One of the most commonly used phrases in jiu-jitsu is, “Leave your ego at the door.” You don’t need to spend a ton of time on the mats to understand why, either. An overabundance of ego can lead to injuries from refusing to tap. At a minimum, it can lead to intense feelings of discouragement when you don’t achieve the results you want in the gym or at competitions.
The best way to start in jiu-jitsu is with the assumption and acceptance that you’re going to suck for a long time. Every class will make you just a tiny bit better, and soon enough, the ego you left at the door will evolve into something that will benefit your jiu-jitsu and self-esteem: confidence.
A healthy amount of confidence is helpful and often necessary in jiu-jitsu, especially if you want to compete. You deserve to feel good about the hard work you’ve put in to improve your skills, and there’s no shame in being aware of your strengths on the mats. Indeed, a consistent lack of confidence on the mats can make your love for the sport take a nose-dive, and your competitive performance will undoubtedly decrease if you doubt yourself.
Of course, though, too much confidence can lead to unrealistic expectations and lots of disappointment. If you walk into a match thinking there’s no way you can lose or that you’re the best ____ belt in the room, of course, a loss is going to be that much more devastating. Many “confident” people are also actually just arrogant, which can put people off and lead to missed opportunities in your jiu-jitsu career. And, most dangerously, an overabundance of confidence can lead to injuries if you ignore submissions. You should tap to or roll with people who have a high chance of hurting you.
So, where’s the line? How do you walk the tightrope between having enough confidence to build up a healthy mindset in jiu-jitsu without letting it sabotage your time on the mats? Is it even possible to have a healthy amount of confidence in jiu-jitsu?
When developing a healthy mindset in jiu-jitsu, imagine yourself frozen in time as you walk up a staircase. Look at where your feet are. Look at how many steps are left and how many you’ve already climbed. How far have you come? How far do you have to go? Where are you now? Can you make it to the next step?
The key to building the right amount of confidence in jiu-jitsu is understanding where you are in relation to the past, present, and future of your jiu-jitsu career. Focusing too much on your potential and what you “can” and “will” accomplish often leads to misplaced arrogance. That’s not to say that you can’t or won’t accomplish your goals. But, arrogant people often have an inflated idea of what they’ve already achieved, which leads to the illusion that they’re standing higher than their peers and will have an easier time reaching the top of the proverbial staircase.
Of course, this imbalance between reality and their perception of reality makes it feel that much more dramatic when the next step isn’t the height that they expected.
On the flip side, people who have a lack of confidence may only see what’s ahead of them, not taking into account how many steps they’ve already climbed. The evidence that they can do it is there, but they may be too focused on the challenges ahead to see it. When you’re not sure how you made it here in the first place, it’s natural to wonder how — or if — you can make it to the next step.
Maybe there’s some truth to their fear — perhaps they’ve only climbed a few steps, and gosh, those steps were a challenge. The idea that they may not be able to make it to the next step right away can be daunting, and the idea of doing that over and over again even more so.
When you ask yourself about your own level of confidence, imagine yourself with your right foot firmly planted on one step, the left one in the air, and ready to take the next step. Are you giving yourself credit for making it up to this step in the first place? Can you depend on your right foot to keep you stable until you make it to the next step, and are you actively in the process of taking that next step instead of just thinking about it? Do you believe that your left foot will reach the next step? How much work did it take to get where you are now, and how much will it take to get to the next step? The one after that? The top of the staircase? Are you willing to put forth the work to get there?
Acknowledge where you are right now in your jiu-jitsu journey. Give credit to yourself for what it’s taken you to get here, even if the “only” thing you’ve accomplished so far is completing your first class. Base your confidence on how far you’ve come, and set a realistic “next step” for yourself to achieve. Convince yourself that you can and will make it to that next step, and recognize that it will likely take a few tries. There’s nothing wrong at all with believing that you’ll become a world champion one day, but your confidence shouldn’t come from your potential — it should be proportionate to what you’ve already achieved and how much work you’re putting in to get to the next level. Keep your dreams big, your goals realistic, and your head firmly on your shoulders.
Jiu-jitsu is an individual sport, and your confidence can make or break your success on the mats. Success in jiu-jitsu (and in many other areas of life) only comes after lots of failures. Finding the right balance between believing in yourself and staying grounded can put you in the right frame of mind to conquer your goals without setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointment or embarrassment.
Averi is a brown belt under Nick Hughes of Trinity MMA and an ambassador for Grapple Apparel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @bjjaveri.