There are five psychological phases of starting any fitness routine or lifestyle change.
The five phases describe how you are going to feel in the near future now you have made the decision to become a Martial Artist.
We have found that both the out of shape beginner and the experience Martial Artist develop their goals through the process described below.
The first phase requires a person to make the decision to become fitter and healthier along with the goal of becoming a Black Belt. This phase takes about 2-3 seconds and you have already made it! But it actually takes about 2-3 weeks to make habits that will fuel your desire to obtain your goals. Hang in there at least that long and BUILD GOOD HABITS. You need to fill this phase with self motivation and general excitement about fitness and Martial Arts.
In the second phase this is where doubt enters and can either crush your progress or make you STRONGER. It is absolutely natural to have doubts about what you are undertaking but this is where you define the kind of person you want to be!
Our advice is to start doubting yourself as quickly as possible and get over it! Realize self doubt is part of the process. Even Black Belts and Instructors doubt themselves. But those who become Black Belts and Instructors conquer there doubt. Those who lose a lot of weight and get fit in a year conquer there doubt as well.
Phase three is one of the most exciting phases when you have realized you have conquered yourself doubt. You may have to continually re-do this phase in your quest to be fitter and more confident Black Belt, but once you do, you can do anything you set your mind to, This is where your mind and body connect, use the lessons at the academy, and your home workouts as a catalyst in all areas of your life, work, relationships, school etc.
We are firm believers at Martial Art Concepts that exercising the body will give you the stamina and energy to exercise your mind and achieve those lifelong dreams you have.
Phase four is about the total identity change and self confidence realization period for most people. You now associate with fit, confident and healthy people. Now you are fit in both mind and body. Your example will inspire others, you will be a role model to another beginner somebody else who needs help with losing weight and being more confident in reaching their goals and aspiring to be a Black Belt!
People will be amazed by your new found work ethic at work and play. Eating healthy is now a habit for you too.
Phase five is the next and last step, but the journey never ends, set and conquer goals for yourself. Whatever you like train in different areas of Martial Arts, study in a Kali class master the blade or the stick, delve into the grappling arts deeper or become a Jeet Kune Do apprentice. Martial Art is a journey not a destination.
The four pillars of mental toughness (or staying on track)
The topic of mental toughness has been debated for decades, and to the best of our knowledge there is still not a standard widely accepted definition for the term. It is used by the military trainers, coaches of all types, business leaders, and sports psychologists. From an athletic perspective, the term is used to describe an athlete that possesses the ability to stay focused while under very stressful circumstances and to perform well, which is a trait of a Black Belt. Military leaders use it to describe the traits necessary to enable a warrior to remain calm in extremely dangerous situations, including ones that pose a danger to that person’s life and to make the appropriate decisions or perform the tasks required to accomplish the mission. These are also the same traits that are required to survive a street encounter or violent attack.
The famous sports psychologist Dr: Jim Loehr of the human performance institute defined mental toughness as follows:
“Mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances. It is all about improving your mind so that it’s always on your side; not sometimes helping you nor working against you as we all know it’s quite capable of doing”
The four pillar technique of mental toughness
The following information will provide an introduction to the individual elements of the four pillar technique and how they are used by top sport competitors, fighters and military operatives.
Pillar 1: Goal setting
When psychologists conducted studies to identify why top sports people where successful or why some people made it through tough military training they found that almost all candidates that successfully completed the course or stuck to gruelling training regimes had used a technique in which they established short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals for themselves throughout the training.
For instance rather than thinking about another several months of gruelling training, a successful person instead would focus on what he was actually doing at that moment and turn it into an ”event” that had to be successfully completed. So during a 6am physical training session rather focusing on the getting through the entire 90 minute session, the person would simply focus on getting through one set of calisthenics at a time. If the instructor directed the class to do a set of 50 push ups, the person would isolate his focus on this task and think about nothing else until it was completed. He’d do the same for the following set of sit ups, blocking out all other thoughts and distractions until that set was done. He’d do the same for the next set of star jumps, and so on for each of the many dozens of sets of calisthenics and exercises during the session.
By focusing on one set of exercises at a time, students are able to focus completely on the immediate task at hand and avoid thinking negative thoughts like: “we just started and I’m already really tired. There’s no way I’ll be able to make it through another hour of this and then be able to pass the four mile timed run later in the morning”.
Psychologists often refer to this micro-goal technique as “segmentation,” and studies have shown that it can be effective for people pursuing almost any type of goal. Personal goals, such as losing weight, getting healthier, getting better at a sport or a hobby, or gaining admission to prestigious university, can be achieved using this technique as can professional goals, such as being hired by a specific company, getting selected for promotion, or gaining some form of recognition or achievement within one’s profession in Martial Arts this is your journey to Black Belt, as every three months you are focused on reaching your next level and as you move up the levels you get closer to the Black Belt level and each class for the three months make up your focus at that time. This is a time-tested technique that you should consider utilizing in all aspects of your life.
Pillar 2: Mental Imagery
Another technique that was found to be common among those who successfully complete tough training routines and reach goals of all sorts is the ability to utilize mental imagery of them successfully completing a specific task or challenge.
Mental-imagery, visualization, and mental-rehearsal techniques are used by people in many professions, such as police, fire fighters, paramedics, teachers, public speakers, and of course, countless athletes at the world-class and professional levels. There are surgeons who mentally rehearse the steps they will take during a multi-hour knee replacement surgery or a quadruple bypass operation. Likewise, numerous high level athletes and Mixed Martial Art Fighters visualize themselves properly executing various techniques and moves or “scoring points” prior to a fight.
It is obvious that this technique works for people from all walks of life. If you are not using it as you pursue your goals, no matter what they may be, we strongly encourage you to consider doing so. As the old saying goes “it pays to be a winner” I am sure you will agree that most of the winners you know and associate with think of themselves as such. We think there is a high probability that they have utilized the mental imagery technique to help them get to where they are today.
Pillar 3: Self Talk
Psychologists have long known how important positive and constructive self talk can be for any individual. They know how much of a positive impact it can have on a person as they undergo periods of great stress or anxiety, or when they are engaged in the pursuit of a significant and highly desired personal recognition.
Research studies have shown that the average person thinks at a rate of 1,000 to 5,000 words per minute. Even when a person is alone, sitting silently, there is an active “conversation” taking place within his or her mind. Common sense would tell us that the more positive and upbeat these conversations are the more beneficial they would be toward a person’s outlook, attitude, and feelings regarding any aspect of their life. In other words, we are in complete control of the conversations that are taking place within our minds, and we should ensure that they are of a positive nature. We assure you that if you ever get an opportunity to speak with a high level martial artist or professional person they will agree that his ability to engage in positive self talk was one of the primary factors in their successful completion of the goal.
Of the four pillars of mental toughness, we think that self talk is the one that you are probably most familiar with and, already practicing to some degree. We believe that it is possible for anyone to use this technique and for those already using it to become more effective at it, which would promote higher levels of mental toughness and self-confidence.
Pillar 4: Arousal Control
When a person is exposed to stressful situations that elicit fear, anxiety, anger, nervousness, worry, and other negative emotional reactions, the human brain will typically trigger the release of cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals, especially cortisol and adrenaline, usually cause an immediate response by the body, such as elevated heartbeat, increased rate of breathing, tension in the major muscle groups, shaky hands, and other signs that the body has recognized some kind of threatening situation and is instinctively preparing to defend itself either through fight, flight or freeze.
This arousal response is a perfectly normal and predictable reaction by the human body, but it is also a potentially negative one that can greatly diminish a person’s critical thinking, decision making, and fine motor skills. For obvious reasons, students engaged in Martial Arts attempt to learn new skills and drills and take part in live sparring many of which are quite complex drills and you can place tremendous amounts of pressure on themselves to succeed. But a student cannot afford to allow themselves to be controlled or otherwise to have their effectiveness reduced by their body’s normal response to this type of arousal, and over thousands of years the Martial Artist has discovered ways to counter negative arousal response and render it insignificant during training, sparring or real life self protection situations.
One of the most common arousal control techniques used by Martial Artists, soldiers, police officers etc is a breathing techniques that some refer to as “4×4 breathing”. Simply stated, the 4×4 breathing technique is executed by inhaling deeply as though you are trying to fill up your lungs, for four seconds, and then exhaling in a steady and even manner for four seconds. This sequence must be continuously repeated for at least one minute to be effective, and many Martial Artists find that doing it for longer periods of two to four minutes produces even better results.
Medical doctors say that 4×4 breathing technique is an effective way to trick the human brain into replicating certain calming and stress reduction aspects associated with deep REM sleep patterns, which are the periods of sleep that provide the most benefit from a rest and recuperation perspective. Most instructors at Martial Art Concepts have utilized this technique countless times and know firsthand that it really works.
I think most people will agree that being overcome with emotions such as anger, fear, or anxiety is not conductive for operating at high levels, for decision making, and for combat effectiveness. For self protection failing to adequately control arousal can lead to diminished performance at a time when the stakes are high to you personally, and to your family.
Classes that were taught the four pillar technique and how to apply it in the military and police fields whilst undergoing tough training increased their graduation rates by 32 percent. Clearly this training had a profound impact on many students, many of whom already had the “right stuff” to complete the training but simply needed some education and guidance to bring out that which already resided within so they could perform at a high level of intensity and commitment on a sustained basis throughout their training.
Obviously, many people including all the instructors at Martial Art Concepts believe that this kind of mental toughness training can be utilized by individuals in various professions or by those who are pursuing goals that are associated with a high degree of difficulty such as becoming a Black Belt. You can see how these techniques could benefit athletes at every level, and people who aspire to leadership positions in the Martial Arts and people who struggle with issues and situations requiring self confidence, and people who have had difficulty in the past with personal issues, such as their relationships with other people, attempts at losing weight, or other health related issues.
In summary we at Martial Art Concepts think that the training used by Black Belts to develop mental toughness can benefit people of all ages and from all walks of life. We have personally witnessed, in many situations, how a person can greatly elevate their performance and probability of being successful by increasing their mental toughness.