Week 9 Mental Training – Emotional Mastery and Vanquishing Ghosts
This week is a continuation of last week’s emotional focus. The first step is awareness, so tracking our emotions throughout last week allowed us to be aware of tendencies, patterns and thought traps. I’ve never really kept a food diary, but I imagine it’s much the same in terms of realizing you are mindlessly eating extra sugar or snacks that you weren’t aware of, or that maybe the “about 2 cups of coffee per day,” estimate you rattle off is, in fact, more like 3-4 cups per day and you didn’t even realize it. Or, conversely, you don’t eat nearly as many vegetables as you think you do. That’s what tracking emotions is like. For me, it’s an “oh shit, I feel frustration all the time and it’s not actually linked to events.” Once you know better, you can take action.
That’s the hard part though. This week is the action bit, where you look at the emotions on your list – those that you love to replay over and over again – and come up with ways to make them work for you instead of against you. Have you ever given your dog a toy and he’s into it for 10 minutes, then can’t be assed to even keep track of it until you show interest in it for a minute and then all of a sudden it’s his favorite thing again? Or, like you don’t really crave a particular food until you decide that you’re not going to eat it anymore and then it’s all you want like you fucking life depends on it? That’s what these damn emotions are like. Once I told myself that I’m going to stop feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and sorry for myself for performing badly in parts of training – simply by making the stated decision to stop doing it – suddenly my mind is all about clinging to those thoughts and emotions with a vice-grip. The grooves are already worn in, so I fall into those patterns pretty easily, but getting out of them is much harder right now than it was when I wasn’t as aware or determined to teach myself how to recover out of those thoughts and emotions more readily. It’s a motherf*cker of a problem.
Niyi refers to “Boogie Man” emotions and triggers. His example in a podcast is squats. He hates squats, so on the days he knows he has to do them, he wakes up pissed off or already dreading them. Everyone has these triggers: talking to your sister who makes you feel like shit about yourself, cleaning the car, homework, double shifts at work. There are a million examples. For me, I have a bunch of them, but one particular Boogie Man is when Kevin does a live stream of my padwork. I don’t come to it with a neutral mind, or better yet an enthusiastic mind. Rather, I immediately hate the idea and try to wiggle my way out of it, or just start pouting immediately because I already feel like I did a shitty job and embarrassed myself. I’ve actually never had a truly bad experience from these live streams – ever. I’ve never super embarrassed myself or gotten terrible, hurtful comments, nada, nothing. I just don’t like being “on the spot” or feel some kind of pressure to perform, so it sends me into this snit regardless of not having a “good” reason or precedent. Yesterday, Kevin didn’t come to my private session with Yodkhunpon in order to allow me the kind of freedom to just play around that not being observed might award me. It was great; I did just play with Khun the whole time and had a serious confidence boost and a grand time, unwitnessed. That’s what I think I will get by not having a live stream of my padwork, although that’s not what happens because I don’t actually let go and just be free and playful all the time. I was ready to be bad in padwork, which is why I told Kevin I didn’t want him to stream it, and then that’s exactly why I had such a hard time anyway, even without the camera on. The camera doesn’t actually do anything, I just link the thought pattern and emotional pitfall that I put myself in to the camera as a cause. It’s pure superstition; it’s fear of a Boogie Man. It’s something I have to tackle because I do think that streaming raw padwork footage is a good thing to do, it helps people see right into the process, unedited. And, I do need to be mentally tough about presenting myself on stage, because that is what fighting is. The better I can do that in training, the better in the ring I’ll be.
So, the work Niyi has us doing this week is coming up with an action plan to address the real causes of these emotional traps. So instead of just being passive to emotions that “happen to you,” you actively choose your emotions and even come up with strategies for how you will respond when those familiar grooves do pull you into them. When I was a kid, I saw a ghost in the hallway outside my bedroom. He was super scary: too tall for the space so he bent over in a weird hunch and had fingers that were too long for his hands and bizarre, 3-cornered hat. I hated him. One time, he came into my room and I panicked and hid under my blanket until I could muster the courage to run 10 feet across the room into my brother’s bed and beg for his protection. My mom “smudged” the room with sage to try to clear the spirit out, but the real gift she gave me was an action plan: when I see that ghost again, say in a firm and assertive voice, “I do not want you in here.” So, when I saw the ghost again and he was creeping toward my doorway, I didn’t panic and hide under my blanket or run into my brother’s bed, I had an action plan. I sat up and boldly took a deep breath, then barely squeaked out the words I’d been armed with. The ghost came into my room anyway and I cried, but, BUT, having simply been given something to do and having attempted to do it made me feel more in control. After a while, I stopped seeing him. It’s kind of like at the end of Labyrinth when the Goblin King is vanquished by the girl realizing, “you have no power over me.” If you can say that to your emotions, and then stick to it, eventually it will work. It’s not a magic fix but it’s something. And that’s what I’m trying to do with my Boogie Man emotions. It’s not a haha, I vanquish you! kind of solution, but by continually catching yourself and reversing the pattern, you will defeat your Boogie Man.
I’m still struggling with this, quite frankly because I feel bad about my flaws and patterns instead of just acknowledging them without judgement. Judgement of your tendencies does not help you change them, so cut that part of it out ASAP so you can just work on it. Because this is so hard, however, you can’t just find mental alternatives to your emotional patterns. If you feel a lack of confidence, you can’t just force yourself to feel its inverse like flipping a switch. Action is the primary objective. First, identify the emotion; then stop – stopping is the first action. Once you’ve interrupted it, then you figure out what you’re focusing on when in that emotion, refocus and orient yourself with a real emotion that counters the one you’re trying to override and then (this is best part of a self-determined response recipe that you come up with before hand) – and this is the most important part – do something with your body to ingrain the new emotion. I slouch a lot and try to be invisible, so I sit up straight. You can dust off your shoulder like a badass, or hold something in your hand and literally let go of it as a representation of letting go of the thought/emotion. Physical action. I get embarrassed and skip this part, but seriously, it’s a no-go if you don’t do it. Think of it like kissing the frog to turn him into a prince or waking up Sleeping Beauty. You can’t just think, “oh yeah, a kiss right, got it.” You have to do it. So, that’s my current struggle.
This week is huge for me, I think. It’s been incredibly difficult and I feel like I’ve been struggling more than usual, but likely that’s just being aware of it. I was telling Kevin this morning that simply defining something somehow proliferates it. Like how once a disease is defined by a set of symptoms, then suddenly there are way more cases of it because now it has a name. People aren’t sicker, they’re just grouped and labeled now. Same with identifying your emotions. I’m not a bigger asshole, I just see more clearly all the ways I’m being an asshole. But, exactly like disease, once you’ve defined it and studied it, then you can start to treat it. So that’s where I’m at.
my live stream of padwork the day after I wrote this, above.
The other posts in this series: