What Drives Success in BJJ

When looking for what drives success--in BJJ or elsewhere--many traits are important: perseverance, grit, intelligence, talent, determination, and more. But which is most important?

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest difference between the wannabes and the experts is self-discipline and focus. So what are these traits and how can you develop them?

Self-discipline is defined as “the ability to control one's feelings and overcome one's weaknesses” and “the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”

To have focus is to be “able to direct your attention and efforts.”

Examples of self-discipline and focus:

  • Showing up to practice when it would be easier to take a night off.
  • Pushing yourself to do things you don’t like doing.
  • Doing what’s necessary even if it’s sometimes boring.
  • Not glossing over the “small” details, and refining them instead.
  • Delaying instant gratification in favor of future reward.
  • Refining an old skill instead of playing with a new flashy technique.
  • Using your mat time to drill and train, not socialize and gossip.

To put it in the simplest terms, having self-discipline and focus means you show up, pay attention, and do the work.

My mom has been a school teacher all of my life. While visiting her recently, we talked about her experiences with “gifted” or “slow” kids. She said she wants kids to develop “backbone”--the ability to stand up to challenges and push through. She said she prefers a “slow” student with backbone over a “talented” student. The bright kid will breeze along unchallenged most of the time, usually to the praise of adults, while the slow kid plods along behind. But when they each run into a real challenge, the gifted kid often crumbles under the pressure, while the slow kid just pushes through.

This matches up to the recent research on how one’s beliefs about talent and hardwork affect success. People often either believe talent is innate and unchangeable (either you’re born with it or you’re not), or that success is the product of persistence and hardwork. Researchers call this fixed mindset versus growth mindset. These beliefs affect how people approach learning, overcome challenges and recover from failures. As you might guess, the growth mindset is associated with better outcomes in learning and problem solving.

If you have trained for any length of time, you’ve seen talented students come and go. Oddly enough, they are often the quickest to quit, maybe because it’s not a big enough challenge at the beginning stages. They could be truly gifted if they stuck to it, but it doesn’t matter how good someone “could” be if they quit too soon. Success is only for those who stick around.

So how do you develop self-discipline and focus? If I could answer that question so easily, I’d sell it for $19.95 and be a much richer man than I am today. But I will share what I can.

To be honest, I am not the most disciplined or focused person in many areas of life. During that same visit with my mom, she and I were talking about that, too. She was so thankful I found BJJ and stuck to it because I never had a passion like it before. I never liked playing sports, I didn’t do particularly well in school. I didn’t have any big ambitions. But somehow I got into BJJ and I found all the drive and purpose I lacked elsewhere.

Here’s what I can tell you:

Success is achieved by having a passion that drives you to use self-discipline and focus to achieve your goals.

Take the time to answer these questions for yourself:

    • What are your big picture BJJ goals?
      Become a black belt, win at Worlds, be able to protect myself and my family, become a great teacher, etc.

    • What are your shorter term BJJ goals?
      Lose 20 lbs., compete in 6 weeks, develop a new skill or technique, improve a weakness, etc.

    • Do your daily habits align with those goals? If not, how can you change them?
      Your sleep, work and training schedule, diet and nutrition, maintaining relationships with friends and family.

    • What are you willing to give up to achieve those goals?
    • Partying, junk food, other hobbies, free time, etc. You still need your friends and family, so don’t think you can drop them, but you may need to help them see why your goals are important and positive for you to gain their support.

If you want to send me your answers to those questions and get my feedback, feel free to message me through Aesopian BJJ on Facebook.

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