What Successful Athletes (and People) Know: Don’t Get Too Comfortable

How often do you just accept the status quo instead of pushing for something better? In jiu jitsu, as in life, sometimes we need to insist on our game.

In jiu jitsu, people frequently ask each other things like, “Are you a top player or do you prefer the bottom game?” These questions reflect the fact different grapplers prefer different positions and sequences and, if given a choice, they will gravitate toward those positions and sequences. People like the familiar, as they do in all walks of life

It was the fact that I historically have not minded when people try to take my back that prompted this article. Relative to the rest of my game, my back defense is pretty good; even if my partner gets one hook, I’m frequently able to keep him/her from getting the other, and to prevent the finish. (Insert disclaimer about how there are many people who can take my back whenever they feel like it, and repeat that my back defense is just good relative to the rest of my game.) So for a while, I was comfortable just defending and waiting for my opportunity to escape.

But eventually I realized two things about this “strategy.” First, allowing someone to take my back, even just partly, put me in a power down situation. I was not only not attacking; I was actually fighting to survive, even though it didn’t register at the time. I was comfortable allowing someone else to set the pace and impose their game, while I just reacted, not seeing how much potential danger I was in: Here, take my back, partially. I don’t mind, because I’m pretty confident I can defend from here. Oh, you can take my back at will? Hmm, now you have both hooks. Oh, now you’re beating my hands. Ohh, now I’m tapping. Crap.

Thus, the other thing I realized is that I don’t always have a choice. Sometimes someone else will impose their game on me and I have to be prepared to handle that, too. This isn’t ideal, of course, but it’s a reality. And it’s the truth regardless of your preferences. If you like to play on top, that’s great – if you can get there – but sometimes you will get swept, and you’ll have to adapt. But what if you can’t adapt?

Well, to me, as with all things jiu jitsu, this concept of not getting too comfortable clearly relates to life. It’s distinctly possible that some of the situations, people, and beliefs we gravitate toward because they are familiar might actually be keeping us from progressing and even causing steps backward. Only we can know for sure, but we owe it to ourselves to ask the question.

Nowadays, when I train, I don’t use my back defense as much as I used to (though of course I still use it). This is because I work harder at imposing positions that are more advantageous. Getting there required me to become comfortable with a different method and a different mindset, and I’m still working on it. But I’m no longer content to allow a lousy position simply because it’s familiar.

What situations, whether in jiu jitsu or in life, do you find yourself accepting when it might be more beneficial for you to step outside your comfort zone and try something different? Post thoughts to comments.