How have my successes stunted my willingness to compete? … and thoughts on how I plan to reduce performance anxiety

Lately, I’ve been asked by several people whether I plan to compete anytime soon. I’m never extremely certain of my answer because I have two basic feelings about it:

1) No, I should focus on training and growing into my blue belt first so that I get my game to a “competitive level.”

2) Hmm, well, why not?! As they say, “practice makes perfect.” Plus, I never feel completely “ready” anyways…

I could go ahead and type out the extensive list of “pros and cons” that run through my head, but I’ll spare you and cut it to the chase: I have a pretty considerable amount of performance anxiety. Actually, most people do to some level, and it can be a good thing (to increase adrenaline and promote a healthy amount of competitiveness), but there’s a line drawn here where it starts working against you as a competitor. It’s that line between wanting it badly enough to push you to your limits, and wanting it so much you’re scared you won’t get it.

Performance anxiety can be crippling, of course; this phenomenon is pretty straight forward, but I have to ask “why?” What makes me this way and how can I work to change it?

One major requirement in conquering this issue is that which I dread most: failure. I realize I haven’t had enough exposure to this feeling– and yes, I do feel very fortunate, but it comes with its definite problems.

Why am I deprived of this feeling? I can’t discount my decently strong work ethic, however, I believe my lack of exposure is partially a result of the way I was brought up in school and in turn, my own heightened adversity to risk. It seems to be a trend, as younger generations are sometimes labelled the “Trophy Generation” from the excessive amount of positive reinforcement in an attempt to build self-esteem, which goes as far as “participation trophies” for all children and an unwritten rule that it’s “wrong” to celebrate winning, because it would hurt losers’ feelings.

Simply put: even considering the likelihood of “losing” has the power to make an activity less fun.

So, I have two basic ideas on how to overcome fear of (and even enjoy) risk and “failure”:

1) Desensitize myself to failure by engaging in activities where I’m sure to fail. For instance, one very plain example for me would be going rock wall climbing, and of course, not just choosing the easy walls. It’s a physical activity just like a BJJ competition, it’s fun, and I’m sure to fail (fall) eventually. It will force me to take initiative in something I have little confidence in, and the worst that can happen is I fall, feel bad for a second or two, and try again.

2) Secondly, and perhaps, most importantly, redefine what it means to “fail.” Or better yet, get rid of that word from my vocabulary. Reshape my attitude, as well, by understanding that growth is the most important product of life’s endeavors. My personal goals in BJJ should not be to win and grow my ego (although those things feel nice for a time, sure), rather, they should be to learn and to become a great practitioner and training partner. Real “failure” means walking out of a competition without any new material to practice or goals to strive for.

Also, I must say, I’ve heard the idea thrown around that competitors in BJJ tend to be “cooler” or more down to earth than those who do not compete– whether there’s any truth to this, I’m not sure, but I can begin to understand how this idea may spring up from the mere fact that competition is undoubtedly a humbling experience. To me, it seems imperative to fully experiencing the sport at a level in which I can grow and become better, both on and off the mat.

I’ll end this entry with my second competition match ever– one in which I LOSE to a kumura! 😉
NAGA, women’s white belt division– nogi / light-weight:

Take a look at my full BJJ profile here.

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