resilience

Being ‘in control’ is a mindset.

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.”

– Epictetus

Being in control of things outside yourself is relative to your influence over them, but being in control of yourself requires nothing more than feeling in control. This is a skill, and we can practice it.

Feeling in control requires you to acutely focus solely on the things which you can change.

We can change much more than we usually give ourselves credit. Even in times of hopelessness;

While we may have no control over a a thief who wishes to break into our home, we do have control over how we prepared we are for that possibility; installing security screens, cameras and investing in insurance are all measures we can take to minimise the possibility of disruption.

We also have power over how we react to being stolen from; we can grow fearful, bitter and angry, or we can deal with the problem as best we can, prepare ourselves better in case the circumstance arises again, and move on.

The problem with reacting angrily is that there’s nothing to be gained by allowing those emotions flourish. The thief has been and gone. There is no perpetrator to receive the justice of your anger, so what are you to do with it?

It feels good to embrace negative emotions in times like these. To imagine what you might do if you found the thief. How good you’ll feel if the police find them. You may find yourself playing these scenarios over and over in your mind, your emotion building as the visions become clearer.

But with no way to act on or utilise these feelings, thinking this way is nothing more than self-pollution.

This thinking does nothing to change what happened, nor does it aid in actually realising your imagined capture of the thief.

It’s useless.

We can’t control the actions of others, their reactions to our actions, nor the hand we’ve been dealt in the game of life.

Unless a feeling informs action, you don’t need it. That doesn’t mean that like a stray cat it won’t try to stick around, it just means you should probably avoid feeding it incase it decides to live with you permanently.

Take care not to obsess over things which fall outside the bounds of your control. When we do, especially if the thing scares us, we often wind up ruminating; thinking in abstract circles about how concerned or bereaved we are about a problem, without committing any energy to actually resolving it.

Ruminating about problems is useless, because problems require solving.

Solving is active where rumination is passive. It implies that action is being taken in the direction of a solution.

Nobody cares how worried you are about climate change, but plenty of people care about how you’re planning to vote at the next election.

People value action because it drives progress.

We can take control of our lives by choosing to focus our attention not on rumination, but on actively seeking out problems we have the capability to solve through our own individual action.

Accept everything which you cannot change, focus solely on those things you can, and pursue them with rigour.

There is no more powerful endeavour.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) people are some of the smartest, strongest, and most dedicated you’ll ever meet. The art of self-improvement is ingrained in their day-to-day.

Most martial arts teach respect and discipline, but not many demand the same level of fortitude, resilience or humility that Jiu-Jitsu demands of its masters.

(Image courtesy Michael Port)

All Jiu-Jitsu masters, those who have dedicated their entire lives to the art, train every day embracing the fact that they will always have more to learn.

They trend towards perfecting their knowledge and technique with the understanding that they will never complete their quest.

Even after a lifetime of vigilant training, they will never fully know Jiu-Jistu.

This is because, like most worthwhile pursuits, BJJ is not a closed system; there is an almost limitless number of actions and reactions to be honed, perfected, and re-honed when something surprising rears its head.

Jiu-Jitsu is being innovated constantly.

To get better at Jiu-Jitsu is to continually realise how much you don’t yet know; the more you learn, the more there is to learn.

I believe this humbling cycle to be at the core of the Jiu-Jitsu mindset. It seems to me the reason that humility and respect are so entrenched in the sport.

People with large egos tend not to last very long at Jiu-Jitsu gyms, because having your weaknesses exposed is a fundamental step towards any level of competence.

There’s nowhere to hide your weaknesses in a roll, and the mats don’t lie. This proves uncomfortable for anyone who can’t handle a regular feeling of defeat.

I’ve seen it first hand; a new guy comes into the gym and as soon as he gets an opportunity to roll, he freaks out. His face goes red as he angrily exerts all his energy trying to pummel somebody who could comfortably choke him unconscious using only their legs.

It usually plays out one of two ways; either the experienced grappler is patient with the new guy, defending themselves casually while he thrashes around and tires himself out, before they strike quickly and efficiently, forcing him to submit; or, they ramp up and meet his intensity not with anger, but with focus. They get on top of him, let their weight drain the air from his lungs as he struggles, and make his life a living hell for however long it takes new guy to calm down.

Being confident enough to productively and openly process defeat is a skillset. Having the self-awareness to know what your limits are, and where you need to improve is so valuable, but getting practiced in the art of failing takes time. You need to dance with the discomfort, dance with the fear, in order to make progress.

(Image courtesy Michael Port)

There’s no denying that it’s tough. But every black belt had a first tough roll. Every single one has felt totally powerless on too many occasions to count at the hands of someone far better than them.

And every time, they chose to come back. This is the entire game.

Training Jiu-Jistu requires you to embrace your fear and choose to show up anyway; to keep getting beat, knowing that all the people who are better than you have all done the exact same thing, and that they have your back; to implement the lessons each defeat has to offer you; to persist.

This ability to persist, to command yourself to get better despite the cost, is what separates those who become black belts from those who don’t.

There’s a saying you sometimes hear black belts offer to demoralised white belts;

A black belt is just a white belt who never quit.

It’s cheesy, but it’s true.

This rule applies to most valuable pursuits in life.

The same applies to writing. The same applies to making ruckus.

If you want to be good at something; figure out how to safely expose your weaknesses, then do the work.

Find people who better than you, and learn from them.

Set up a feedback loop where you will be forced to train.

Come to terms with what you need to change, what you need to do, and how far you need to go to accomplish your goal.

Then, it’s simple. All you need to do is persist.

Don’t quit.