We are encouraged to play it safe in life. Comfort is reenforced over and over. “Don’t take that risk.” “Don’t let them see you sweat.” “Look before you leap.” “Be an adult.” If we aren’t instantly good at something we dismiss it as “not for us.” The things we are good at we feel pressure to regularly perform well at as a part of our identity. Failure on the mats actually leads to more success if we can differentiate between performing and learning.
Failure On The Mats: Performing Vs. Learning
A huge key to growth is recognizing the difference between performing and learning.
Performing and learning are opposite sides of the same coin. In performing, the immediate results matter.
In learning, the results right now are secondary to improving ability for future results. A 1% overall improvement every day I train will have staggering cumulative results in a year. I may not be the best right now, but I am getting better EVERY day and eventually I will be the best possible version of me.
If I am focused only on performing, I am not adding new techniques to my game or improving. But if I am focused only on learning, I become lackadaisical in my training and removed from the reason for learning in the first place; improved performance.
An example of performance is a Jiu Jitsu competition where I bring all my training together for a single focused series of matches. The way that I assemble my cardio, technical preparation, mindset, and focus on that day is centered around the idea of winning.
After a competition I can break down the areas where I need improvement only because I gave the event my all. I can realize that I competed with an underdeveloped game plan and no contingency for a certain position. I can determine that my cut through guard pass isn’t as sharply honed as I thought; what worked in the gym did not work in the tournament and go back and rework the details.
The Lessons Of Performance
The more prepared I am and the harder I try to succeed, the higher the chance of success, and the more clarity I receive from the lessons of a failure. I fear failure and seek comfort so much that self-sabotage can be tempting.
Sometimes I will feel the urge to shortchange my preparation. I will skip the rounds on
the Versa Climber to give myself an out. “I lost that match because my cardio isn’t where it should be.” “He was just stronger than me.” If I didn’t fully prepare, then these excuses can form the lessons I learn.
If I am fully prepared however, then I know that my cardio is as good as it can be, but in my match I chose techniques and positional battles that taxed my system too much. Now I have something concrete to work on and not an excuse.
Application Of Mat Learning
When I confuse daily training in the gym with performing, my growth begins to stagnate and I plateau. The easiest way I can identify this training error is when I notice every roll progresses pretty much the same way, day in and day out. I go to my familiar positions and play my familiar game.
The Sunday afternoon roll that I am having with my regular training partner should be a time of focused training but I should also be trying and working new techniques. It can be scary leaving behind the safety net of my A-Game in exchange for techniques of unknown quality. During training I will get swept and crushed and submitted more often. However, every time I am submitted my body will learn the instincts to deal with that completely new scenario in the future. I am eternally expanding my positional vocabulary and not worried about the short-term result of that one roll.
If the guy who I should normally best, defeats me today, it is of no concern. I am getting drastically better, one small percent at a time. Tomorrow I will keep working new positions. My whole Jiu Jitsu style will eventually become my A-Game and that opponent will have nowhere to attack me that I am not prepared.
Shifting From Learning To Performance
Periodically, and especially when a tournament comes around again, I freeze my game. I stop this experimentation process and go back to focusing on results. I use the movements and instincts which have been most successful the past few months and begin honing them by repeating them over and over every roll in coordination with my A-Game. This is a time for focused honing and repetition without the variance of implementing new techniques which could risk failure. Now the focus is on winning again.
This back and forth between learning and performing stair steps growth and keeps Jiu Jitsu interesting.
When I am plateauing in my training it is usually because I am either stuck on learning or stuck on performance and it is time to switch gears.
The more confidence I gain by pursuing failure on the mats, the less afraid I am of taking worthwhile risks in life to improve. I speak up at work and ask for that promotion that opened up. I start up a conversation with a stranger at the grocery store, or eat at a new restaurant or even travel the world. The successes are sweeter and even the “failures” feel like success.
Every day I will succeed at tasks. If I fail once a day though, that means that I am growing. If I am only succeeding, I am playing too safe in my comfort zone.
Is staying comfortable your driving force?