A Guest Article by Kaeli Sweigard
When you choose your actions, you choose your consequences.
I used to work with “at risk” youth, and this was something I constantly re-iterated to them. They would break into cars, and then complain about having to go to court. I wanted them to really grasp the fact that they could make a different decision, and they would get different results. I wanted them to see that they didn’t just have to do what they’ve always seen happen around them.
Realizing that you have the power to choose your thoughts, and thereby choose your actions, changes everything. We could all look at the cards we’ve been dealt and justify the path we have taken.
I grew up a total bookworm, and until recently always joked that any athletic ability I had was lost by the age of ten. I gave myself permission to stick to the things that came naturally to me, like running and yoga. I became obsessed with the UFC over ten years ago, but convinced myself that I wasn’t mentally tough enough to be willing to stand out, because I didn’t see any women training.
It wasn’t a lack of vision amongst the teens I used to work with that left them making questionable choices, and it wasn’t for lack of vision that I decided I wasn’t athletic. Anyone who comes from a less-than-desirable situation knows what it’s like to dream of a better future for yourself. The difference between those who actually act to change their circumstances and those who don’t, however, is whether or not they believe it is possible for them.
I had unintentionally been limiting myself, as so many others do, because I failed to recognize my power. I failed to see that no one limits you more than yourself.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I am in control of my thoughts. And what are thoughts? Thoughts are an impression of reality derived from your past, of all that you have encountered and experienced. Thoughts are just things. This is the beauty of a mindful meditation practice. You realize that do not need to be attached to your thoughts. You do not need to identify with them. You can simply notice your thoughts objectively, examining them, thinking, ‘Isn’t that interesting?’ And when you realize that your thoughts are simply things, you can decide which ones are helpful to you, and which ones are not.
Thoughts, and life, don’t just happen to you. Take ownership of your story, and be intentional about working toward the ending that you want.
I took ownership of my story, and chose empowering thoughts over ones that said I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t strong enough. I chose a reality where jiu jitsu is possible for me. When you take responsibility for your story, you take responsibility for all of the work that comes between where you are and where you want to go.
I have awesome coaches, and I have teammates who check in and see how I’m doing with training. The blue belt who has “adopted” me often goes out of his way to schedule time together where we can just drill and work on areas that I feel particularly weak in. Their time and care is amazing, but I realize that the only person who is with me all the time is myself, and I must ultimately be accountable to myself.
A prominent psychologist told me years ago that a doctor should never work harder than their patient. I am studying to be a Naturopathic Doctor, and recently asked a colleague of mine how it felt to be changing people’s lives. He replied that it wasn’t him who was changing lives; his patients were changing their own lives, he was just lucky enough to be able to walk alongside them and encourage them in their journey. He realized that we must not take the responsibility away from the individual to be stewards of their own journey.
Without an individual’s ownership of and commitment to the work that they must invest, sustainable results won’t be achieved.
I feel that this is true with athletic endeavours. A coach should not be working harder than their student on that student’s journey. A student has to decide that the journey is indeed theirs, and they are ultimately accountable to themselves. Yes, your professor and teammates walk alongside you, without a doubt, and are indispensable on your journey, but they have their own journeys. You must own yours.
Often, what is a legitimate limitation can be translated into an opportunity. Here are some examples of how I attempt to take responsibility for my training:
- I have an hour and half commute one-way to training, and while some people think I’m crazy, I take it as an opportunity to have time for myself, listen to some podcasts, sing to myself in my car, and just have fun.
- Because I live so far away from where I train, you can often find me at my local gym doing specific jiu jitsu drills that I know I need to work on.
- I have recruited outside help when I really need it. One of my best friends is a gymnastics coach, so we’ve gone to open mat at gymnastics so I can work specific movements.
- If I find a particular drill boring, I remind myself that even if I could do it perfectly one thousand times in a row, it still does not give me an excuse to slack off, because I am responsible for my partner’s experience as well. To give less than 100% would be selfish.
- Paying for jiu jitsu on top of everything else isn’t always easy. I take this as an opportunity to remind myself of want vs. need, and hone my prioritizing skills.
- Even though I commute from so far away, I do my best to be on time. I block out space on my calendar for jiu jitsu just as if it were a meeting or exam. I have turned down meetings, parties, and dates, because I had an appointment with jiu jitsu, and I take that seriously.
- Because I don’t get as much mat time as I would like, I can at least study things I know I’m really needing to work on through the use of the large number of videos online, especially because I’m a visual learner.
- As a recovering perfectionist, I give myself permission to absolutely, utterly fail. I give myself permission to risk being totally crushed during a roll, and figure out what I can do better next time.
- I give myself permission to do well. A grade 10 math teacher once told me, “Kaeli, it’s okay to be smart,” because he knew I was holding back for fear of standing out. Give yourself permission to be amazing. This is as important as giving yourself permission to fail.
- I was experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety when I first started jiu jitsu, so I took it as an opportunity to start blogging so that hopefully other people could benefit from my experiences (I urge you not to relegate your jiu jitsu journey to simply being a physical one).
What work are you putting in that no one else sees? Putting work in to reach your goals isn’t just going to happen to you. YOU have to happen to your goals.
Often, we simply have to give ourselves permission. Permission to be dedicated, even though some might call it crazy or obsessed. Permission to be bold enough to be the only woman on the mats. Permission to have goals that might not make sense to others. Permission to have a vision that others may not deem realistic. Permission to make a different decision.
Remember, no one limits you more than yourself. There is nothing fundamentally different between the capacity you have for excellence and anyone else. What opportunities can you make out of the limitations in your journey?
Kaeli trains at OpenMat in Toronto, Ontario, and writes the blog learningbjj.com. She can be reached at @KaeliSweigard on Twitter and Instagram.
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