I read this article
from Tim Ferris’ blog recently, and it got me thinking.
It talks about the “entrepreneurial emotional rollercoaster” – the way a person’s enthusiasm and energy for a project tends to fluctuate in a fairly predictable way, and how to make it work for you by focusing on different tasks at each stage.
There was an obvious parallel for me. This curve is also familiar to a lot of fighters. The first time I had a meltdown mid fight camp, I thought something had gone terribly wrong and that the world was about to end. Nowadays, I’ll just shrug and think “here we go again”. It’s no fun – either for me, or for the people around me, but it’s predictable. Over time, I’ve found ways to deal with the normal mood swings that go along with fight training.
This is mostly based on my own experience; yours may be different. Some fighters are more emotional than others. Think of it mainly as a set of notes to myself that others might find interesting and useful (or not). I’d be interested in any thoughts or feedback.
Stage 1: “Uninformed Optimism”
This is the fun part, after the fight is first confirmed. I’m excited to get in there and show the world what I can do. Everything is awesome, this is the best job in the world.
What I want to be doing at this stage:
- Get in shape. Get some momentum now with my conditioning work, so I’m not struggling to get fit once I hit the next stage.
- Watch my opponent’s fight videos. At this point in the cycle, I’m convinced that I’m just much better than my opponent and that this should be pretty straightforward. I’ll spot all the things she’s doing wrong, and where I know I can do better.
- This is also a good time to start on the sport psychology work, especially visualisation, because right now it’s fun. My focus is naturally on the positives, so it’s much easier than later on when my stress levels are on the rise.
- I’ll sketch out a full fight camp plan, so that when the next stage hits and things start getting tough, I already have a step by step guide and can just concentrate on putting one foot in front of another. Same with my diet and nutrition.
- Get as much as possible of the organisational stuff sorted out. Figure out how I’m going to rearrange my life to get all my training in. Sort out tickets for friends / family (or delegate the job to someone else). Plan for childcare for fight week. I might not be able to get all this done at this stage, but making arrangements to get it done, or finding someone reliable who I can trust to take care of it for me means that I’ll have less to deal with when I’m stressed, exhausted, busy, or starving to want to think about it.
Stage 2: “Informed Pessimism”
I’m starting to feel tired and sore from the training camp. The list of things I desperately need to work on is growing. I’m starting to wonder whether I’m really as good as I thought I was, and it’s dawning on me that this could all go horribly wrong. I’m a bit narky and irritable and this is starting to feel less like a game and more like work. This stage is important; the last thing I want is to breeze through the whole fight camp thinking “this is great, I’m amazing”, only to be hit in the face by reality as well as my opponent when I get there. Positive thinking is all very well, but there’s a fine line to walk between under- and over-confidence. Both are dangerous.
What I want to be doing:
- While some people will tell you to “think positively”, I find it’s good to listen to my misgivings. Figuring out what’s most likely to go wrong is an important first step to preventing it from happening. I make a list of things that I need to address.
- I usually go back and watch the videos again. My opponent always looks a lot better at this stage than she did the first time I watched them. I notice more of the things she does well, and the key things to look out for. I add these to the list.
- At the same time, I remind myself to focus on what I do well, and not get absorbed in thinking too much about my opponent’s game plan.
- I re-write my plan with more specifics, making sure I add in all the new stuff that’s come up.
- My visualisation becomes more specific to the game plan, with a focus on including the details that I’m working on.
- Drill, drill, drill. I work on any techniques I want to add to my arsenal, or anything I need to sharpen up on for this particular fight.
- Focus on daily and weekly routines. Consistency is everything.
- Try to build in regular rest, recovery and family time into the schedule. If it’s not in the plan, it probably isn’t going to happen.
Stage 3: “Crisis of Meaning”
“I can’t do this any more”. Everything is going wrong. I don’t know why I thought this fight was a good idea, or even why I wanted to be a fighter in the first place. Everything hurts, and I’m getting worse rather than better. Even simple stuff I’ve been doing without thinking for years seems completely beyond me.
A lot of fighters I know get this at some point, some much more so than others. Everyone’s affected by it differently – some are more prone to emotional outbursts, others keep it to themselves. Over the years, I’ve seen more than a few fighters throw their gloves across the gym and storm out, disappear for a few days and stop answering their phone, or crying in the changing rooms. Some actually get physically sick or injured, or have an external crisis (relationships are always a good source of these). Or all of the above. I may even have done a few myself.
There are definite advantages to scheduling the meltdown, though, and nowadays, I can predict from experience roughly when it’s likely to hit me.
What I want to be doing:
- Ideally, I like to plan for a few days of lighter training at roughly this point, even when everything seems under control and is going reasonably well. Taking the pressure and the intensity off briefly, and reminding myself what it’s like to train for fun again can be just what I need to turn the corner.
- Time away from my usual environment helps too. If I have the chance, I’ll try and go training with friends outside of my regular gym. This has the added advantage of helping to see things from a different perspective.
- Concentrate on recovery. I need to get plenty of sleep. Breathing exercises, massage or stretching / yoga for relaxation can help too.
- Its useful to take a mental break too – watch films, spend time with friends and family, do things I enjoy. I try not to think too much about the fight. It’ll all still be there in a couple of days when I come back to it.
- Avoid thinking about my opponent, or watching fight videos. Focus on what I’m doing.
Stage 4: “Informed optimism”
After the “crisis of meaning”, things start to pick up. It’s really about putting the final preparations in place at this stage.
What I want to be doing:
- Putting it all together. Lots of visualisation. Re-emphasise the positives.
- Go through my list and see whether there’s anything I’ve missed.
- Spend most of my time focusing on strategy and applying what I have, rather than learning new skills.
- Apply the game plan in sparring
- Peaking my physical conditioning and getting the weight cut right.
- Last minute planning / organisation. Finalise my pre-competition plan. Make sure everything is ready to go.