As well as the skill and sporting achievement exhibited in professional boxing, engaging in the sport at any level can provide powerful lessons for life.
As someone who has practiced a number of martial arts ‘off and on’ since childhood, I’ve always returned to boxing. There have been boxers in my family and being of Irish-Scots descent I think it’s a little bit hard-wired into our DNA as well.
Whatever the reason, it’s always boxing that’s more likely to motivate me to get off the sofa, plus I enjoy watching the sport as a spectator.
I’ve also had a longstanding interest in martial philosophy and how combat and conflict can be a rich sources of inspiration, metaphor and guidance for the way we live, work and play.
In my capacity as a clinical hypnotherapist and coach I’ve worked with several professional fighters over the years and highlights have been:
- Helping three-weight Irish champion Peter McDonagh stay unbeaten (even when having turned 40!) in the final years of his incredible career
- Working with trainer Peter Fury and preparing Hughie Fury for his British Heavyweight title victory
- Developing a mindset so focused and strong for Isaac Chamberlain that he won his first title despite dislocating his shoulder in the third round of his ten round contest
However, in this article I don’t want to just focus on the importance of mindset in sporting success; but instead to suggest, in a broader sense, what boxing can teach us about life and the way we live it.
Here are my thoughts on 7 things I’ve learned from boxing and training that are applicable to life generally:
1. The Only Losers Are the Quitters
Losing in an attempt at something does not make a person a loser, but quitting without giving it your very best shot is a far greater mark of a loser.
Tenacity is one of the most important attributes to develop in life and business. Just like in boxing, success in any competitive arena can often simply go to the person who ‘keeps going’ or ‘stays in the fight’ the longest.
If you’ve given something your very best, then win or lose, you have metaphorically ‘left it all in the ring’. Either way you have the self-assurance of knowing you could do nothing more. Of course, sometimes it will be appropriate to make a strategic withdrawal (to ‘throw in the towel’ to fight another day), but just make sure you really do try your very best first and don’t just quit at the first signs of difficulty.
If you find yourself on the canvas in life, then pick yourself up and get back on your feet as soon as possible. Don’t let every little setback impact you emotionally and derail your progress. Keep moving forward!
2. Fail to Prepare and You Prepare to Fail
The spectacle of an organised boxing match should really be the tip of the iceberg of training and preparation done by each boxer.
The hardest work should have been done in the gym and running out on the road, so if this is neglected it can have disastrous consequences on the night.
Likewise, in life and work, failure to prepare effectively for important events can lead to a disappointing performance or outcome. So if you want the results of a champion, put in the hours of preparation that earn it.
3. Keep Busy and Keep Moving
This rule from boxing can be applicable in two ways to life.
Firstly, a moving target is more difficult to hit so staying agile and flexible in your outlook and behaviour means you can respond to new situations rapidly, evading danger and difficulty and being well-placed to emerge on top.
Secondly, the decisions of judges in boxing matches will often favour the ‘busier’ fighter. So are you throwing enough punches in life? Could you take the battle to new challenges rather than waiting for them to come to you?
4. Surround Yourself With the Right People
I don’t completely subscribe to the maxim that ‘as you associate you become’ as I believe there is a value in knowing all types of people from all walks of life. But I do believe that you should pay particular attention to those in your ‘corner’.
These are the people who make up your inner sanctum, the people who provide you with the support and guidance to aid your growth and development.
It goes without saying that these need to be people you can trust, rely on and who have your best interests at heart. History and the history of boxing has many examples of people who made bad decisions regarding the people in their immediate team, so make sure you think carefully about who makes up yours.
5. Your Greatest Opponent Is Yourself
A boxer knows that the person who stares back at them in the mirror is the real opponent, the one they have to overcome everyday in training.
To succeed in life or business you must become the master of your self by overcoming the negative elements of your thoughts and behaviours.
This is especially true in defeating your own ‘inner critic’, the nagging voice of self-doubt that can keep you from achieving your full potential.
Think positively, engage in affirming self-talk and focus on your successes, remembering that there really is no such thing as failure, only feedback.
6. Find YOUR Own Way
The slugger, the switch-hitter, the counterpuncher; there are so many different styles of boxer and it is often the contrast between them which makes a particular contest so fascinating to watch.
This individual style reflects a person’s unique characteristics, both physical and psychological, and one thing is for certain, you can be inspired by others but never truly grow if you only ever imitate another person’s style.
After all, your uniqueness is your strength – you can’t fail at being the best version of yourself, but you will always be a poor imitation of someone else.
Experiment, model excellence in others and use this to shape your style and approach to life, but still stay true to yourself and embrace your individuality. In doing this you will be your authentic self and find that other’s warm far quicker to your natural authenticity.
7. Every Journey Begins With a Single Step
I’m always fascinated to see how some people defeat themselves at the outset of the journey to skill and fitness through boxing training, by becoming disheartened by the perceived scale of the ‘mountain to climb’.
Many years ago, when recovering from an operation, I had to start from scratch with my own fitness and training. In the period of my initial recovery, I couldn’t even get out of bed. However, I knew from my training before that my rate of recovery would come down to mindset and my attitude towards progress. I knew I just had to start, however small, and then build from there. That’s how we achieve everything if you think about it.
So I set the target to take a few steps, then a few more. Very soon I was able to get to the door. Then I was able to get to the driveway. A psychological barrier was the walk into the town close to where I was living. What if I could make it so far but then was too fatigued and in pain to make it back? I was on my own so what would I do? So I worked it out in stages always leaving myself ‘enough in the tank’ to make it back, going a little further every time, even if just a few steps.
When it came to push-ups, I jumped in a bit deep. I got face down on the floor easy enough, but getting up at all evaded me and I spent pretty much a whole afternoon staring at the carpet. That gave me even more thinking time and resolve, and within days, I had done the first push-up.
Well over a decade later I can once again smash out push-ups with ease – I can do them clapping, one-handed, even on just a couple of fingers. Moreover I had learned so much about how my level of motivation and perceived limitations of what I could achieve were really all in the mind.
It’s not about where you start, it’s about the PROGRESS you make. If you’re committed to the latter you might amaze yourself where you finish.