Beyond the Mat Lesson Three:
Change Your Mind And Your Life Will Follow
This week’s lesson is all about internal dialogue. While I might seem chronically optimistic these days, my current level of optimism was a learned trait that I struggled for a long time to achieve. I still fall short on some days, but I’ll always be grateful to Jordan for pointing out to me years ago (14 years ago to be exact, back when we were first dating), just how much negative self-talk I practiced and what kind of effect that had both on me and on those around me.
Even though this week’s lesson is about telling yourself “I can” instead of “I can’t,” and “I am [something positive]” rather than “I am [something negative],” I think it’s incredibly important to consider what sort of effect your self attributions have on the people around you, too.
Partway through the introductory series of the Headspace meditation program, Andrew Puddicomb, the voice of Headspace, instructs you to shift your meditative focus from the benefits you will receive from your practice to the benefits those close to you will receive from your practice. He says that shifting that focus from yourself to someone you care about “softens” your mind and adds a different dimension to your practice. Honestly, it also makes it a lot easier to stick consistently with the program.
I want you, right now, to think of someone you love and admire, and imagine the last time they told you something negative about themselves. How did that make you feel? Now, think back to the last time you offhandedly said something negative about yourself to someone you care about. “My hair is an ugly mess,” “my jump spin crescent kicks suck,” “Scott should demote me back to white belt in BJJ.”
While it’s true that there’s a social convention where two conversationalists will swap lighthearted, self-demeaning commentary between each other, and that I fall into this rhythm all the time myself, I would argue that this kind of talk is incredibly insidious. Even if you don’t 100% mean the things you say about yourself, there’s always a kernel of truth that reveals something about your self esteem. By saying these things out loud, you’re supporting and strengthening your concept of your own shortcomings. Plus, what if that thing you just can’t give yourself enough credit for is something that your friend very much admires about you?
The “I should be demoted” comment is a perfect example. Now that I have my BJJ blue belt, I totally understand why some blue belts (I’m looking at you, Gary!) make offhanded remarks about how “terrible” their performance is on the mat. But have you ever considered just how discouraging (not to mention demeaning) it is to complain to your white belt friends, who you could probably tap out six ways from Sunday, about what a worthless grappler you feel yourself to be? (I know what you’re thinking right now. Stop it!!! Stop fixating on the last time you were tapped out by a white belt! It’s not an absolute ranking system!) It’s rough being a white belt. They look up to you. They covet that blue belt you’re disrespecting in front of them. Don’t take that away from them.
So, even if you can’t do it for yourself, try being positive about yourself to others for their own sakes. Some of us, myself included, just can’t take ourselves seriously when saying mantras into the mirror in the morning. But we interact with people all day long, and in those interactions, we both reveal and strengthen our own self identities… and, additionally, affect those around us in ways we can’t always predict. Be careful about what you say about yourself. Be a positive force in your own life, and in the lives of others.