This past weekend I competed in a Jiu Jitsu tournament – the IBJJF No Gi World Championships. Participating in these events is both fun and stressful. Things that would normally be of no consequence start to become anxiety inducing:
- Did I pack everything I need? (I actually almost forgot my ID on this trip)
- Did I check in for my flight? (I almost forgot that too)
- Am I going to make it to the airport on time? (I nailed this one though)
- How is my hotel room going to be? Am I going to be able to sleep well the night before?
- Most of all, how is my weight? BJJ tournaments almost always involve weight classes, and it can be difficult to manage your body weight while travelling and not having access to your usual kitchen and grocery store.
All of these add to the stress and anxiety beyond the actual competition. When you compete in BJJ it is 1 vs. 1, so you have no teammates to rely on; it is all on you. You cannot pass the ball to anyone else and have them take the shot, nor can you hope that your teammate drives in the winning run or scores the big touchdown. For many people the nerves leading up to a competition become a more formidable opponent than the person across from them. This sensation makes a lot people choose to forego competing, even if part of them wants to.
With all of this stress and anxiety why in the world would anyone actually want to go compete anyway? To be honest, most of that sounds pretty horrible to most people.
In spite of the stress and anxiety there are a lot of reasons you should do it, and one in particular stands out to me: the opportunity to truly challenge yourself and see where you are at. Why would you want to do that? The answer is, in my experience, because it ALWAYS leaves you motivated to try and make further improvements. More so, without ever committing to doing something that is genuinely challenging, you will find it hard to ever push yourself past your comfort zone – which is where growth really starts to happen. If you have nothing to train for and no honest assessment of where you are at it is easy to become complacent, and that is when things really start slipping the wrong direction. In my case I choose BJJ competitions to challenge myself, but for you it could be strength training, climbing a mountain, or some other formidable physical endeavor – but you should do SOMETHING.
Regardless of the outcome of your event, you always want to get back to the training room and work on fixing your mistakes and being better the next time around. For example, in this weekend’s tournament I did not get the result I wanted. My first opponent no-showed, so I essentially got a bye, and then in my first actual match I lost decisively to a tough opponent. He got his game going well and I was stuck trying to play catch up nearly the entire time. Obviously I would have liked to have won (duh), but the main feeling I have is not disappointment, it is and eagerness to get back home and start tightening up the areas of my game where I struggled over the weekend. In fact, I thought I was well prepared for a couple specific scenarios that came up in the match, but the high level of competition showed that I was not as prepared for them as I thought. While that could sound demoralizing on the surface, I think it can be framed as inspiring, because now I am chomping at the bit to go back to the gym and work on improving those areas. In full transparency, even in tournaments that I have won 1st place I still went home feeling motivated to get back to the training room and improve.
In short, the result is not nearly as important as the feeling you are left with afterwards. Yes, of course everyone always wants to win the tournament, or set a new PR on a lift, etc. I am not here saying that you should not care about the outcome, that would be nonsense. What I am saying, is that you should not let the fear of not achieving your desired outcome turn into a barrier that stops you from even trying in the first place. Regardless of the result of your event, the feeling of motivation you will have afterward will be well worth the stress leading up to it. On top of that, there is a good chance that when your friends and family see your motivation and hard work it will inspire them to start working harder towards their goals too.
My recommendation: in whatever you do (kettlebell workouts, BJJ, weightlifting, etc.) find some way to truly challenge yourself and you leave it all out on the table. These do not need to be often, even 2x per year is plenty for most people, but you should try to include them. If you do BJJ, then that might mean signing up for a tournament. If you are a weightlifter that might mean participating in some kind of meet, even if it is an unsanctioned one or a mock meet. If you train with kettlebells, that might mean testing yourself on certain benchmark workouts from time-to-time (we include these in our kettlebell classes both in-person and online).
Regardless of what you do, you should find some way of genuinely challenging yourself. Should you strive for a certain result when you do it? Of course. Should you let fear of not achieving your desired result stop you from trying? Definitely not. The best athletes in the world do not achieve their desired result every single time (Michael Jordan missed shots and Ken Griffey Jr. still struck out). If the best in the world do not nail it perfectly every single time, you should be realistic about how much pressure you put on yourself. If you do manage to achieve your desired result, awesome! You should celebrate. But remember, even if you do not get the result you wanted, there is immense value in the emotions you get after the challenge that will be helpful when it comes to keeping training fun, giving you motivation, and helping you eventually surpass where you once were.