The Mixed Blessing Of Having A Bunch Of Fitness-Focused Friends

Pretty much everyone, from your parents to self-help book authors to the people who make wolf memes for social media, will tell you that you should surround yourself with driven, motivated, successful people if you want to become successful yourself.

In some cases, this “rule” applies directly. In jiu-jitsu, for example, training with people who are good at BJJ will help you get better at BJJ (after getting smashed a lot, of course). In other cases, it’s more about establishing a new idea of “normal” and setting a standard. If all your friends and family members are content with scraping by doing the bare minimum, you’ll feel like you’re meeting the bar by also doing the bare minimum. And if you do more than the bare minimum, you’re basically an overachiever.

This, I believe, is partially why jiu-jitsu can be so beneficial for people who want to get in shape and set more ambitious athletic goals. While good teammates would never judge you for being out of shape or only wanting to train on a casual basis, there’s something motivating about being surrounded by people who are constantly on a path to improvement, whatever their goals may be. Many times, too, their goals intersect — they want to get stronger in order to be better competitors in order to win bigger tournaments, for example.

For people who want to become more fit and eat healthier and set goals, the world of jiu-jitsu can be a great environment to become immersed in. Sometimes, though, this can also lead to unrealistic standards and even a sense of failure when the bar becomes too high to reach, so you will grab your running shoes and train harder until you reach the desired level.

I felt the positive, motivational effects of jiu-jitsu when I first signed up. I dreamed of being considered “athletic” the same way I dreamed about suddenly discovering I could shoot a kamehameha blast from my hands. Every time I’d tried to become “athletic,” though, I failed. I hated running, I was too intimidated by traditional gyms to just show up and start lifting weights, and none of my friends (at the time) were deep enough into fitness that I could ask to tag along with them.

That all changed after I started kickboxing and then jiu-jitsu. I got in shape because I kept showing up, sure, but also because my main social group was comprised of people who ate healthier and trained on Friday nights instead of going out drinking. They were a positive influence on me, and as those friendship bonds strengthened, my idea of “normal” slowly changed.

It’s funny, though — after almost a decade in the jiu-jitsu world, my idea of “normal” swung in the opposite direction when it came to fitness and mat time. I was training five days a week, often multiple times a day. I was supplementing my jiu-jitsu with striking classes and conditioning. And yet, compared to the training regimens of many of my teammates, I may as well have been going for leisurely walks around the block.

I began to feel like I was lazy. I’d brainwashed myself into thinking that if I wasn’t training like I was in fight camp, I may as well have been a couch potato. When I skipped training for any reason other than not physically being able to show up, I felt like a failure. A slacker.

This wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own. My teammates have always been nothing but supportive, encouraging me along my own unique journey and reminding me that I do need to take some time off when I’m injured. The pressure I was putting on myself didn’t come from them — it came from myself, from being immersed in a social environment where the people I get along with most have been in the martial arts industry for a long time and have built their lifestyles around getting better at what they do.

It wasn’t until someone outside of the martial arts world gave me a reality check (Apparently, the average person does not spend that much time in the gym) that I started to be gentler to myself. It wasn’t that I wanted to go back to how I was before I found jiu-jitsu — I just reminded myself that I already do a lot, and it’s ok that I’m not doing more than that given my current goals on the mats and beyond.

By all means, surround yourself with people who inspire you. Raise the bar for yourself, and use your peers as motivation to reach your full potential and become the best version of you. But don’t forget to give yourself some credit, too. Many of us are juggling a lot of responsibilities at once, and unless jiu-jitsu is your entire career and livelihood, it’s unfair to compare your lifestyle to people who have more time, energy, and reason to center their entire lives around their training schedule. Search for the happy medium between striving to be better and acknowledging that what you’re doing now would be enough to impress the socks off a lot of people.


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