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Mental Confidence

Many factors come into play when discussing success. Some will point to a superior educational pedigree. Others to inherent class advantages. Some like to chalk it up to luck. And then there are those who talk about cognitive patterns that are hardwired into us–obviously, that’s my preference.

We are conditioned into our mindset by those around us and other environmental stimuli.

As the quote goes from Good Will Hunting, “Most people never get to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers that believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”

I won’t get into the debate over which type of teacher, professor or coach is ideal– authoritarian, authoritative or hands-off. But I will make the bold suggestion that if certain types of people don’t mesh with your goals, perhaps it’d be better to move in separate directions.

In a great article from ExpertBoxing.com on the Mindset of a Champion, the author talks about how our relationships are key to success. Some common pitfalls are listed:

The worst thing you can do is start throwing negativity into relationships before they’ve even been established. Talking behind someone’s back. Arguing with people over nothing. Letting jealousy affect your ability to be professional/courteous/polite. Maintaining or allowing negative relationships and people to stay in your life is another mistake.

No matter how talented someone is, no matter how much potential they have, they can be brought down to the level of mediocrity or non-achievement without the right people around them. The bad attitudes of others rub off and surface as bad habits in you.

Formula One champion Nigel Mansell devotes a page in his autobiography on how himself and his wife actively distanced themselves from friends who were overtly negative about his embryonic efforts in Formula Ford (a feeder league for Formula One):

There were people whom we hardly ever saw, but if something went wrong they would come up to us and say, ‘I could have told you about that. I could have told you that wouldn’t work.’ It’s amazing how many people we’ve run into with that attitude.

Mansell goes on to say that if these people were more constructive in their approach, their opinions would have been palatable.

I have a cousin who has always been negative to me since my childhood. She’s older by about 7-8 years, so perhaps a false sense of superiority or smug condescension blossomed with the age gap. While I couldn’t imagine going up to her and criticizing her prospects at her office job, she’s always had “smart” things to say about writing, journalism and the arts.

I find it ludicrous that this kind of person presents themselves as a direct impediment to mental confidence and then complains when communication breaks down. Worse still is when someone with no context or background in an area wants to pontificate as an expert on the subject material.

As the article from ExpertBoxing.com states, I don’t need an army of ‘Yes-Men’ to fluff false confidence and agree with everything that I do. But I also certainly don’t need prolonged exposure to toxic opinions that offer no benefit to me whatsoever. And neither does anyone else.

Resonance

Sometimes a song catches us because we know how real it is. The Killers “Mr. Brightside” is one of those songs, and it has an interesting back story.

Says vocalist Brandon Flowers, “Lyrically, it’s about an odd girlfriend of mine. All the emotions in the song are real. When I was writing the lyrics, my wounds from it were still fresh. I am Mr. Brightside! But I think that’s the reason the song has persisted – because it’s real. People pick up on those things. And that goes all the way down to the production; we recorded it in a couple of hours, but it just sounds right, you know?”

Of course, the listener feels the emotional resonance. That’s what makes a hit. The artist can’t explain after the fact– the song has to speak for itself.

Back in the day, in high school music class, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: we learned to play instruments with high technical proficiency. But something was missing– there was no emotional attachment to the music. I can only speak for myself, but I never put my heart and soul into playing the notes; I just went through the motions because I was doing what I was told to do.

Creativity is such a personal journey. If you’re working to please the teacher and allow them to overlay their own concepts of good and bad onto you, you’re silencing a part of your own dynamic range. You’ll find a rebellious spirit in every emerging artist worth mentioning because they brought something different to the table.

 

A Farewell to Georges St-Pierre

Leading up to Canadian Georges St-Pierre’s announcement of his impending retirement, I wrote about how the UFC has to rely more on light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. With UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez out for a year,  GSP retired and lighter-weight fighters not drawing, it really does look like Jon Jones will be forced to carry the brunt of duties as Zuffa’s point man.

I gave my thoughts on GSP’s retirement in a new CagePotato article, A Survivor in a Dangerous Game, GSP Finds the Exit Before It’s Too Late:

Georges St-Pierre’s tremendous desire for public validation of his talents was both his greatest strength as a fighter and his greatest weakness in terms of his personal health. He put it on the line for fans, media, and a promoter who were all just as likely to offer scathing criticism as they were to give him praise.

[Read more here]

Finally, Kid Nate from BloodyElbow.com scheduled an MMA Tete-a-Tete with myself and former USA Today reporter Beau Dure as guests. See video embedded below.

As part of the well-received (and continuing) “Shill ‘Em All” series on the MMA media, I wrote part 3 on the “Fanboys” who populate the MMA industry.

The most direct response to the article came, not from an MMA fighter, but boxer Paulie Malignaggi during a press conference to promote his upcoming bout with Zab Judah:

The media has always been inaccurate or overly critical of Malignaggi when it comes to his fragile hands and close/controversial decisions he’s dropped.

FightOpinion.com’s Zach Arnold dissected Malignaggi’s rant, and came up with things that fighters can do in order to support change like attending commission meetings or pushing back at the right time. Zach’s point is that any change in combat sports requires fighters and managers act as active participants who are involved in all issues across the board.

Would Malignaggi be so upset about bad judging or the biased media if he wasn’t a victim of either? The conclusion is obvious: people agitate for change when they have a problem; when problems don’t affect them, they don’t care.

***

Finally, I talked about the Shill ‘Em All series, the MMA media and my book on the MMA Dude Bro Podcast. You can listen to it here.

Zero to Hero

One of my favorite scenes from The Sopranos is where Tony starts questioning his entire life– asking “How did I get here?” instead of selling pots and pans in China. Being a sociopath, he finds a way to dismiss any attempt to actually change his life. Worse still, those around him–notably, Meadow–get sucked into the family business.

Still, this begs the question about whether things could have turned out differently. What if Tony had been born into a Norman Rockwell-type family scene? Not suggesting he’d be happy, but certainly, he wouldn’t be caught up in a life of criminal activity.

Of course, it doesn’t matter where Tony Soprano grew up or who he became. As a fictional character, or even looking at real life examples, people want to believe they have the option of choice. Rags to riches, or so they say. If you’re in the majority of people who wasn’t born into the good life, could you condition yourself into someone who has it today?

As artists, creative types and writers, we put ourselves in positions, each and everyday. The outcome is always guaranteed before anything takes place because we know the maximum potential that a project entails. We enter into that contract knowing the pitfalls, drawbacks and rewards.

All of this being said, for Tony Soprano, there’s only the next score. For Sopranos creator David Chase, there’s only the next project. And for myself, well, with the right approach, the sky’s the limit.

Wrote a widely popular sequel to “Shill ‘Em All: Why Ethical Journalism Is So Hard to Come By” called “Shill ‘Em All, Part 2: The MMA Media’s Race to the Bottom” for CagePotato.com.

Ideally, the relationship between professional sports organizations like the UFC and media members should be about interdependence, where both parties rely equally upon each other. In practice, many MMA media members and outlets often exist as the clingy, powerless co-dependent partners that put the needs of the UFC before the need for factual and accurate sports journalism…

(Read more here)

The reaction was almost unanimously positive. Those who cover boxing noted the similarities in promoter’s attempts to control the media. However, it should be said that boxing writers have tremendously more freedom to point out conflict-of-interests.

MaxBoxing.com writer Gabriel Montoya, for instance, was banned from Goldenboy boxing matches for composing satirical tweets. The term of his ban? Just two cards. MMA writers can measure their banishment from fights, PR lists, conference calls and other events over the span of multiple years.

Did two radio interviews to comment on the piece. One for Sportsnet 960 in Calgary with Peter Klein; the other for SiriusXM’s Fight Club (available to listen here).

There will be a part three to this series, so stay tuned!

Cleaning Out My Closet

Went through my old stuff from ‘back in the day.’ Talking about all the way back from elementary school, high school, college etc. Stuffed animals, old clothes, photos, yearbooks– but a lot of one-off objects that evoke strong memories.

The easy stuff to reminisce about is technology: Old personal CD players; a 256 MB mp3 player; point-and-shoot cameras; etc. Technology is just a tool in the hands of the user, after all.

This was once state-of-the-art technology. Now it's obsolete.

This was once state-of-the-art technology. Now it’s obsolete.

Then there are the darker objects. A roach from high school. Caffeine pills I took to stay up during exams in college. The former, not so bad. The latter was my attempt to stay focused academically and compensate for my growing lack of interest in what I had been studying.

The "other" box with a rooster on it!

The “other” box with a rooster on it!

Some things remind me about how I used to be, what I used to believe in: Guitars, guitar strings, picks, patch cords. I seriously wanted to be a rock star in high school. Never even came close, but I learned a few interesting licks & chords. Out of practice now, since I long since gave up on that dream.

The yearbooks are an easy route to past nostalgia. The main thing to remember is that our viewpoint of the past tends to be contaminated. One or two experiences (positive or negative) can taint our perception of multiple years/experiences. There are a few people I wonder about, but for the most part, what’s gone is gone and can’t ever be replaced. Some girls I remember as teenagers have gotten married and/or had kids. Teachers have retired (in some cases, this is a good thing) or have moved to different school boards.

There are, of course, boxes and boxes full of old newspapers and magazines containing my articles. This would be my success pile, because I really enjoyed getting published. What happened to the other writers from college? I think many went into PR/communications, a few are doing journalism, and a small minority published books. Obviously, I’ll collect many more boxes like this throughout future years. The names of some of my peers will continue to make bylines and others will vanish completely from the public sphere.

Author Patrick Conroy once wrote that having an unhappy childhood is the best thing that can happen to a writer. Maybe it leads to development of imagination. My loneliness certainly led me to read a great number of books, magazines and newspapers. I certainly would never be able to match my past literary consumption today; with the advent of the internet, I’m sure fewer teens curl up with a book (although they probably still feel alone as social media addicts).

To really be a writer, you have to live in the past. Pound for Pound contains memories of my years in the fight game. There are famous events that get replayed constantly, including Mike Tyson fights from decades ago. But I have other personal memories that haunt me, and that can be dangerous.

There’s the reality of the fighter going into a bout, getting trounced and having the hard reality hit them that they just don’t have it anymore. The same is true for past relationships: Nothing can rekindle the romance when it’s over, and youth really is a fleeting thing.

All that being said, I threw out a lot of items; organized and cleaned up others. But mostly, the memories will continue to reside in boxes, desk/dresser drawers, closets and other tucked away spaces. As time passes, I will need more space for more objects.

I appear on the Fight Network show Five Rounds to discuss Anderson Silva. Scroll to 17:05 to see my segment on the show:

In 2006, boxer Clinton Woods, then the reigning IBF light-heavyweight champion, was being awarded the ‘Fighter of the Year’ award in Britain. Former boxer Alan Minter, a famed British middleweight champion who had faced Marvin Hagler, was slated to give a speech about the award-winner’s merits. Instead of speaking about Woods, Alan Minter stole the moment for himself.

Said Woods, “Minter stood up and went on a rant about his son’s (Ross) career and then started talking about his own fights. That would be fine under different circumstances – I think Ross is an improved fighter and Minter is a former world champion – but it wasn’t his moment, it was mine. He didn’t mention me once in a speech which was supposed to be about the winner of the Fighter of the Year!”

There’s a concept in yoga, one of five Yamas, called “Asteya.” It translates into non-stealing, which seems like a clear directive. But it can apply to much more than theft or fraud involving money, coin collections or hedge funds. Attention is something that can be stolen, as Clinton Woods’ story illustrates.

It should be a simple matter of etiquette that dictates social graces. Clearly, Alan Minter is a bitter old man or a narcissist, and there’s never any compromising with those types of people.

In any organization, group or social circle, there will be people pushing themselves to the forefront regardless of the context. The best example I can give of this happening to me has been when someone has criticized my writing without actually having read my work. How can you give an opinion on something where you don’t understand the ideas, rationale or lay of the land?

There’s no easy way to deal with this situation in sports, the entertainment business or corporations. As long as someone has power, a name or value, they are going to want to self-perpetuate their influence like a virus.

At one particular press conference, a Russian TV journalist went on a long-winded question that involved multiple pauses. Then his question had to be translated back to the English press. What he was doing to the room, participants, media– and even his own outlet– was painful to experience. I was glad to see the event staff roll their eyes and refuse to take any further questions from the Russian journalist.

How do we deal with people stealing attention from others? From promoting their own egotistical or self-important viewpoints and crowding the airwaves with static? In a Facebook era, with everyone feeling entitled to air random thoughts, grievances or opinions, it’s not going to be easy going forward.

A common question that I sometimes get asked is, “What got you into martial arts/MMA?” I usually answer “I got beat-up a lot in high school” and that always gets a few laughs. It’s not a completely serious or honest answer: While high school was unpleasant at times, and I had my fair share of bullies, they weren’t always in the typecast mold like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons or the Cobra Kai dudes from The Karate Kid.

Another important consideration is that bullying isn’t something that ends in high school. There are bad experiences in college, hostile workplaces, or toxic relationships. There are times when ordinary people become victims of the personalities around them, so much so that movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Office Space have comedic takes on adults confronting and dealing with bullying (even if the bully happens to be a no-good printer).

One experience happened to me, of all times and places, when I was performing in a FR!NGE Festival play in University. For whatever reason, one of the girls in our group began to say nasty things about my acting during rehearsals.

Did I actually do something to solicit her comments? Maybe tell a joke that got taken the wrong way, or inadvertently criticize her own skills? I don’t remember saying or doing anything that could have been misconstrued to her, but if I did, it would have been better if she’d confronted me directly instead of making every moment I spent on set miserable and uncomfortable.

For my part, I didn’t respond by confronting her, or asking the director to talk to her. Because she was criticizing my acting, I felt that the only defense was to be a great actor. If I did respond to her comments, I felt that I’d be validating her criticism on some level. Maybe this was just a cop-out by me. It certainly wasn’t the only one.

I didn’t like the atmosphere  missed a couple rehearsals or showed up late to others. This might not sound serious, given that the FR!NGE Festival is meant to be low-key entertainment and fun, but college is only a couple of years removed from high school. For the dress rehearsal, I showed up hungover with no voice– inspiring fear to the director and my cast-mates, as I would close the show with a little song.

Push came to shove on the night of the performance when we were slotted for the evening’s finale. While my bully certainly felt superior to me throughout our rehearsals and had played up the ability of our cast-mates (in comparison to me), something became apparent literally seconds into our play: I was killing it.

The sell-out audience of a couple hundred students and parents had been bored to tears by the mediocre and uninspired performances that had preceded us. When you’re 20ish, you can be a little pretentious and have a false view of how entertaining your work is. For many of the plays, this was the case.

95 to 98 percent of comedy comes down to timing and tone– a pause here, a sarcastic twist there. On this night, I was switched “ON” and broke through the audience’s mask of pretend enjoyment. Even my previous night’s hangover was no bother as I hit every note on that final song. After the play, people were congratulating me for hours, saying that I’d rocked it.

As for my bully, she dejectedly chimed in with praise, as well. There had been no ambiguity over who the star was (until the awards show for the FR!NGE Festival, but that’s another story of political intrigue/corruption. Apparently the event organizers felt no shame in giving each other or their best friends the honorary awards for best play/performance/etc) and she had to admit that she had been wrong about me from the very start.

I never became friends in real life or on Facebook with this girl. I just felt uncomfortable being around someone who had acted maliciously; that ugliness is hard to forget. She became irrelevant once I stopped having physical proximity to her in college, and once I was done acting, she had zero power to criticize me.

I don’t want to say too much about what became of my former bully after college. I saw her in a Facebook photo today– that’s what made me think of this story. I could say “It didn’t end well for her,” but that would be another misnomer: It probably wasn’t going well for her in college, either.

***

While I have a few other stories about bullying, they are just stories. There isn’t necessarily a life lesson or learning experience here. In fact, I would have rather never have been in a compromising position to begin with. Still, I’ll start sharing a little more, if anything, because I’m sure many people can relate.

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