Like most Wednesdays, today I woke up just before my 5:30am alarm, full of fear and excuses.
Ugh, I’m so tired. How will I be able to be engaged with my clients if I don’t get that extra hour and a half of sleep? I can still get in two more days this week if I don’t go. Liz probably needs to sleep in anyway. I’ll just get up with the kids and be a good dad and partner.
The feeling that’s like a too-tight hug, the heaviness, and the light stomach ache have all subsided. I made my choice. I’m relieved.
7:30, in the shower, the regret sets in. I start to beat myself up. Why am I so paralyzed by fear? What am I even worried about? This is so frustrating. I’m such a wimp.
I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu three and a half years ago for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. I felt fear when people people cut me in line. I felt fear when people confronted me in an aggressive way. I felt fear when I was at a bar and someone bumped into me. I wanted the uneasiness to be replaced by calm confidence.
Second, after years of struggle, I figured the only way I could actually convince myself to exercise regularly was if the exercise was incidental to what I was doing. I desperately wanted to live less in my head and more in my body, to feel good in my body, but I couldn’t seem to prioritize it for its own sake.
Fast forward to now, I definitely feel less fear on the street, and I’m definitely in better shape, much more connected to my body and less in my head. However, I’ve been forced, through the process, to confront a much different fear. Weirdly, it’s not the obvious fear of pain or getting hurt in a wrestling-style fighting practice. It’s the fear of not knowing what I am doing—being bad at something.
I was always exalted as a child for being incredible at everything—school, sports, socially. I built my entire identity around it. And while I have worked extremely hard to have this need run me less, I’ve noticed in Jiu Jitsu that it is front and center in my practice.
Jiu Jitsu is hard, and confusing, and frustrating, and a lot of the time I will have no idea what I am doing. I will fear that I am performing worse than my rank (which is a low-intermediate level, a blue belt). Somehow, I can be short of breath, buried under a 240 pound man who is theoretically trying to choke me, and what plays in my head is concern about whether my instructor is watching and thinking I suck. It’s almost comical to me.
But the bottom line is this: I still force myself to go. Just. Show. Up. I have managed to do this by connecting to a “why” that is bigger than fear: to practice how I want to feel. To practice my breath, to practice being okay with wherever I am, to practice confidence, to practice vulnerability, to practice aliveness with freedom and spaciousness.
In turn, I have gotten out of it something so much bigger than that fear. I have come face to face with my relationship to performance in a more significant way than basically anything else I have ever done. It has made profound shifts in my career success and confidence. I have come into a much better relationship with my body. I feel stronger, lighter, and more energized. And with increasing regularity, I like the way I look.
But my favorite lesson has been to start my day with a physical challenge. The process of overcoming a fear, especially one that involves pushing my body, has created a powerful set up for the rest of my day. I feel grounded in my body and less in my head. I feel the rush and confidence of getting through that challenge, which says to me I can get through anything else. It’s been an incredible self-worth building and transformative practice.
I’ve been reading up a lot about Wim Hof, who is famous for running a marathon barefoot in the Arctic Circle and hiking Everest in shorts. Through my Jiu Jitsu practice and his ideas about the body and cold, I’ve realized that physical practices of pushing my body to the edge of my fear and supposed energy and breath threshold has been a conduit for transformation at least as much as coaching, therapy, and group workshops.
Finally, I have focused on the body. The mind, the heart, the body, the spirit. All of it, without leaving out anything.
This is still a huge in-process practice for me. I am still afraid. I am still not entirely inhabiting my body. But I feel so strongly that Jiu Jitsu has unlocked something immensely powerful and rewarding for me. Although this sounds cheesy, I am committed to the idea of a journey and a life practice in a way I have never been. And within that is freedom. Because I don’t need to go anywhere, or be any different. I get to embrace the process in a real and tangible way.
For so long I was drawn to this practice, but avoided it. Now, on some days, I step right in, and on some I am terrified — but either way, I force myself to just show up anyway. In the future, I see a time where every day I will jump in with ease.
What physical practice are you drawn to but not jumping into? I invite you to find that new motivation and jump in. You might find, like me, that it gives you much more than you expect.
Aaron Steinberg is a COR Facilitator and Relationship Coach. Learn more about his practice at corexperience.com/coaches.