This is a part of a series of planned posts sharing my thoughts and experiences as I participate in a special mental training group.
Some things seem, on their surface, to be really simple. Answering the question: what is it that you want?, for example, seems pretty straight forward. This, for me, is incredibly difficult. Identifying a desire in the sense of a goal is something that is so difficult for me that I begin to wonder if I’ve in some way been conditioned to avoid even thinking about such things. Like, maybe it’s wrong to state something that I want.
I’m in the first week of a 12-week, group mental training program designed by former NFL player and current I’m Not You coach, Niyi Sobo. Even in the first days of the first week, it’s become incredibly evident to me that what I thought passed for mental training on my part is pretty pathetic. Walking every evening is certainly healthier than not walking at all, but it’s not enough work to really consider it actively improving your health. That would require a lot more, like a long walk, a brisk walk, or a walk as part of a larger fitness and nutrition routine. I realize that I was basically taking a daily constitutional and thinking that was pretty good. (In fact I should qualify: it was good, considering where I came from and the growth I’ve had in the last 3 years, but this is a comparison.) Just sitting down to go through some of Niyi’s worksheets has illuminated for me just how much of a time investment real possible improvement is; and the work – the process of actually confronting your weaknesses and then working on them – is really, really difficult. I’m very good to committing myself to 6-7 workout days seemingly without end, I need to develop the same sort of focus to address my mental weaknesses.
Identifying desires, in the sense of what do you want? and thereby defining a goal, feels like a fucking labyrinth to me. I don’t know where to start, like even the notion of picking something significant feels both gargantuan and also somewhat inconsequential. If I pick something too big, like “changing Muay Thai,” it feels overwhelming. If I pick something too small, like “being good at Muay Thai,” it feels like the work is meaningless. But if I state things that are kind of abstract, like “I want to be Karuhat,” that’s a true desire. But the abstraction makes the goal too abstract as well, like there’s no roadmap, there’s no actual practical process of getting from here to there. I would first have to define what it is about Karuhat that I want to embody myself: confidence, finesse, dominance and utter freedom. Okay, that’s a start. Those are kind of, loosely, values.
Niyi has reiterated many times that actions are the result of feelings, and feelings are the result of beliefs. So it goes belief –> feeling –> action. I associate beliefs with values, feelings with values, and actions with values, like it’s the core of the whole equation. Your beliefs are based on values, like if you believe that you should be kind to animals that’s based on a value that animals have emotional lives; or if you believe that someone is an asshole it’s probably based on a value for how one should behave and this asshat doesn’t meet that value. If you act out of your values, generally that feels good; if you act against your values that tends to feel bad and more so it feels like an inner-conflict. Those suck especially hard. So, because it’s so hard for me to locate, identify, define and then name goals in the form of things I want, I’m trying to just start at the root of it all with values. What are my most important values and how would those be expressed?
There’s a line from the Bhagavad Gita that goes something like, “you are entitled to hard work; you are not entitled to the fruit of that work.” I really like that. It feels true to me and it seems to express a value in myself that I don’t quite know how to articulate. But I think it’s expressed through my disinterest in belts and titles and things like that. I’ll do the work because the work is meaningful to me, but the accumulation of knick-knacks that are meant to “prove” that work are just silly to me. My 200 fights is a lot of work and it has already changed Muay Thai, but may change it in ways I can’t even imagine yet. And it’s very likely that I won’t partake in the real fruit of this process, of this work. I’ll be too old, it will take too long, or it just isn’t for me. But that’s kind of awesome in its own right. As a woman in the modern age, I can take for granted the fruits of all the work that women before me fought really fucking hard for and never tasted. That kind of thing. But how is that expressed in a desire? A goal? Is the very real desire to be the best I can possibly be, which is at this moment undefined because I don’t even know how good I might be able to get, how far I can reach, is that even a landmark I can put on a virtual map and build a course toward? Building my Muay Thai Library and archiving these legends and trainers of Muay Thai is a huge goal, but again it’s undefined because there are no numbers, no statistics for how many hours I want of footage (200?), how many legends (100?) I want included; like the universe, it just keeps expanding, slowly but surely. Is it important or meaningful to make that measurable?
Niyi says over and over again that everything is about outcome. It’s an odd word to pick because most mental training jargon is about not focusing on outcome, meaning winning or losing or otherwise things mostly outside of your control. What Niyi means is results; what are the results you want and what are the beliefs you need to have in order to achieve them? I get that. But why is it so fucking hard to actually define and plan this for me? Precisely because it’s so hard, I know this will produce huge changes for me. It makes me feel like one of the “hosts” in Westworld, who are programmed to have blindspots toward anything that might confuse or hurt them. They can stare at a photograph and say, “it doesn’t look like anything to me.” That’s me… at week one. And goals aren’t even included in Week 1; I just know it’s coming and I’m already struggling.
What we’re actually working on is time management, which is necessary to get down and in order before you can even try to tackle the work required in setting goals and then planning toward them. It’s a good system, well thought out and practical, albeit really hard because you can’t bullshit your way through it. I was interviewed by Niyi for his podcast a few weeks back and he wouldn’t let me off the hook when I couldn’t articulate goals, just like I wrote about above, which is maybe why I’m already bent up and knowing that it’s coming. In our first group conference call I was put on the spot again and it felt like I got the insane, impossible math equation to answer whereas my classmates before me had been asked to do basic algebra. But it’s just because Niyi knew to ask me the question that was hard for me. Right now, the first focus is identifying results in my current life that I don’t want, that I’d like to change, and what I must believe in order to be getting those results. That’s all just identifying what you’d like to change from, not even having to deal with what I want to change to. One step at a time.
You can read my collective articles on Mental Training here