Mindset for BJJ

What should I be thinking to achieve the most in BJJ? You’ve probably thought about this many times. Before a competition, after a win or a loss, or maybe even after a class when you thought you could have done better?

I’ve often wondered about this too. There’s a whole post about my strategies here (How to mentally prepare for competition?). But I still felt like there must be more and that’s when I came across Carol Dweck’s The New Psychology of Success.

The Fixed Mindset

In most BJJ academies, there’s at least one person who ‘already knows their shit’. They could be any age, gender or belt level. It’s that person who always tries to do the same thing and refuses to learn new things discrediting them as bullshit. Even if they haven’t tried them.

As long as their tried and tested techniques work or they have an excuse (they beat me because they’re a higher belt/heavier/younger/older), these people can keep thinking of themselves as ‘good at BJJ’.

This is what Carol Dweck describes as a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that they are only good at something if they can maintain the same level of excellence/performance all the time. If they fail, it’s very personal. They don’t think that their skills are lacking. They think that they are lacking.

So what happens if you fixed mindset teammate’s techniques stop working or they get promoted and the level increases? They start to struggle, because they see every setback as a personal failure.

*Could this be a cause of bluebeltitis?*

The Growth Mindset

I have been guilty of having a fixed mindset at times. Many people can have a fixed mindset in some areas of their lives and not in others. While it can sometimes protect our ego, there’s a much better alternative – the growth mindset.

Prof Dweck describes people with a growth mindset as constant learners. This way of thinking focuses on deriving a feeling of success from improvement rather than from results. It is very visible in people just starting jiu jitsu.

You’re a brand new white belt and very excited about this new thing that you’re doing. Every technique is exciting and you’re used to getting tapped all the time.

As you keep training, you start to see improvements in your game and achieve your first small successes. Maybe you’ve managed to submit someone for the first time or get that sweep you’ve been working on – it’s all a reason to be happy and keep working. If you get tapped as a white belt it’s obvious to you that it’s due to your limited skills. It’s not because you suck as a person.

As you progress, get promoted or win something you may shift towards a more fixed mindset. If you begin to think that ‘this person shouldn’t be able to tap me, he’s just a white belt’, ‘I beat this dude last time, I have to beat him again’ etc., then you’re switching from the mindset of improving your skills and enjoying yourself to the mindset of having to maintain a status quo.

The fixed mindset kills the fun of training, limits your progress and makes you more likely to quit BJJ or anything else you’re doing if you can’t ‘protect your status’. It’s not easy to learn from setbacks, but separating your performance from yourself in the growth mindset makes this much easier and will likely to take you further.

If you’d like to learn more about the power of the growth mindset in sport, business or child rearing this is a great read!

Carol Dweck The New Psychology of Success

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