Fighters who cannot handle defeat – either the fatal or survivable (and learnable) kind – have a rough road ahead of them. This roughness will have both physical and spiritual dimensions, all bound up in one another. Final defeat — that of the will to continue a struggle at all — will set in all too easy for those roughed up enough by the lack of survivable defeat’s acceptance.Read More
Defeat has layers; there are scrimmages for defeat that can prepare you for actual defeats, and there are gaps between the significance of different actual defeats. Some consequences of defeat are far steeper on the balance sheet than others. In any case, a fighter has to be able to accept defeat with equanimity, or they are lost. The mental tools that accompany unfavorable outcomes multiply usefulness and diminish inertia. Yet, few make the decision to consciously develop tools, though many successful students of defeat organically learn tools that they may not know how to articulate to others; it’s just a lived experience.
The least successfully adjusted fighters are those who can’t even incorporate the training-room losses with mindsets of uncomfortable but necessary success habits. How can one ever hope to handle a real and impactful defeat if one could not even process defeats in training as lessons that are supposed to happen; that are expected? How can someone who did not push themselves to the point of failure on purpose, in the environment designed for that push, hope to succeed when it really matters? Let alone, how can they accept to let a true defeat pass through them, when they failed to invest in defeat in failure when the stakes were not too real? This is the very idea of investing in non-crucial defeats, so vulnerabilities are immunized.
I was speaking with a student recently who admitted (as many will not) that they continually had the internal mantra of “I must not lose” on repeat. What the brain actually thinks you’re saying here is “I lose”, cutting out several of the other words in the middle. Because the thing you’re visualizing — without acceptance — is the loss, again and again and again, even if you’re ostensibly visualizing it as an outcome to be avoided. The brain likes to output its visualizations to the body, and the programming it’s sending out here is instructions for losing. Be careful what you repeat, and know you might not be cycling quite what you imagine yourself to be repeating as an official or unofficial mantra.
A topic I’m sure I’ll return to often in my writings is the samurai practice of only visualizing the absolute worst of mortal defeats so as to be at peace with the possibility; but the reasoning here is the precise opposite of the anxious brain’s loop of outcomes to fear. The former is to consciously quell anxiety and fear, so as to act with clarity and no hindrance; the latter is precisely to feed into such anxiety, and is mostly done unconsciously.
Be at peace with defeats, small and large, and detach yourself from anxiety in either direction about the outcomes. Reach forward with clarity, with tranquility, and with focus; do so by not fearing defeat in the first place. Do so by accepting that you do not control fate, even as you do take responsibility for your own actions. You can only do your best, and you will never have one hundred percent control of all the chaotic forces of the world around you; you will likely never even have complete control over yourself. But making the conscious decision to embrace the possibility of defeat, and to invest in little skill-building scrimmages of defeat from time to time, makes all the difference.