Mental toughness for Combat Sports

How to develop Mental Toughness for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Muay Thai Kickboxing

Many top athletes in various sports pay tons of money to motivational speakers and sports psychologists in the pursuit of heightened levels of Mental Toughness .

Throughout my quest for Mental Toughness I have come across a few tools that you can use right now to develop Mental Toughness too without spending tons of money.

This is my personal story.  I hope it helps.

First we need to define what Mental Toughness isMental Toughness is a combination of Courage and Perseverance.  First you need the Courage just to get started and then the Perseverance to push through difficult situations and go beyond the point where most people would break.

When I first began in Combat Sports 9 years ago, I was a complete head case with very little Mental Toughness.  From the very first day of my journey in Combat Sports (Martial Arts) I struggled with Claustrophobia.  That’s a tough problem to have considering I started my journey at what many would consider the most dominate BJJ school in the USA – Alliance Jiu Jitsu Head Quarters.  I was constantly getting smashed by elite level guys, a few of which compete in the UFC currently.  Through what I learned from a motivational speaker, I was able to overcome my irrational fear within 90 days.

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Next came the issue of competition. For years, I could never get a good nights’ rest prior to an event.  I would toss and turn all night going over every possible situation.  Sometimes I would have visions of grandeur and other nights would be full of worst case scenarios that seemed to be inescapable.  The day of the competition my hands would be sweaty and clammy and my mouth would be so dry I could barely speak.  No amount of water could clinch my thirst and the butterfly’s in my stomach would almost make me sick.  In 2007, when I fought MMA for the first time in a cage, I can remember hearing the cage door latch closed.  At that moment almost every part of me wanted to climb the fence and get the hell out of there.  The only reason I stayed was because of an Ambrose Redmoon quote:

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“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon

In that particular instance I was able to wrap my shaky head around the fact that competing was more important than my fear.  All the time spent training for this moment could not and would not go un-wasted.  I went on to win that fight at the 2 min, 56 second mark of the 1st round via triangle.  What I didn’t know then, is I had just mixed a little bit of courage with action to create faith.  The more I competed and the more I came out okay- win, lose or draw the more faith I had in myself and the better I would perform.

In my quest for a Mental Toughness solution to this head case problem of mine, I’ve read numerous books, gone to see numerous  speakers on the subject, consulted with spiritual advisers and even seen a shrink.

Throughout my Mental Toughness journey, I’ve found a few tools that if you use whole heartily, I can guarantee you will get positive results.  They are listed below in no particular order:

  • Auto-Suggestion/Mantra’s – Autosuggestion was originally created by Emile Coue and was originally known as the “Coue method”.  It has an interesting history in the medical field that you can read more about but, in a nut shell it was used to help heal sick patients.  The original autosuggestion that is still widely used today is “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”.  I was first introduced to this concept at a Tony Robbins seminar over a decade ago and I used this technique to help push through my claustrophobia.    When I found myself stuck underneath a tough guy, I would say “I’ve been here before many times, it was okay then and it’s okay now. I will survive”.  I would use this phrase to calm down enough so, I could think about my Jiu Jitsu again instead of being overwhelmed with the position itself.  Sometimes, I wouldn’t escape and I’d get tapped but, at the end of the day, I WAS OKAY and I DID SURVIVE!!  Autosuggestion can be used in preparation for upcoming events or to change the way you view something.  This is an extremely powerful technique if used consistently.  I ask some of my top guys to repeat an autosuggestion I’ve given them 10 times in the morning and 10 times before they go to bed at night to help with their mental toughness.  The idea is to say it enough so that the mind believes it and forces it into reality.
  • Visualization-  Many Olympic athletes use this technique leading up to major events.  They will visualize themselves finishing first and see themselves receiving the Gold.  The idea is to see it and believe it… feel it.  What the mind can see it can believe and it will make so.  I know many teams that use this technique to increase their athletes mental toughness.  It can be done in many ways but one of my favorites is to walk around the ring, mat or cage with your hands up imagining what it feels like to have won.  The best example I have of this from my personal experience was in 2009 when I won Pan’s as a purple belt.  I visualized my hand being raised and the way the Gold would look and feel around my neck.  I focused and focused until I could actually close my eyes and see it.  Then it became a reality!!
mental toughness
  • Meditation/Focused Breathing – This works well in conjunction with the 2 mental toughness techniques listed above.  If you are attempting to use autosuggestion and visualization for the first time, it’s easy to get distracted.  One way to get centered and clear your mind is through focused breathing.  A technique I do is to count 40 deep breathes.  I count up to 20 and then from 20 down to 1.  Each breath needs to be deep and your stomach must expand.  Avoid taking breathe only to your chest.  It must go deeper. After taking 40 deep breathes, its a great time to say your autosuggestion.  Be sure to focus on what the autosuggestion is.  Saying it 10 times and clicking your heels together won’t take you to Kansas if you know what I’m saying.   focus it on what you want to think.  Thoughts are powerful things.  If you think about Mental Toughness enough you will eventually have it.
  • PMA – A positive mental attitude is indispensable in the development and maintenance of Mental Toughness.  Above all it’s important to keep things in perspective.  Remember, that whatever sport you are doing on whatever competitive level you’re doing it at, it began with a love for the sport itself.  Training for a competition can be grueling and it should be.  Winners don’t win by Mental Toughness alone.  It takes work…. HARD WORK!!  Sometimes in the midst of it, it’s easy to get frustrated with your progression or to forget why you started in the first place and get into a funk.  At times like these it’s important to stop and fall in love with what you do again.  Be grateful that you are able to do what you do.  Think about all the people that can’t.  If after taking a moment to think about things, you still find yourself in a funk, pull out a pen and paper and write down all the things you’re grateful for.  It’s impossible to be grateful and negative at the same time.  A large part of mental toughness is perseverance.  And, I believe attitude contributes to your ability to do so.
  • Heightened Testosterone – Elevated levels of testosterone have been medically proven to enhance self-confidence and reduce anxiety.  Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone go take steroids to increase your mental toughness.  There are natural ways to boost your testosterone levels.  The easiest way is to lift weights.  Studies have shown that testosterone levels increase by lifting 2 large muscle groups at a time.  My personal experience says – SQUAT!!!
  • Hard Training – Nothing can replace hard training when it comes to the Perseverance necessary for Mental Toughness. Do you remember my Claustrophobia Mantra?  Yeah, well I couldn’t have said that if I hadn’t been in the same bad position before.  There’s a saying a friend of mine used to say – “Train hard, win easy”.  Now, the truth is, winning isn’t easy but, it can be easier if you push yourself beyond your breaking point over and over again in training.   If you take yourself to depths that no one else goes it’s easy to believe that it can be done…. CAUSE’ YOU’VE DONE IT!!! A large part of Mental Toughness is this belief that you can outlast your opponent.  The psyche is a powerful thing and through some of the techniques I’ve list above, you can give yourself courage and confidence that wasn’t formally there.  But, hard training is the only way to solidify this psychic Mental Toughness change.  Train hard my friends!!!

 

 

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