I recently started training in Brazilian Jiu jitsu (BJJ) with Professor Vanderson Pires at the Combat Room. I am a reasonably athletic and super enthusiastic guy. For these reasons I'm used to being relatively good at martial arts and sports in general. Yet BJJ is the most humbling and technically demanding physical activity I have ever undertaken. Unlike a lot of martial arts that involve punches and kicks, BJJ focuses more on controlling your opponent through holds while transitioning to victory through submitting them via chokes, strangles, locks, or joint manipulations such as arm-bars. The reason I find BJJ so humbling is that becoming proficient is a slow process and it's an activity where a smaller opponent who is superior in technique will defeat size, strength, and athleticism.
There's much I could say about BJJ and its benefits. There's its contribution to resilience, its fostering of curiousity through exploring techniques and counter-techniques, its need for presence and mindfulness, its ability to tap into universal human motivators like the development of mastery, the freedom and autonomy of finding your own style and approach, and the connection with a likeminded community of others. Yet what I want to touch on in this blog is the way it nurtures and demands the adoption of a growth mindset. Every training session, every "roll" (the term used for sparring), and every transition is an exercise in the growth mindset.
Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset as the belief that one's basic abilities can be developed through practice and application. This mindset is associated with viewing failure as an indication of the need for further learning and practice before success is achieved. People with a growth mindset are also likely to see challenges and setbacks as opportunities to further hone their skills. The opposite of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that you have a fixed amount of talent and ability and if you fail at something it is because you have reached the limit of that ability. They are also more likely to avoid challenges and think that having to put in effort is an indication that you aren't good enough. Organisations that that have often been associated with embodying the growth and fixed mindset are Richard Branson's empire and Enron respectively.
The growth mindset is characterised by the belief that failure equals "not yet" rather than "I'm not good enough." This belief is enacted within the BJJ community through the practice of deliberately putting yourself in positions outside of your comfort zone to facilitate learning; even though it is when you are in such positions that you are at greatest risk of submission/loss. Yet it is through this process of embracing the risk of short-term loss that you are optimising your growth and development. In other words, it is through putting yourself in positions of vulnerability that you are able to try new things and maximise your learning. Loss and failure are nothing more than opportunities to reflect, learn, and improve. For all of these reasons BJJ is a great way for someone as competitive as me to stop thinking about success as some end-goal where I show how good I am compared to others, but to instead start to think of success as a measure of my willingness to embrace vulnerability on the journey to personal excellence.
- Failure and loss mean "not yet"
- Focus on getting better, not being good
- Real growth requires vulnerability and stretch
- Success is about how you travel the journey, not where you end up