If/Then – Mental Training Technique for Fighting and Muay Thai
I wrote a blog post on How You Know When You’re Ready To Fight in order to cover some of the things I often discuss with folks at the gym (or online) who would like to fight but are uncertain whether or not they are “ready.”
After it was published one of the fellows who I’d written about in the blog left me a message saying that one piece of advice I’d given him had had particularly good impact on his mental state in preparing him for his upcoming fight. (In fact, both the men I wrote about are gearing up for their first fights. I’m a good adviser for the simple fact that I follow the Harry S. Truman rule that the best way to give advice is to find out what someone wants to do and then advise them to do it.)
The good advice I gave in this instance came from my brother John, who is a doctor of Sport Psychology (see my Skype Interview with him on mental training basics here) and helps keep my head in good working order from time to time. I spoke with John prior to my fight in Isaan, when I was feeling the overburden of pressure because the fight would be on TV and involved travel, visibility and higher sums of money. He helped me remember that this fight – like all fights – is just another fight, no greater and no less than any other. As an exercise, he asked me to name my greatest fear regarding the fight. I told him I was afraid of letting my trainers down. This wasn’t specific enough, so he asked me what I would have to do to let them down. I thought about it and decided that if I didn’t do the things they’d trained me to do, that would warrant disappointment.
Okay, so Neung had been training me in boxing. Say I don’t land any punches: if you don’t land any punches, then what? Then I’d have to go back to training and work harder on boxing… which I’d probably do anyway. What if my trainers are super pissed or disappointed in me? If my trainers are disappointed, then it will be awkward for a while and then we’ll all just get on with our lives because it’s not like nobody has ever lost a fight before.
As it turned out I did lose that fight and all my trainers were supportive, told me not to worry about it and moved on. I felt badly for a while because I thought I could have done better, but then it was time to let go because I wanted to get back in the ring for the next fight, which I did 6 days later. The greatest cure for feeling badly about a fight is to fight again, which is perhaps yet another post on the benefits of fighting frequently.
The If…Then Exercise
So the exercise goes like this: you take whatever it is you’re afraid of and realistically think about it happening. You’re afraid you’ll get injured, then what? Realistically, at worst you’ll miss a few days of training and more than likely you’ll just have to train around it, which is exactly the same as you do when you’re injured in training all the time. If you’re afraid of gassing, then what? Then you see what your limits are and work to expand them in your training, just like you would be doing anyway only better because you’ve actually seen those limits now. You get knocked out, what then? You’ll be embarrassed for a little while and it won’t feel good and then you’ll have to get back to training and working on what you’d be working on anyway. And in Thailand, I guarantee your trainers don’t care nearly as much about any given loss (or win) as you do, and you have control over how you feel about that loss and how long you let it affect you.
This exercise really helped the guy I was talking to about his first fight because it helps you bring everything into realistic perspective. Like I said in my post, “the best and worst things that can happen to you in a fight are in your head.” Whatever fear you have is probably exaggerated by your mind. So go ahead and imagine it, as crazy as it might be, let it become real – but then base the consequences in reality and you see that very, very few things have lasting or truly detrimental effects. Very few things lead to the Zombie Apocalypse and I can guarantee you that none of those things have anything to do with your performance or the outcome of a fight.
I’ve lost many times, but I keep getting in there to fight because I love it. If losing were as terrible as your mind is making it out to be, nobody would ever recover from it. And yet, we go on. It’s part of the game and the rewards always outweigh the risks.