Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

When I am not wearing my super hero jiu-jitsu attire, I run a marketing agency, and that comes with the usual spiel of adult responsibilities, like meetings and taxes and invoices and ongoing self-education. Recently, I engaged a sales coach to help me address my social anxiety of actually pitching the work that I do to potential clients.

All of that sounds gloriously boring to a jiu-jitsu reader, but one of the first exercises Dan, my new sales coach, had me do reminded me of a time when I was a white belt working to earn my blue belt—a time that I had almost completely forgotten.

Dan spread out a bunch of magazines and asked me to create a vision board, using clippings from the magazine to represent who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. For many people, Dan said, goals are material, like a fast car or a fancy house, while others clip out things that remind them of their families or represent places they’d like to visit. As I cut out a few images that reminded me of my wife and my pets (and a few exotic travel locations), I suddenly remembered a dirty dorm room with a rain forest breeze coming in through the open window.

Some ten years ago, when I was in Hilo, Hawaii training at the BJ Penn Academy (a story I am mostly tired of telling but still greatly informs who I’ve become today), I taped a note to the broken mirror on my side of the room that reminded me not to forget why I had started training and what I came to the Big Island to accomplish.

I am no expert on psychology or motivation, but having a message from a past-me—a me that was perhaps more motivated and more driven than the tired and injured Marshal staring into the mirror on any given day—kept me from quitting, and sometimes I desperately wanted to quit. I wanted to hang up my gi, let me body heal, and lay in the sand for the rest of my life.

But that Marshal, the one who started jiu-jitsu because of childhood bullies and continued training because of what jiu-jitsu helped him learn about himself, was still inside me even during the hardest moments of my life. When the road got hard, he was harder to hear even if he was still there.

In Hilo, that note from me to me hanging on my mirror got me to the mat on days I had no desire to train, and I was better for it. As I got older and my life grew more complex, I got away from hanging notes. Jiu-jitsu goals mixed with life goals, like paying a mortgage or landing a new set of clients in a new industry, and on days when I felt like skipping training, I very often did.

Making a vision board for jiu-jitsu may not make as much sense as it does for business (Dan recommends hanging it somewhere prominent, like your refrigerator or your bathroom mirror), but I realized that I needed to build in little motivators for myself when I am enthusiastic and driven so that I can pick up on that thread later when I am tired and want to quit.

I started jiu-jitsu for a reason, and though that reason has evolved as I’ve grown as a person, I still have goals. I still have things I’d like to accomplish, and the day-to-day grind of life and bumps and bruises can cloud what was once a clear path forward.

I’m sure that you too started jiu-jitsu for a reason and that you have also gotten tired and thought about quitting. If you’re like me, you might benefit from a note on your bathroom mirror or a reminder elsewhere that you have more work to do (like one of your old belts curled on a bookshelf in your home).

Once upon a time, I made a commitment to myself. I have to keep going because I have those promises to keep, and so do you.