Quite often, we find ourselves in moments of doubt, confusion, fear, anxiety, and even failure. We become so afraid that we lose sight of our meaning in life. We forget about our passions and our dreams. We forget who we are and who we had hoped to be. Instead of living in hope and wonder for the future, we cast shadows upon our own destiny because of fear, and the fear of fear, and the fear of failure.
From the things I’ve been through, the books I’ve read, and the things I’ve learned from others…I’ve come to find some things that I think could help anyone. These are things you could apply to any challenge in life. Whether a dream, whether a hardship, or maybe a fear, there are always empowering ways to approach things.
These are my best tips for anyone going through the most challenging, most nerve-wracking, and most exciting journeys in their lives.
I’ve always felt that much of the mental strengthening tips we hear often are along the lines of, “mind over matter” or “stay focused, stay positive” or “you gotta believe!” And it’s not that I disagree with those phrases, it’s more that I feel they often to lead to an ineffective approach in dealing with problems. I feel these phrases cause people to try and think away their problems. As if all they had to do was tell themselves what they wanted to hear and everything they wanted would come true.
The problem with most mental strength tips
is that they shield you from reality.
Well, things don’t work that way. Just because you say it is so doesn’t make it so. You cannot become successful by denying reality. Shielding yourself from the truth only makes it that much harder for you to connect with the world around you and benefit from it.
I like to see the truth, to accept it. To enjoy it. And then…WITHOUT bending the truth…I give light to the truth in such a way that it [the truth] helps me along my goals. That’s my overall strategy.
My mental strategy in dealing with things is not to lie or hide the truth from myself.
My mental strategy involves dealing with reality as it comes, and using every bit of it that I can to empower me.
There are things you have to say to yourself. Things you must remind yourself.
Mental Strengthening Tips
1. “I am excited to be here.”
My original draft for this line was written, “I want to be here.” But I don’t feel that’s powerful enough. It sounds like a guy trying to convince himself that he wants something. No…that’s not enough. You have got to be excited! Life is beautiful. Life is exciting, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating, and it’s amazing.
You know what it sounds like when someone isn’t excited? This…
I’m not sure about this. I’m afraid of this. I don’t know what to expect. Somebody else made me do this. I don’t see any fun in this at all. I only see the negatives in this.
The most important thing you have to tell yourself everyday in the gym, and in the moment before you step into the ring is—I want to be here. Something changes in this when you realize how excited you are about something, how much you love something. How much you appreciate the moment.
I want to be here.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.
I want to fight. I want to work hard.
I enjoy this. I live for this!
2) “Pressure brings out the best in me.”
Many people are terrified before they step up into the spotlight. “OH MY GOD, NO! I’M NERVOUS!” they claim. There is this fear that they won’t perform as well under pressure as they did in practice. After all this time spent thinking about their fight and training for it, they have suddenly changed their minds about the moment they’ve been waiting for. Now they’re terrified and don’t want to go through with it.
I’m not ready. I can’t do it. It’s too soon. I’m scared. I’m not good enough. I’m gonna mess up. I’m gonna fail. I feel like I won’t be able to perform as well as I did in practice.
I used to be like that for a while. And all kinds of people would give me advice like:
- “Oh don’t worry about it. It’s all in your head.”
- “You’ll do fine. Just go out there and have fun.”
- “You’ve already won. Don’t worry about winning. Don’t have expectations.”
Or maybe they’ll tell me to meditate. Or maybe they’ll tell me to get amped up. Drink Redbull and ride the nerves like a wild dragon. “If you can’t tame it, ride it!”, they claimed.
Well none of it worked for me. And I felt the reason was this— nerves are real. Being nervous is a real thing. It EXISTS. You can’t just think it away or lie to yourself that it doesn’t exist. You’re not going to be very successful dealing with your nerves if your general strategy is centered around pretending that it doesn’t exist.
The best strategy for me was to take the challenge of dealing with nerves head on.
- Nervousness is real. Pressure is real.
- The lights will be on. Many people will be watching. There is A LOT of expectation to do well.
But here’s what makes the difference:
- Pressure brings out the best in us.
- The more pressure there is, the better I will do.
And done. From there on out, the more pressure I perceived in an event, the better I prepared and the better I expected for myself. I even stared down the idea of pressure. I was like:
Come on, nerves. Come on, pressure. Come on out and face me.
I know you’re there and I want to challenge you. I want to face you.
The more pressure I have, the better I’ll do.
I faced the pressure head on daring it to affect my performance. Needless to say, the problem went away very quickly.
3) “I will respect myself.”
This is an important mental adjustment for those who are always putting themselves down, being down on their efforts, not appreciating themselves. It’s even crazier when these same people (who put themselves down) are simultaneously busy putting everyone else up (always complimenting others but never themselves). It truly is a major mental self-esteem problem that will affect everything you do in life.
First off, you have to love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Respect your effort and respect your accomplishments. Yes, you can be nice to everyone else around you. “GOOD JOB! NICE WORK!”…those might be things you tell your friends all the time, right? Well you have to tell yourself that, too! You can’t just only be nice to everyone else but then to yourself, you’re always thinking….”Oh man, you suck. You’re such a screw-up. You can’t do anything right. You’ll never be any good.”
It doesn’t work that way. You have to respect yourself first and foremost.
I love myself.
I will respect my effort.
I will respect my accomplishments.
I will not put myself down.
I am getting better.
I might actually be very good.
I might be better than I thought.
The best thing you can do on those hard days in training when you don’t feel so great…just sit yourself off to the side and give yourself a pat on the back. “You’re doing great, tomorrow you will do even better.”
4) “I enjoy challenges.”
You can’t just be doing things that are HARD FOR OTHERS but EASY FOR YOU. No, hell no. You have to make mistakes, fail a few times, conquer fears, experience major discomfort. Challenges have to be personal. It has to be a CHALLENGE TO YOU for it to be considered a real challenge.
Whatever it is that you do, it has to force you to step up. It has to force you to face fear, walk through the hell of self-doubt, and drag yourself to the finish line. This is where all the personal growth and amazing happens.
I’m going to say something very cliche but it’s true. The reward is in the journey, not in the finish line. If the only thing important to you is that trophy at the end, I would have to say you’re not on the right path to fulfill your spirit. If the most transformative thing for you is that little trophy at the end…I would dare say you can find something better. Why not find a challenge where the entire journey is meaningful. Where you can be proud for everything you went through. Where the journey was more meaningful than the trophy you get only at the end?
PS: if all you want are IMPRESSIVE things, you’re only looking for external validation rather than internal validation. The challenge is to impress yourself, not others! Start your life by looking for challenges, then face them.
I’m ready to take on these challenges. I’m ready to harden myself and become stronger. I’m ready to go through hardship, mistakes, and failures, to make myself better. I’m looking to push my limit.
5) “I celebrate hard work.”
I think it’s so sad that after a long hard training routine, fighters put themselves down so much for failure. Because they lost, got beat up, got knocked out, or in some way failed to meet their own expectations.
And I do understand why this is hard. To dream of a moment and to have that dream shattered, taken away from you, and replaced instead with a humiliating memory, how could anyone be happy for that?
Well…anyone can be so much happier focusing instead on all the exciting stuff and good stuff you did. Things you learned, the progress you’ve made. Seriously…be happy for yourself. Yes, we celebrate victories and trophies and first place prizes, but we should also celebrate hard work.
Don’t waste time thinking about your mistakes and failures. Whatever you think about, leaves an imprint in your mind and strengthens your neural connections in the patterns that you don’t want. Focus on what’s good.
Focusing on what’s positive IS NOT OPTIMISM. This is NOT the empty promise of thinking positive. The positive that you’ve done IS the truth. You did all this incredible work and grew and improved so much. You better enjoy it. For of the rest of your life, if you want to be a winner and FEEL like a winner, then you better learn how to celebrate hard work every time. Hard work is that best friend who will always put you in the right direction, even when he lets you down at times.
The next time you fail to meet an expectation:
I am proud of myself. I want to celebrate my hard work, my progress, my hopes and dreams. I did a great job.
The Joy of Failure
I think that in all this striving for achievement that we do, it’s easy to lose sight of why we do what we do. What’s the point of suffering? What’s the point of torturing yourself, beating yourself up mentally everyday, to seek the external validation in something that means so little to you and even less to everyone else?
When was the last time you wanted to be validated by something…money, a car, a trophy, a title, a job, someone else’s respect, a beautiful girl…and the moment you got it, it stopped validating you, it stopped making you happy. Seeking external validation is a never-ending cycle of unfulfilled expectations. You cannot enjoy life until you have it. And once you have it, it loses its meaning.
Live for yourself. Live for the joy of not knowing what comes next. Remember the times you used to play as a kid, always trying things because you had fun doing them. And you had fun even when you messed up, even when you “failed”. Live your life with the excitement that you are taking the most exciting gamble there is and that you enjoyed the game regardless of winning or losing.
Always play to win,
but when you lose, lose like a winner. 🙂
Great Books for Mental Strengthening
I’d like to share 2 of my favorite books for mental strengthening. Honestly, I think everyone should be reading this…not only athletes. So much of our lives are created by the way we think. And without careful learning of how to use our mind, we will use it only as efficiently and inefficiently as the methods we copied from those around us.
For the sake of controlling your performances, your life and future, your success and happiness…please read these gems:
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
An incredible book to teach you the science behind the subconscious mind. How it alters your perception of reality and ultimately alters your reality. You will learn how to control your subconscious mind and to use it alongside your conscious mind to create any reality you want. The book goes over typical scenarios in life such as confidence, success, failure, fear, health, and many others to show you how to maximize the power of your subconscious mind in each situation.
With Winning in Mind
This book will teach you how to prepare your mind to make positive imprints and build habits to edge you closer to competitive success. Tons of great insight into how the mind works to help you succeed and put together winning strategies in a really common sense manner. Very easy tips and guaranteed if you read one chapter a day or even one chapter a week, you will notice instant results in your competitive performance. I’m almost embarrassed to realize how simple some of these are and yet hardly anybody knows them. They really do work.
Great article, very helpfull! =)
Great article as always, Johnny! Also if you don’t mind me asking, what was your record as an amateur? and do you train fighters? if so, where’s your gym?
Hi Julius, you can read about me by clicking on my name.
Hey Johnny, I’ve been a reader of your site for a few years now, I’ve been reading your articles even before I got into kickboxing. A few months ago, I took 2nd place at the Ukrainian kickboxing championship (between amateurs) in my category. There were only five of us, and I only had two fights, but I fought well. The guy who took first knocked the other two competetors out, one in the first round, the other in the third. He didn’t get the best of me though, I fought hard to the end, even landing a few hard shots. I ended up losing by unanimous decision. I told myself, “It’s okay, you did well, next time you’ll do better”, as I usually did, and believe me, I believed those words. Then there was a small tournament I took part in, I was put in a different category (usually I was allowed to kick the legs, I was put where you have to kick above the waist). I was put up against the guy who took first in his category at the Ukrainian kickboxing championship. I was lossing from the first round, he was faster, more nimble, more agile, more percise and above all, more experienced. In round three, he landed four percice punches to my head, the last one landing square on my jaw. I thought I was fine, but a split second after backed off, my legs gave out. I took a seat, not completely sure about what had just happened. The ref came up to me and told me to stay down started counting, I realized I had been knocked down. I got up at three, he counted to eight. I finished the match, with no further problems, I even chased him around the righ a little. He obviously won by unanimous decision. My head started to hurt as I arrived home, I told myself “It’s okay, you did well, next time you’ll do better”. I wasn’t sure if I believed what I was saying this time. I didn’t go back to the gym for a week, and when I did, I just didn’t feel it anymore, even sambo wasn’t as great. I had lost the love of my life… Fighting. It’s been almost around a month and a half, and I still tell my self that one day, I’ll get back up on that horse, and ride it all the way to championhood. But I’m not sure if I’m being honest with my self. Half of me wants to be the best there ever was, the other tells me to take a different life path. I’m 17 now, I just finished highschool a week or two ago, and I feel that the decision I make now will be one of the most important and life deciding decisions I will make in my life. See, in a week, I’ll be flying back to my home city, Toronto. I live with my dad here, in Ukraine, in Canada, I live with my mom. Mom doesn’t make to much, and I won’t be going to college or university. So the decision before me is: do I find a part time job, to support my gym bills, and become a profesional MMA fighter? Or, do I travel the world? It’s going to be one of those two. I wouldn’t mind seeing all there is to see, infact, I rather enjoy travel. I won’t be finding a full time job, I don’t want to stay in one place all my life and rot away. How do I know which path to take? How do I find my passion again? I’m lost here Johnny. Please, give me some advice.
I don’t know you so I don’t know what’s going to make you happier. There’s a good chance you can do both, you’re plenty young enough to do it. I imagine when you’re 30, traveling will be much easier than MMA. So speaking from a purely physical standpoint, MMA is the better one to do now. With that said, you can’t wrong. Work hard and believe and the right choices will fall into place.
Another Great Work of Art,
Sparring Master and Brain Surgeon. This is our religion.
Thank you Teacher.
I have a question for you. what’s the difference between pro and amateur boxing. in the sense of pace of the fight, scoring and boxing strategy. many times I’ve heard boxers would do better as a pro then as training for a Olympic style fight. also what is required for one to be a amateur at Olympic level. tnx for all the good advice. so far very helpful.
Generally speaking, amateur boxing is more running and point-scoring (which can mean lighter punches), and pro boxing is more aggression and damage (which can mean harder punches). So a stocky heavy puncher is probably better suited for a lighter skinny high-volume puncher who runs a lot.
Or another way to think about it. 10 light punches > 3 hard punches in the amateur. But in the pro, it’s turned around. A knockdown counts as only a punch in the amateurs, in the pros it gets you a double-point round.
Hey Johnny, I love the articles about mental training. Could you make an article about motivation, how to find it, how to keep motivated etc. It would be great.
Good work, Johnny. Keep it up!
That would be an interesting topic for sure. May I ask you…what is it that you have a problem finding motivation for?
Motivation for training. There are many things that distract me from going to gym and training harder. And when I achieve something, I no longer have a motivation to go on.
Insightful post and nice to see a new one from you.
Telling yourself “I’m excited to be here” resonated with me. On the day of a fight, your a mess of jumbled emotions and one minute your up for it, and the next your scared and anxious. Being frightened and wanting to run away form a situation that’s uncomfortable or may cause you harm is human nature. In the old days it helped us to avoid danger, but now it (mainly) serves to limit our potential.
Reminding yourself that this is what you want or that challenges are there to be enjoyed will help you overcome prefight nerves and anything else that stands in your path.
Loved this post. Keep ’em coming mate.
Such a thought-provoking article. People tend to speak a lot of technical training but not to focus much on mental self-strengthen process. These tips can be used not only in boxing training but also in any aspects of life. Good job!
I wish this came out months ago. It would have been a huge help back then. Before, I would wake up and just ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” “Why bother? You’re never going to be good enough.” Sparring in the beginning was also nerve wracking and I almost never want to do it. One day I just accepted it all. The pressure, the fears, being exhausted and even being punched and suddenly I was at peace. I stopped fearing everything and I was better off for it. Even waking up at 4am to run is easier when you don’t doubt yourself or put yourself down.
Great article, brother.
Happy for you, Kevin. Keep enjoying the good life.
Thank you Johnny you have helped so many fighters in the Tampa area or atleast in my gym with your boxing knowledge is off the charts! Even the trainers and
coaches are amazed and they now read your articles, I’m a 16 year old boxer and you’ve really helped me grow over the years as a fighter!! Because of this helpful website I now convey my new knowledge that I learn from you. Keep it up!!! But I have a question!
When you published the article about partying, when you say never to “cross-parry” as an orthodox fighter but if you’re a southpaw, and a southpaw vs orthodox matchup presents itself, then wouldn’t you be cross-parrying everything? Thanks again Johnny!
That’s really awesome to hear, Michael. It amazes me how far my articles have traveled. What gym are you from?
hey Johnny … im facing some problems regarding my physical fitness … can i contact u personally through email ?
You can ask your questions here so everyone else can benefit publicly from the answers. I do not offer free private email coaching.
Hello Johnny.how old were when start boxing?
i am 22 can i be a pro boxer?or it’s too late?
Hey Johnny I live near the 4th street boxing gym in ST. Pete FL the gym that Keith Thurman trains at. Do you think that is a good gym to train at? and do you know of any other good gyms in FL? I really want to start boxing but I would like to train with reputable boxing coach/trainers..
I’ve never been there, I honestly can’t answer that.
Hey johnny, ide love yo know what younthink about wearing a weighted vest for during training!
I’ve never done it but some others have and they like it. Try using it while doing bagwork and mitts.
Because I’m squeamish, I spent quite many times to handle my mental. But not easy as i thoughtㅎㅎ;;;;;;;;
Finally, I gave it up.
As I read this article, I think Boxing is sports which has a very high entrance level. So someone like me cannot handle…….
This is the best article I’ve read on the internet in a long time. Bookmarked. Thank you.
– A 38 year-old female Southpaw
Thank you, Kristen!
Thank you for this. Honestly I was “training on the ropes”. I always downed myself, never gave myself enough credit, even if I was in top form winning matches, I always looked in the mirror and told myself I’m still so weak. I had lost 3 times in a row and decided to quit competing at one point.
Truthfully I quit training after a while, I didn’t want anything to do with contact sports.
I only now just recently started taking up Boxing and Muay Thai again. Starting from the basics, from the jab to footwork. So thank you, I know you have many people who are more experienced than I writing; strategies and such, and I have a long way to go. You writing articles like this, means the world to me.
Hi Johnny…i really love you.thanks for all of your articles and videos.i incredibly love boxing in compare to 4 months ago.
can we throw right hook and right jab?are these very advanced or punching jab and hook with right hand are crazily??what do you think?
It’s not crazy, you can definitely throw them.
Hi Johnny, I really appreciate all the work you put into this stuff.
Could you give some tips for mind games before the fight (like what to do when you meet your opponent, how to show him you are confident…) Also, how much effect do you think these mind games have in boxing?
Hahaha…the best way to show you’re confident? Come after him as soon as the bell rings. When you meet him, look him straight in the eye, say good luck.
This is a great article. The fact that the person writing is a winner helps.
I like the idea of enjoying the journey. Enjoying that journey isn’t all plumcakes and roses, it’s hard work. Be proud of yourself
For working at something valuable, not just reaching an end result goal.
The writer said a LOT of good things. Down to earth. Thanks so much!
Enjoying that journey doesn’t mean it’s all plumcakes and roses….YUP! Thank you, Bill!
Real talk Johnny.
Absolutely brilliant! I’ve been in the boxing game for 25 years, and I’ve been training others for about 8 years. I have learned so much about myself, not only as a boxer, but as a person. First, by starting boxing at an early age, and now that I have trained boxers of all ages, I see that the older the person is when they start, the more “fear” or “self doubt” they have about themselves. I guess when you are young, you don’t know all of the real life difficulties and worries that you learn as you get older. I began boxing at age 12, so I was naturally fearless. I was too young and “inexperienced” to recognize the pro’s and con’s of an event. I am so glad that I did start at a young age, because I now see how it has made me more of a confident, competitive person, who enjoys challenges and obstacles. I like training fighters at a young age because, first of all, they are much more respectful. But, they are much more receptive (like a sponge); and I’m guessing this is true because they don’t know all of their options. For example, if a have a 13 year old and a 23 year old starting at the same time; the 23 year old knows that if he doesn’t agree with whatever the subject, he/she can just simply get in their car and leave. On the other hand, the 13 year old usually feels they have to do well. Boxing, like any other martial art, is referred to as a “discipline”. And that what the root of training is…discipline. It is a system of rules that must be learned from the very foundation up. Using the same example, the 23 year old has probably watched videos of Ali, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, etc., and see these incredibly athletic men were able to do things that were very exciteable. Esp. someone like Mike Tyson (I’m referring to the Tyson of the 1980’s). They think he just runs after his opponent and throws haymakers so hard that his opponent can’t handle the power of his punch. These people would be very wrong!!! Mike Tyson trained like a soldier under one of the greatest philisophical boxing trainers of all times, Cus D’Amato. In the 80’s Mike was a foundamentally sound wrecking ball. Like Foreman, he looks like he just comes in and knocks opponent’s head’s off. But both of these great fighters were very well trained in all aspects, from their stance, to footwork and movement around the ring, to defensive techniques, to head movement, to how to throw a punch, defend one, react to it, etc. Unfortunately for Mike, when his “disciplinarian” passed and he became an adult, he let all of those skills deminish.
I’m sorry to get on a tangent, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this post, and how much I agree with you. My preference is in the Amateur’s! Less likely for bad injuries, esp. lifelong head injuries. And there is less “under the table” business. I’ve dipped my toe into the professional world and saw how easily corrupt things can be. I’m not saying that boxing is a corrupt sport (anything that draws money can be corrupt). I’m just saying that I enjoy boxing for boxers with only a passion for the sport.
Awesome comment, Jonathan!
I do agree with you about younger vs older fighters. Sometimes the older ones are too smart and think they’ve figured it out already because they saw all the Youtube videos. I often run into young 20-something year olds who are already “training” their friends how to box when they don’t even know it themselves. Hahahaha, I was probably like that I’m sure!
I agree your thoughts on the pro game, too. It is so dirty and awful. Business certainly gets in the way of pure boxing. All that politics, UGH!!!
My boy is 12 and has been box sence he was 8 he loves it as it’s in his blood as I used to box
He’s had 6 fights won 3 lost three . I thought it was me as he doesn’t perform as well in the ring and always goes on the defensive it’s quite hard to watch the coaches think the same and say he has got so much natural ability and in spring he’s unbelievable . I’ve never put any press on him and say if you don’t want to fight or do this it’s ok I might sound I’m a pusher dad put I don’t care if he wants to do drama etc… but he wants it and blood good
You sound like a good fight-father. Thanks for doing what you do.
Thanks a lot for these helpful tips hope i can find one of your training programs