It was my second day at the Arnold Sports Festival.
I had just lost my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu match to my opponent. I wasn’t upset. I had not been as prepared as I should’ve been. That’s a fact.
But I was learning an important lesson. No, it’s not that you should be a good sportsman and humbly accept your loss or your victory.
The lesson I had learned was from the people that filled the giant Colombus Ohio Convention Center. A lesson that some of the greatest athletes and minds in the world understand as a basic truth.
I’ll get to that point in a second.
If you have never been to the Arnold Sports Festival, I recommend visiting at least once in your life. It consists of a weekend long expo on bodybuilding, bikini competitions, martial arts and all different sorts of health and wellness type shows. It really is an inspiring crowd of people ranging from the most zen and tranquil martial artists to the big bad crew of hulk sized men lifting in the name of Jesus Christ called the Omega Force Strength Team.
Incredible athletes, large, overly muscled and tanned men, beautiful women with incredibly fake tits and women bigger than the men who I just mentioned were all in attendance. Quite an ode to the American way of Bigger, Faster, Stronger.. (Tanner?).
The rest of the crowd consisted of people from all over the world competing or just there to enjoy themselves and get lots of free products and protein and other supplements. Warning: Eat enough of the free stuff and later that day you will shit a protein bar fully assembled. With its wrapper. Trust me.. It’s happened to me.
But it was not all the crazy sights and people that influenced my thinking and taught me my most important lesson. It was comparing my mindset last year while I attended the festival to my mindset this year.
Last year as I walked around the festival, through the hordes of competitors and bystanders alike, I found myself constantly comparing myself with everyone I walked by. You can call this insecurity. No one was equal. I was either ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than everyone around me.
I was challenged by what I saw. Men who had biceps larger than my torso challenged me. Women, who I considered so beautiful that I would never be able to talk to them, challenged me. The fighters who fought til blood was spurting out of every socket and hole in their body while their facial structure was getting rearragned challenged me.
I was challenged by everyone I walked by. Most of the attendees were people who worked out regularly. They were larger than I was. They challenged me. My friends who were competing in the martial arts competition challenged me because, in my opinion, they were brave enough to get in the ring. Even if they got their ass kicked, they were risking it all, putting themselves on the line.. and I was standing safely in the crowd.
I was challenged when I couldn’t measure up to the strength and endurance challenges that random supplement companies had set up to promote their product.
“DO x NUMBER OF PULL-UPS….LIFT UP THIS OVERSIZED 150 LB DUMBBELL”
“But sir, I.. I.. I can’t”
“WELL OK SISSY MAN, HERE IS YOUR FREE SHAKER BOTTLE”
To accurately imagine the preceding scenario, imagine a large Arnold Schwartzenegger type, heavy german-austrian accent in tact, yelling at a young impressionable version of myself.
The dilemma faced here however was not that I was made insecure by the constant comparison of myself to all of these people or that I felt I didn’t measure up. It is true that was the case. But there was something else. The dilemma was that I made an excuse for every single one of the reasons why I “didn’t measure up”.
When it came to not being as strong or as brave as those around me – it was easy to lie to myself. ‘I have more important things to do than just sit around and train and work out all the time’, I told myself.
Then it got to the point that I started putting others down for being better than me.“Look at these chumps”, I would say to myself, “wasting their damn time trying to get bigger just so they can compensate for other areas in their life that they are unhappy with – HA HA!”
Nowadays, I call those thoughts ‘dumbass thoughts’, and I try to ignore them. I’ll explain getting past those in a bit, but for now let’s return to my experience last year at the Arnold.
I put down the big guys and the overly made up women with the voluptuous fake tits. I told myself that they must be the most insecure people in the world. I actually started to feel bad for them. ‘Yea the girls are pretty but that is just a lot of make up. They aren’t really that beautiful underneath. Don’t worry if they don’t pay attention to you.’
All this judgement helped me a bit. I felt better. I started to feel superior.
They say the easiest way to feel insecure is to compare yourself to others. I believe that this is also the fastest way to create a disconnect between yourself and another human being. The second a comparison is made and some one is ranked “better” or “worse”, there is no real room for connection. Only the feeling of equality can create any sort of connection between people.
When it came to developing intimate and real connections with people I always felt that there was a mental or emotional block stopping me from letting the relationship blossom. Why? Because my ego wouldn’t let me. The people I was surrounding myself with were not my equals, but rather just measuring sticks for my own self worth. Friends, family, enemies, everyone.
I couldn’t connect with anyone at the Arnold because I was constantly assessing whether I was ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than they were. If you ask me now upon what standards those assessments were based on, I could not tell you.
So what did I do about this? How did I change? Why was this year different?
“The truth about you is this: you are not superior. You are not inferior. You are simply YOU. “You” as a personality is not in competition with any other personality simply because there is not another person on the face of the earth like you or in your particular class. You are an individual. You are unique.”
I found that sentiment hidden in a book that I read every morning: The New PsychoCybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.
It seemed simple enough. Right? So how do you put it in action? I decided to rewire the way I approached martial arts and life as a whole.
Starting out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu this year, I made it a goal of mine to learn from everyone I interacted with. Treat everyone as a teacher. The people I was working with were equals to me. Better or worse at the art, it didn’t matter.
Now I know this sounds new age-y and loaded with a bunch of hippie, let’s all hold hands and sing songs of equality sentimental bullshit, but it is one of the most important and beautiful lessons I have ever learned in my life. It is also one of the most practical.
When I stopped treating those around me as measuring sticks for myself and started treating everyone as equal – I became a lot more calm when I was sparring, or “rolling” with them. No longer was I worried about being ‘better’. I could just relax and focus. My self worth was not derived from the result of a sparring session. With this new found attitude, I started performing better than I had ever before. And best of all, my learning rate grew exponentially.
Best part of all, I am able to create a bond with the person I am working against. I was equal with that person. No ego. Just two souls improving together. Win or lose, the person across from me was a teacher but more importantly, they were my friend.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel bad when I lost at the Arnold. I wasn’t ready yet and my opponent showed me that. He wasn’t better or worse of a human being than I – just more prepared.
And maybe that’s why I stopped judging all those people I thought were wasting their time working out and tanning and drinking protein so they can get big. I stopped comparing myself to them.
Yes I was smaller than them and maybe not as physically scary but I wasn’t worse of a human being because of it. And maybe they were just insecure people covering it up with big muscles and make up but that didn’t make me a better human being than them.
I was able to stop pointing out the flaws in these people and rather I was able to focus on what made them great. These motherfuckers worked their asses off to look the way they do. Day after day they are in the gym pushing their limits and disciplining themselves. It takes a lot of time and preparation for them to look like that. Bodybuilders and world class athletes of any sort are incredible examples of human determination. That deserves a lot of respect.
And it took seeing people as equals for me to start realizing that. But it’s not just me who realizes the benefits of thinking this way:
Take George St. Pierre and Rafael Nadal, for example.
To be completely honest, I don’t follow the UFC but George St. Pierre is one of my biggest inspirations. Not because he is considered one of the sport’s greatest welterweight fighters; rather the incredible way he is able to carry himself despite his success. He maintains an air of humility at all times and in several video interviews has explained that he never underestimates anyone he has to fight.
Rafael Nadal is currently classified as the #1 tennis player in the world. If the number of titles and championships he won were his age, he would probably be retired by now. (Well, considering how bad the economy is and how so many elder folks are working into their later years maybe he’d still have to work to cover his expenses.. but you get what I am trying to say) He has won A LOT.
His strategy? He never believes he is the best and doesn’t allow himself to do so. He has expressed in an interview that if he ever gets a “big head” then he loses his hunger and loses his focus and makes errors in the heat of a game.
Both of these world class athletes never treat any opponent as inferior. They see every new fight and match as their greatest challenge. What’s key here is to realize that their opponent is not seen as inferior but definitely not considered superior either. They are just equal human beings that require the sweat, the blood, the angst of incredible preparation in order to be defeated.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Don’t get me wrong when I speak of equality here. I am not saying we shouldn’t be critical of what the strengths and weaknesses of others and ourselves are. I just mean to say that despite all our strengths and weaknesses, we are no more inherently superior or inferior than others.
And when we stop comparing and stop trying to feel superior or making ourselves out to be inferior, we allow room for real connection to grow. To be humans together. And isn’t that what we are here for. What this is all about?
I think so.
Of course, mind habits don’t just go away with little practice. I still find myself judging all the time. So what are some things I do when I find myself judging others and comparing myself to them?
Here are a couple things I do when I am feeling superior or inferior to someone:
1. This trick is stolen from Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, who had a habit of mentally picturing a scrap of paper on which they would write down all of their negative thoughts on and then imagining setting fire to the paper. This helped stop the negative thoughts in its tracks. I apply this technique whenever I am comparing myself. “I am superior to _____ _____” is written down on my imaginary paper. Then click goes the imaginary lighter, and the thought paper goes up in flames until it turns to ash. The reverse is also very helpful. “I am not as good as ____ _____”
Again, it is important to be critical of where you can use improvement but if your faults are causing insecurity and you are internalizing you errors as a part of who you are, then burn that sucker to ash.
2. Give. To charity, to friends, to whomever. But don’t make it an ego thing. Don’t give and think to yourself how awesome you are for giving. Give because you and the person you are giving to are humans. Give because one day you will need help. Give because you see the worth of the individual you are giving to and you are appreciative of them. Give because nothing you have will ever remain with you forever and it will serve someone else more than it will serve you and give because your good fortune may end soon.
I understand that I have only written about how athletes and body builders discipline their minds and bodies but I believe this idea of getting rid of any childish comparisons of inherent worth and remaining humble can be useful in the fields of business, technology, art, or anything.
So when thoughts of superiority or inferiority start to consume your mind – just remember to burn and give, my friends.
Just burn and give.