Trying Not to Lose vs. Trying to Win

A couple of weeks back, an invigorating but tough BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) session led to some inner-reflection.

Following techniques and drilling, we had time for a good few rolls. My exercise routine had been more than a little wobbly in the fortnight prior to this – flu and Easter holidays had knocked my routine all out of whack – and this being the second day in a row in which I’d trained, I was literally glowing in positive momentum. Sweating too! And yet… as good as I felt, I ended up on my back  with all three girls that I sparred with.

Why? Because I put myself there.

Because I’ve become comfortable fighting from my back. Because it’s easier. Because it’s much less threatening for me to defend myself rather than attack others.

When I fight, my intention is not to lose, rather than to win.

Being defensive has become a hard-wired habit, which is why I go straight to my back as soon as we go near the floor – and why I often end up squished underneath someones’ body-weight and pressure, exhausted and on the back-foot, tapping out to something or other. As far as game strategies go, this is a bad one.

jo guard.jpg
Here I am on the bottom again, my opponent in guard, while I ‘lay back and think of England!’

And this reaches far beyond the mats of the gym. Thanks to my super-anxious brain, a range of phobias and a serious case of low self-esteem, I’ve been strengthening and hard-wiring thoughts, feelings and behaviour like this throughout my life.

I wrote a blog a while ago, based on Mel Robbins’ technique of naming the Acts of your life. In Act I, ‘In Hiding,’ my intention was to avoid stepping onto the mats in any and all situation. I wasn’t focused on winning or not losing. I simply wanted to hide; to not be seen. In Act II, ‘Stepping out Cautiously,’ my intention has been not to lose, rather than to win. In Act III, ‘Guns Blazing,’ my intention needs to be to fight with the intent of winning, knowing that I am just as worthy of this as anyone else.

So I’m meant to be in Act III right now – and in some areas, like business, I am acting like a character from Act III. I’m stepping up all over the shop!

But in many areas, I’m still acting like I did in Act II; I’m still ‘stepping out cautiously’; trying not to lose.

That’s not the epiphany I had though. The epiphany is this: that like my habit of going straight to my back in BJJ, I’ve been practising the habit of either not participating or not losing, in pretty much every area of my life, for the last 35 years.

As far as habits go, this one is hella‘ strong… so breaking it is going to take some work and some smarts.

I take faith in how far I’ve come already. If I managed to break the patterns of worthlessness and avoidance that came in Act I, then I can sure as hell break the patterns of Act II and step further out of my comfort zone.

At Jiu Jitsu, my coach and I had a chat. She’s set me a target of not going into ‘guard’ position, at all. Basically, I have to get up, to drive forward, to pass, to control, to submit. My go-to position has mentally been taken off the table, at least in the sense that if I do end up on the bottom, it’s because someone else has put me there, not because I’ve chosen to go there myself.

I truly, wholeheartedly believe that, ‘what you practice, you become.’ So it stands to reason, that if I practice trying to win, again and again and again and again, then over time, my default mindset will adjust and I’ll actually feel as though I’m in Act III. 

I’m going to work on a means of applying this off the mats too, though I’m not exactly sure what that will look like yet…

I’ll let you know once I do.









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