What Jiu-Jitsu’s Teaching Me About Business and Life, Lesson #1: You Generally Perform Much Better When You Just Stop Thinking

think BJJ

There are many reasons why I am growing to love the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  One of the main reasons is that, through it, I continually experience what is referred to in psychology, as Flow. 

When you are in a flow state, you are so completely absorbed in the moment of what you are doing that you forget about anything else.  You literally don’t think. You only do.  You don’t even think about what you are going to do, you are just doing it.  I have found that being in this state induces significant happiness for me.

Take for example my class last night.  Our Professor showed us a technical butterfly guard pass.  When he demonstrated it on one of the more advanced students it looked so easy, and so smooth.  Yet when I started to drill it on my own, with my training partner, I was at first, laughably rigid, and I found the move to be quite difficult.  I had to keep thinking about what to do next.  My movements were rigid and choppy.  It looked nothing like my Professor’s demonstration.

If nothing else in life, I am persistent.  So with the help of a very encouraging training partner I started to drill the move.  I did it over and over again, as many times as I could in about a ten minute time span. After about 25 or 30 times drilling the move, it finally all came together.

On my next attempt, I didn’t think.  I just did.  And it was my best attempt.  I got it right.

My training partner immediately noticed.  He said, “that flowed much better, that was your best attempt”. That is when I said, “on that one, I didn’t think, it just seemed to happen”.

As I often do, on the drive home, I analyzed what I had learned and whether it had any applications in my life.  That is when it hit me.

Thinking actually impedes performance.  When I stop thinking and allow myself to just act, when I start to “flow”, I am much better at what I am attempting

Then I started to look for examples of this in my life, and they were numerous, and easy to recall.

  • When I was in school, I always did best on tests when I had a clear mind, and a lack of anxiety.  When I didn’t stress or over think, but rather let it happen;
  • When I played basketball in high school and college, I always performed better when I was in flow – when I wasn’t concerned about scoring, when I was just completely absorbed in the game;
  • When I am presenting, or public speaking, I always perform better when I am basically unconscious of my self or anything externally – when I just get into the flow and let the words come out;
  • When I am in a sales context, I always do better when I am not thinking about “making a sale” or “losing a sale” but rather being present in the moment;

What causes us to think so much, and thereby negatively impact our performance?


In my opinion there is a very real paradox that exists in regards to human performance: the more we obsess about something, and focus on it, while we are engaged in the actions that could lead to our obtaining the result we seek, the less likely it is that we will perform to the standard that will actually enable us to obtain the rewards.  In other words, if you want something, your best bet is to forget about it and learn to act independent of it. 

So where does thinking come in?

I think it comes in at the planning stages, and during the analysis times.  However, thinking should be suspended during our times of action.  During times of action, we should act.  Nothing more.  We should allow ourselves to “get caught in the moment”.  That is when we will perform the best, and when we perform the best we are most likely to get the rewards that we seek.

How does this apply to your life or business right now?

What goal do you want?  Well, make a plan to get it (you get to think here!).  Then execute this plan.  While executing don’t think about the goal, or second guess your plan.  Once you  have executed your plan, then look at your results.  Did you get what you want?  This is the analysis phase.  You get to think again. Now re-adjust your plan in light of your observations.  Now put a new plan in place and execute.  While you are executing.  Don’t think.  Do this over and over again.  You will find the process to be incredibly engaging, and your performance will improve.


One comment on “What Jiu-Jitsu’s Teaching Me About Business and Life, Lesson #1: You Generally Perform Much Better When You Just Stop Thinking”
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