A Boxing Match Against Fear

When summer break started, I made it a point that I wanted to learn something new. As I was thinking of what I would invest my time in, I came across a clip from the movie "Creed". Boxing quickly made it to the top of my list of things to learn. I had casually kept up with the sport in the past and hey, Anthony Joshua only started training at 18 and now he's the IBF Heavyweight champ. Shortly after, I bought some gloves and hand wraps, and with my inflated sense of confidence and lack of fear, found a gym. I was stepping into complete unmarked territory and had no idea I would embark on a journey more mental than physical.

It had been such a long time since I had stepped out of my comfort zone that in the beginning I was sort of overwhelmed. I had done only bodybuilding and power-lifting style workouts in the past. Something as contact based as boxing was completely new to me.  For my first couple sessions, I noticed I had this annoying fear creep up on me. I was nervous about getting hit, performing in front of people watching since I was basically a beginner. After the novelty of pretending I was one of those underdogs in every boxing movie wore off, the grueling aspects of training started settling in. There were many times where I was considering quitting all together.

With boxing, there isn't any way to run away from your fears; either you confront it and improve, or you don't and get hit. Its funny though, because the rest of life is a lot like that too.

This is 2016, so of course the first thing I did when I faced with these obstacles was consult Google. Beyond watching Muhammad Ali interviews, I was looking for anything that could make me fearless like my favorite fighters. I stumbled upon a gem that helped changed the way I look at fear.

If you are familiar with health nutrition brands then you may have heard of Quest Nutrition (Quest Bars). On YouTube, Quest holds a series called "Inside Quest" where they hold interviews to pick the brains of innovators and CEOs, such as Tim Ferris or Peter Diamandis . They personally label themselves as "what would happen if Ted Talks, Oprah, and Tony Robbins had a baby that read a lot". The interview that moved me was the one featuring MMA legend  Georges St. Pierre's coach and Montreal's own Firas Zahabi.

Firas is regarded as one of the best coaches in mixed martial arts. What I learned, however, was that he is also a student of philosophy. (In fact he has a degree in it) Through the interview I learned that Firas grounds himself and his fighters in the time tested philosophies of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius had recorded his thoughts throughout his time as Emperor in a collection of writings titled "Meditations". I had read it in the past but the way Zahabi interpreted the writings really helped me understand them. Even more importantly, he helped me apply them to my life. Aurelius pulls his way of thinking from the fundamentals of stoicism, popularized by famous "stoics" such as Seneca. Stoicism is essentially a way of thinking that teaches you that it doesn't matter what happens to you, what matters is how you interpret it.

If I were to summarize Zahabi's interview and the message of Stoicism in one take away statement that has really impacted the way I approach anything is this -

The impediment to action advances action...what stands in the way becomes the way - Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes our fear paralyzes us to take action. As a result we stay in this space that slowly drains us. We are forever stuck in this realm of "what if" and possibilities. For me, it applied to a fear of operating outside my comfort zone, but it applies to everything. We may be scared to talk to a loved one about the emotional damage they are causing, scared to see a therapist, scared to change our major/career. Anything. We look to blame circumstances or investigate what caused it as opposed to simply addressing it.

The point I want to make is that no good comes with staying idle. You must take your circumstances into your own hands. When I changed the way I looked at sparring it changed the benefits I got out of boxing. If I got hit, I thought of it as a sign that this is where I need to pick up my defence. If I found myself anxious to fight someone, I made it a game to see how fast I could bring myself back and remain calm. I saw it as an opportunity to practice how much control I had over my emotions. After looking at things this way for a while I saw it extend into my every day life. I experienced less anxiety speaking to strangers or making small talk since I found it easier to calm myself down.

So please, I urge you to find a place in your life where you are sitting idly and take action. Start small, build confidence and see where that takes you. The way you handle your problems will change the way you feel about yourself.