this experience interesting is the first time a new student steps on the floor. I know very little about them or their life except for what they do for a living and what their goals for joining are. As I go over the techniques in class, there are some who display a knack for the martial arts. Their movements and grasp of the techniques seems to flow easily for them. Some may refer to this as natural talent.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are the clumsy students who are unable to differentiate their right foot from their left foot. As an instructor, this can be frustrating to watch but I know patience is the key. Like any new activity learning martial arts takes time, and focused commitment to practice. Although, both students progress at different rates it is important to note that they are not necessarily going to complete their journey at the same level. There have been countless students who’ve possessed talent but faded after a year or two while the not so gifted carried on, eventually receiving their black belt. A lot of information can be gathered about a student’s work ethic during class. Do they give up easily at the first sign of challenge? Do they complain when things don’t go their way? Do they ask questions or do they think they already know it all? Are they easily distracted by outside influences? Do they spend time practicing outside of class without the instructor asking them to do so?
High performing individuals in business and athletics develop something call Grit. It is the mindset and passion to persevere in achieving of long term goals in spite of challenges. Now I’m not saying that all people with grit don’t have days they don’t feel like working on their business or athletic pursuits; they do. They are human after all and their emotions are constantly tugging their heart strings all the time; constantly telling their brain to take the easy road, relax, and shrink back into what is comfortable to them.
Studies at the University of Pennsylvania have proven that it is not talent that determines our success but grit. At one point in our lives, we’ve all had feelings of helplessness and wanted to give up. What I found over the years of teaching is more people easily gave up then endure the pain of being uncomfortable. When I tell them to do 50 push ups they do 10 halfheartedly and coast the rest of the way. I understand if you are new to exercise it’s going to take time so maybe this may to be too much the first class. However, what I look for is not whether they finish or not, but would they be able to do a little more every class. My chief aim for these students is focusing on incremental improvement leading to increased confidence; building a stronger inner drive. In the sports or martial arts world, we call this heart, tenacity, and now the popular term knows as grit.
I admit I’ve had times I’ve felt like giving up. As a child, I didn’t have a lot of girt. I was extremely shy and battled extreme anxiety. I believe this was largely due to my mother’s fear mongering attitudes towards life. This unknowingly at the time influenced how I saw the world, teaching me that everything is bad and we always need to stay safe from the boogie man. It made me tentative and adverse to risk taking. Let me say that no highly successful person plays it safe. They succeed by taking calculated risks. It was the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and of course watching my father handle the ups and downs of building a business after a series of failed ventures which thankful developed my grit to what it is today.
So, what should you do if you feel like giving up? Perhaps you’re the CEO of a start-up company with bills piling up and the seed money is drying up. Maybe you’re the athlete who has been bypassed by the coach for more playing time. Regardless of your profession, I’m going to reveal some of the ways I break through these feelings to continue the path to successful living…
1. Use the Slip
How you behave is how you react to your thoughts. Let’s first understand what your thoughts are pushing you to do? When it’s saying give up its suggesting you take the easy road to comfort-ability. The body is a beautiful creation, it was meant to keep us safe from harm in prehistoric days; from wild animals, extreme climate changes. It was meant to keep us alive, free to from danger. In today’s world we live in a society where we don’t need to hunt for food or build a fire for warmth, we can just go to the grocery store or adjust our thermostat. However, our evolutionary traits still do their job to protect us from physical and emotional harm even though there is no immediate threat to our survival.
The next time you have these thoughts I want you to picture yourself in a restaurant as you scan through the menu. As the server comes to your table they give a list of all the specials for the day. In this situation, you are not required to order the specials she suggests. It is merely options available to you.
Now take this scenario and apply it to your inner critic; giving up is only an option and not the only one. Pause, close your eyes for a moment to take a few slow deep breathes. Visualize the great things that will come to you because of following through instead of giving up. What does your successfully achieving that goal look like, smell like, or feel like? What other options are appearing in your head this very moment? This simple technique works wonders for me and keeps me focused on my reason for doing what I do. Remember you are in the driver’s seat, exercise your power to choose.
2. A Little Discomfort Will Not Kill You
When I began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu a 230lbs guy sat on me with his sweaty wet t-shirt draped over my face making it difficult to breath. Feeling claustrophobic I started to panic as felt as if I was going to die due to a lack of oxygen so I quickly tapped out. My training partner looked at me in astonishment and asked what happened? I didn’t do anything to you he replied. As my training progressed my ability to handle situations such as this improved.
Each time I survived the match. Why? What changed?
My ability to breath did not change, what did change was how I responded to the situation. It all comes down to your perspective and asking the question what is the worst thing that will happen to me if I give up, and what are the great things that will happen if I proceed. What I found was I realized that discomfort was only temporary. If I thought about the bad things and panicked it would have heightened my stress response, leading to rapid breathing, and increased heart rate. Instead, I closed my eyes, cleared my head of any negative thoughts, breathed deeply while remaining calm. Soon my body took over and the uncomfortable feelings passed. The brain than kicked into offering multiple solutions which usually lead to an escape route.
Learn to embrace the discomfort in difficult times. It will strengthen your resolve; making you stronger to take on challenges. Grit is like a muscle; the more you work on it the stronger is become over time.
3. The Pride of Finishing What You Started
The average time to receive a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu can take 10 years depending on the difficulty of the school. Most students only last for 2 years before quitting. It is a long journey, battling injuries, time commitments and most importantly your mindset. Often many students when they realize how hard it is to earn their black belt choose to take the easier route by paying an unscrupulous teacher to sell it them (yes, this unfortunately does exist) or they make a big stink that they will quit the gym if they don’t receive a promotion. Unfortunately, I am seeing a growing trend in this which means the future will have unqualified black belts flooding the market. The problem they face is they cannot lie to the public, the skills earned cannot be duplicated by someone who faked their way through the process. Like any profession sooner or later they will get exposed. The lesson we can take from this when applied to the non-Brazilian jiu-jitsu world is most people want the respect, money, or fame that goes with being successful, but they are not willing to sacrifice the effort to get there.
To me, finishing a project, achieving a big or small milestone leaves me feeling productive and positive about myself. It also grows my confidence knowing that I’ve made a little step towards my long-term goals. Each day I complete a practice, a blog post, or make a sale is like putting money into a long-term investment. It might not be much at the beginning but over time the interest will begin accumulating and grow.
One of the things I recommend doing is hang something you accomplished on your wall where you can see it. It can be an award, trophy, or perhaps a photo of the event. If you don’t have any of these than put a photo up of someone famous you aspire to be, when you feel like giving up, look up at it to bring back those feelings of what it took to accomplish that.
4. What is My Legacy
Studying successful people and their tendencies both in the gym and outside of the gym has been strong trait I developed over the years. Every high performing student I have taught over the years share similar success habits. They all had a purpose; spending little time wasting it away on idle chit chat or gossip. While the unsuccessful ones who were constantly in a vicious cycle of inner turmoil seemed to be putting out fires all the time in their personal lives. The successful students created their own big breaks while the unsuccessful spent more time complaining instead of doing something about it. It is important to note that each time you spend your time bitching about how bad things are, robs you of valuable time to create a happy future for yourself.
Like martial artists, entrepreneurs and athletes who find the greatest success are masters an eliminating distracting thoughts. They distance themselves from things that do not serve their purpose. An undistracted individual equals a disciplined and focused individual. Ask yourself what would you like to be remembered for when you are old? Did you make a difference in your community? Did you put in an honest effort to accomplish everything in life or is it like most people; filled with could of or should of?
5. Don’t Let the Opinions of Others Influence You
Many people quit because they want to prevent the feeling of embarrassment. In business, fearful people don’t start or give up because they worry about what others might think if they don’t succeed. When my father lost his business in 1979, the Chinese community spoke poorly of him through gossip. My grandfather was a respected pillar in the community known for his generosity for helping Chinese immigrants settle in Canada. People compared my father to him and started saying things like my father was no good or look at what a failure he was. My father did not let his detractors stop him from building a new business. He humbled himself by moonlighting as delivery driver for minimum wage at Kentucky Fried Chicken for 6 years. In the mornings, he spent time growing the business. Never letting other people’s criticism deter him from the brass ring was the best advice he gave himself in those early years, don’t let your critics stop you.
Do you have any rituals you use to push through feelings of giving up? Feel free to comment and share with us!