Monday, February 13, 2017

Discipline, obsession, freedom, and 1% better

Originally published in 2014, a story entitled "Tom Brady explains why he goes to sleep at 8:30" recently come across my social media feed. I haven't watched a football game in many years, and I didn't even know Brady was still playing football, but I couldn't resist the clickbait headline.

I'm glad I did, because I feel like I found a kindred spirit.

I think that the decisions that I make always center around performance enhancement, if that makes sense. So whether that's what I eat or what decisions I make or whether I drink or don't drink, it's always football-centric. I want to be the best I can be every day. I want to be the best I can be every week. I want to be the best I can be for my teammates. I love the game and I want to do it for a long time. But I also know that if I want to do it for a long time, I have to do things differently than the way guys have always done it. 
I have to take a different approach. Strength training and conditioning and how I really treat my body is important to me, because there's really nothing else that I enjoy like playing football. I want to do it as long as I can.
I wanted to bold every sentence in that paragraph. Finally, someone who gets me. Replace all instances of "football" with "MMA" and this is my attitude. Tom Brady is an elite, world-class athlete. I am far from it. But in this way, we are the same.

People often give me great tips for amazing restaurants all over the world. I thank them politely and never end up eating there. Because I know the ingredients they use, while assuredly delicious, won't be as healthful as the ones I have in my kitchen.

My girlfriend generally wants to watch "just one more episode" of Netflix in bed. Unfortunately for her, she almost always loses this battle, because I know how losing an hour of sleep affects the next day's performance.

Do I enjoy the treadmill, the rower, the exercise bike, or the elliptical? Nope. Neither do I particularly love squats, chin-ups, bench presses, medicine ball throws, or box jumps. It's all boring to me. And mobility work is even more tedious.

I sure as hell don't love jumping in ice-cold baths or pushing to discomfort in hot saunas.

But it's all essential to what I love to do, which is to train and compete in mixed martial arts.

I crave a big gooey pizza or a hot chocolate brownie out of the oven just as much as anyone else. But if not eating it will make me 1% better in training the next day, then it's an easy decision for me. Turning off all the electronics at 9pm and taping up the blackout shades in our hotel room is an inconvenience, but it will make me better.

People laud me for my discipline. It's not discipline. It's merely a choice. Choices are easy when you realize what's important.



I spend 2-4 hours a day with some kind of coach: an MMA coach, a wrestling coach, a kickboxing coach, or a jiujitsu coach, or a strength coach. But the other 20-22 hours a day, I'm the coach. If I have poor technique on a head-inside single or my left hook/right low kick, I need them to fix it. But if there's any part of my physical and mental conditioning that's subpar -- that's on me.

Does this sound obsessive? You bet it does. Obsessive is the only way in this sport, and even more so if you're an aging athlete like me - or Tom Brady - trying to keep up with competitors 10-15 years younger. Young athletes are very good at being very obsessive in the gym or on the field. But generally aren't as disciplined those other 20 hours a day. They also don't need to be.

Every time I give an MMA-related interview, the interviewer asks me: What's my goal? What am I training for?

Here's my answer.

My goal is to know -- not believe, but know -- that if I fail, there is absolutely nothing else I could have done.

Nothing.

I need to be able to say, "I couldn't have done anything more. I couldn't have done anything better."

This is my great truth. It's my code. It's empowering. And it's what sets me free.

This is beauty to me. Fighting is more than just facing your opponent in combat. It's about yourself. Can I be the best possible me?

And no chocolate brownie, no episode of television, and no night of debauchery can compete with that beauty and that truth.