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2 Simple Mental Shifts That Completely Changed My Life
How to chill and hustle at the same time.
A few minutes after this picture was taken, one of the 8-year-olds in the 5 pm kids Jiu-Jitsu class told me that my new gi makes me look like I’m on a safari.
The other week, when I still had blue hair, one of the kids told me I looked like toothpaste.
I need that. The kiddos keep me humble. They put things in perspective.
I need that in my life because the rest of my life is chaotic, hectic, and more exciting than the crazy martial arts movie that you might think it is. It’s too easy for me to get caught up in the moment. My life is exciting, but it’s exciting because of everything I’ve worked for for the last 12 years. I’ve sacrificed a lot for the opportunity to spend every day at the gym, travel, and tell stories for a living.
At 18, I made the blind decision to punt “filler friends”, a normal job, financial security, and all that other stuff that you’re told when you’re a kid that you’re supposed to want.
I never understood it. I always wanted to be like Goku or Naruto. I always wanted a quest, so I made a life that’s full of them.
These are 2 mental shifts that sent me down a path that’s been anything but typical, and everything I’ve always wanted.
I started setting goals that were so ridiculous goals that I felt uncomfortable telling them to most people.
When I was in college, I slowly began to realize that the scenery around me wasn’t for me.
I didn’t want to drink because I’ve seen how drinking can fuck you up. I didn’t want to go to parties because loud spaces with people I don’t know freaked me out. I didn’t like classes because I have ADHD, and the thought of choosing a major was more emotionally draining than choosing a single favorite flavor of ice cream… to put it mildly.
I was also enjoying a secret off-campus love affair every night at the local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy in town, and I was falling in love with the idea of becoming a UFC fighter, Jiu-Jitsu black belt, writer (at first, I wanted to write movies), and entrepreneur. I wanted to do so many exciting things, and the path I was on wasn’t going to take me there.
I’d love to tell you that I realized this, dropped out of college, and pursued my dreams to their fullest and that everything worked out. The reality is, I lived in fear for years before I did anything for myself.
In reality, I just kept quiet about my dreams and worked on them. I never told anyone that I wasn’t going to quit until I became a Jiu-Jitsu world champion, but I sure as hell thought it — every single day.
Achieving goals wasn’t what made me change my life, setting goals was what did. I set goals that I couldn’t have accomplished in the state that I was in or as the person that I was. I had to change because I couldn’t win martial arts competitions or get my black belt or write well as the anxious, insecure kid that I was when I started all of this.
Once I set goals that even I thought were ridiculous, I created the catalyst for change in my life that hadn’t existed before.
Next, I had to deal with the consequences of these goals.
I learned to accept that I will fail a lot, but I will keep moving forward anyway.
If you aren’t failing, you’re probably not chasing something that’s worthwhile.
While I am fully aware of burnout, physical and mental limitations, and the very real danger of “hustle culture”, ambitious goals are one of the most important things that can help someone to lead a fulfilling life. The caveat is that each of us needs to find the goals that make our own lives meaningful and fulfilling.
We need to find the thing that we don't mind failing for.
Maybe this is all self-help mumbo-jumbo, but in my darkest moments — moments like my 9 month battle with derealization a few years ago — what pulled me forward wasn’t exactly “living in the moment”.
I hated the moment. The moment was the problem. I dissociated from the moment to protect myself. What gave me the courage to keep living was this whacked-out fantasy of how I could change the future.
To me, as a pretty severely depressed 19-year-old, the future was what sent me forward. As I’ve started to grow, I’ve learned that true happiness comes from the present, but I first had to orient myself toward something to strive for. I had to set goals and chase them to the point of physical and mental breakdown in order to learn to appreciate the beauty, necessity, and simplicity of “the present”.
In the words of Eminem, “I had to go to that place to get to this one”.
Living for the future made me less depressed, but more anxious. Living for today has helped me with both depression and anxiety. Living for the present has made me okay with failure, success, and all of the other aspects of the human experience.
Each experience is unique, but it’s also temporary. If you win, move forward. If you fail, move forward. It’s not “toxic stoicism” to grind, it’s life.
However, when you’re happy and grateful, “the grind” just feels like an awesome game that you get to play.
I’m only 24, so sometimes I feel goofy giving anyone life advice about anything.
However, the truth is, I’ve lived kind of a lot of life in my short time on earth. I’ve experienced pain, loss, heartbreak, triumph, trauma, depression, anxiety, bliss, and thousands of other feelings that have absolutely boggled my mind. I’m not writing “life advice” because I can fix your life, I’m doing it to process the wild experience of my own daily life.
Really, what’s kept me going has been this blind delusion that my life is going to have a happy ending.
Luckily, I’ve found my happy ending by creating my own happy ending today. Even in losing, I’m happy. In winning, I still want more. Happiness doesn’t come from any external achievement, happiness comes from learning to accept the present by processing our own distorted interpretations of the past and future.
Right now, life is pretty good. I’m not sure where it will be in 1, 5, or 10 years, but I know that if I have my health, my mission, and the people I love, I will have enough.
That seems like “happiness” to me.
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Here are 10 (literally) battle-tested ways that you can learn anything faster. I used these strategies to become a BJJ world champion a few years ago, a top writer on Medium, and to improve my relationships and mental health.
1. Ridiculously specific goals.
Goal-setting is everything, and most people do it wrong. “I want to be a champion” isn’t a goal, it’s a dream. Try, “I want to improve a ____ aspect of ____ skill today”. Specific goals will change your life.
2. Shock your environment.
Skill development comes at the intersection of the comfort zone and your limitations. By shocking your environment thoughtfully, you can simultaneously improve your skills without completely shattering your comfort zone.
3. Practice in public.
For martial arts, this means competing. For writing, this means publishing. Practicing in public is the ultimate way to test your skills and get a better idea of where you’re really at.
Don’t quit the thing you’re trying to improve at, quit everything else that is of no use to you and your skill development. Quit bad relationships, quit draining jobs, and quit your bad habits. Quit things that drain your energy.
5. Teach other people.
When I started teaching, I didn’t get paid for it. However, the benefit I received from my early teaching was that I learned how I learn. Learning to teach helped me teach myself how to learn better.
Burnout is very real, and it’s where skill development goes to die. Relax. Take a break. Take a mental vacation every once in a while. The grind will always be there. If you never take time to chill, you’ll struggle to keep up with the pace of improvement.
7. Read and write about your skill.
Writing is organized thought. Reading is the study of someone else’s organized thought. The more you study, the more you can absorb. Just remember to rest your mind too every now and again.
8. Study yourself.
Self-awareness is a bit of a doozy for some people, but if you want to get better faster, it’s a requirement. You need to know where you are in order to get better faster.
I’ve been using micro-drilling to improve my BJJ technique and headline writing for around a year now, and it’s changed my life. Micro-drilling is the isolated repetition and “drilling” of a specific technique or concept within a larger domain. This is the “grind” of skill development. Periodic grinding is good for you.
10. Enjoy yourself (like, for real).
At the end of the day, all of the learning we do doesn’t change the fact that our time on this earth is limited. If you struggle with the concept of your own mortality and your own limitations, you’ll also struggle with the abundance mindset that can help propel you in skill development. This sounds corny, but it’s true: the memories you make are just as important as the stuff you learn.
“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”― Miyamoto Musashi
Finally, a Word From Our Sponsors
Okay… technically this newsletter doesn’t really have any sponsors.
I mean, it’s free and it always will be.
Because it’s free, I get to say pretty much whatever I want (like that cereal is a soup!!! Fight me!!!). I also get to promote any products and services I want.
Also, it’s Black Friday, the meaning of all days, today is the day you’re going to get plastered with advertising from big companies and corporations the most.
That’s why I want to shout out 2 local companies that have been helping out immensely these last few months.
The first is Martial Paradise. Martial Paradise makes some awesome Jiu-Jitsu gis, training gear, and resistance bands. I’m beyond excited to rep them at my super fight in Minnesota next weekend and at the world championships in Anaheim the week after. If you’re buying a gi and want to support my athletic career as well, use my code “CHRISW5” at checkout (sans quotes). If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen me repping their gear the last couple of weeks. I’m especially a fan of the cream-colored grappling shorts! (This weekend, get $20 off any purchase of more than $100!)
The second person I want to shout out is my buddy Dave at URCA Stretch. People assume that because I’m young, I’m also healthy all the time. Those people probably don’t know what more than 12 years of grappling training can do to your body. Luckily, Dave does, and he’s helped me work through all of my injuries these last few months and gotten me back to the mat in tip-top shape. Be sure to book an appointment with him and let him know that I sent you!
Lastly, if you’d like to support my work, consider purchasing a Medium membership using my referral link. If you’re a fan of my writing or short-form stories in general, this is the best way to support me.
As always, if you enjoyed what you read, feel free to share the article from Medium. It helps me more than you know.
Wishing you the best,