Without a doubt, the majority of competitors that signed up for Nogi Worlds are starting to experience the notorious “negative self-talk”. Everyone deals with this in varying degrees. Many years ago, the negative self-talk would start the moment after I registered for the tournament. If the competition was more than a month away, I wouldn’t give it much thought. However, as competition day approached, that negative little bastard in my head would become louder, more frequent, and more detailed. I would catch myself imagining the various ways I could lose. It’s like one of those dreams when you are trying to run away from something but your legs won’t move and you are being dragged backwards toward impending doom. I would imagine myself on the competition mat, but unable to move in any meaningful way. Just like a sitting duck, stuck in the mud, waiting to be blast doubled into oblivion.
Even worse, there is a snowball effect that can occur if you don’t get your imagination under control. Negativity is a cancer. If you let these negative thoughts run rampant in your mind they will escalate, you won’t just be imagining a bad performance, but you will start to imagine your loss in an embarrassing manner. For example, getting caught in a flying gogoplata in the first 10 seconds of the first match. You will start thinking about the conversation you will have with your coach after you lose. Or what kind of Instagram post you will make after you get submitted. Then you start thinking about why you even bothered signing up, maybe you should withdrawal, maybe competitions aren’t for you, etc.
What I want to tell you right now is that EVERYONE deals with this. What you need to remember is that you are in control of your mind. You can decide whether to let those cancerous negative thoughts grow and thrive inside your skull, or you can choose to stomp them out. You have the power to imagine anything you want. You just have to create your own narrative. It’s like when we read a book, and the author lays out a graphic scene that you construct in your imagination with every passing word. You build the story in your mind based on the words you are reading. The author is guiding you, yes, but the scene created in your mind’s eye is unique. So why not create your own narrative and build your own fictional outcome? Why not imagine yourself winning?
You can change the direction of your imagination faster than you can blink your eyes. You just have to realize what is happening when it is happening. You have to catch yourself slipping into negative self-talk right when it begins. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. Stomp it out.
How do you stomp it out? Take a moment and proactively imagine yourself winning your first match with your favorite move. Imagine the moment that you grab that arm, or the moment you wrap your arm around their neck. Imagine the squeeze, the lactic acid in your muscles, imagine your teammates screaming at you “SQUEEEEEEEEEZE!!!” Imagine that priceless feeling of your opponent tapping your leg. Imagine it in great detail. Imagine the sound of the arena, the cheers from your friends and teammates. Imagine the referee raising your hand while you smile from ear to ear.
You have to remember that your mind belongs to you. You control what goes on in between your ears. Remind yourself of all the time you’ve put into training. Remind yourself of all the horrible conditioning you’ve done to prepare yourself. Remind yourself that your jiu-jitsu is good, that your guard is great, or that your passing is dreadfully difficult for any guard player. You have to practice positive self-talk just like you have to practice your submissions. If you never practice triangles, you will never be good at executing triangles. If you never practice takedowns, you will never be good at taking people down. If you never practice positive self-talk, you will never be good at it. If you never practice stomping negative bullshit out of your thought process, you will continue to be plagued by it.
The mind has a funny way of manifesting it’s reality. If you believe you will lose, you will probably lose. If you believe you CAN win, you might win. If you know you will win, you have a much better probability of winning. When you have a positive attitude, you are more likely to pull the trigger when you see an opportunity to do so. If you allow negative cancerous bullshit occupy your thoughts, you will likely hesitate. And hesitation is death during a jiu-jitsu match. Hesitation puts you one step behind your opponent. And in most cases, it’s very difficult to regain that missed step.
Everyone goes to a competition with a tool box. In your toolbox are all of your favorite techniques and skill sets. Your favorite sweeps and submissions, your conditioning, your strength, your monster grips, your savage leg locks, or whatever they may be. It is a huge mistake to neglect a strong mental attitude as one of your tools. But don’t wait until the day of the competition to decide you want a strong mind. You cannot wait until competition day to develop a skill with a new tool. You can’t drill a new submission the day before a competition and then expect to have it down and ready to go when the heat is on.
As I mentioned before, I used to mindfuck myself for an entire month leading up to a competition. Right when I registered, a month in advance, I would start to imagine all the ways I was gonna mess this thing up. Over the course of a few years, I got it down to where I only felt anxious a few days before competition day. Then I would just try to not think about it. I would distract myself for a few more days with movies, chess games, conversation, etc. This strategy was flawed because once I was in the bullpen the reality that I had been ignoring came crashing down on me. I made the mistake of ignoring the cancer in my mind instead of stomping it out.
Even now, I still get some negative bullshit that manifests itself in my thought chamber a few hours before my matches. But after years of practice, I know how to deal with it. I recognize it when it starts. I acknowledge that it’s a normal mental reaction triggered by the competition and my desire to perform well. And then I stomp that shit right out of my mind by remembering all the hard work I put into my training. Savage preparation is the key to confidence. Confidence is the key to winning. Knowing that you are prepared to give anyone hell for 10 minutes is a great way to alleviate performance anxiety.
Now go train like a savage. Leave your comfort zone. Break yourself down and build yourself back up. Get smashed by your teammates and be thankful for it. Max out your heart rate, feel your lungs burn, and squeeze the life out of someone. And don’t forget to have fun.