Sometimes You Just Gotta Lighten Your Load to Get Better (MMA Mind Power)

June 29, 2012
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The Benefits of “Lightening Up” in MMA

MMA Mind PowerThere are many MMA athletes not enjoying their journey to success at all. In fact, there are many athletes suffering from anxiety, stress, tension and even depression because of the wrong mental approach to their MMA career. These athletes often end up quitting, not making it to where they could have made it to or fall from the top because of their intense attitude. In this article I want to share with you why this may happen and what you can do to avoid it or change it.

I have met some athletes who would come to training with the goal, often unconscious (out of their conscious awareness), to prove to others that they are good. I have seen many people going into sparring rounds in prep for a fight, with the sole goal of proving to the rest of the team that they are good enough to be in the team; or perhaps, prove it to themselves, which is often the real embedded reason.

Some people become way too intense even in training. Often you recognize these people because they tend to be those who do not talk much with anybody, they rarely smile, and they may be involved in disputes more often than others. If reading this makes you feel annoyed, chances are… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Why is it a Bad Idea to be so “Intense”

Randy Couture at UFC 102The truth is that the vast majority of successful MMA athletes are those who seem more light-hearted during interviews and generally in their approach. Look at the current guys: Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Junior dos Santos and most of the athletes who made it in the UFC are all people who seem more chilled and take themselves less seriously than many others.

You may recall how relaxed and “at peace” Randy Couture always was in his mental approach. Most of the athletes who are either going through tough times or have moved-on from large organizations altogether have one thing in common: they look tense and unhappy.

They are not tense and unhappy because the challenging times, but often they are going through the challenging times because they are unhappy and tense. Tito Ortiz, Nick Diaz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Vitor Belfort and others have all experienced declines in their careers when they became too emotionally involved. Yes, you can call this a coincidence… if you believe in coincidences that is.

Some can argue that the decline caused the negativities and the answer is still the same: it is the negative response to the challenge that caused the challenge to be prolonged or permanent. If you look in your gym, I am sure that you will see that those who do well are also those who are more keen to talking to others, perhaps sometimes make jokes and are generally light hearted about their approach.

Why is it a Good Idea to “Lighten Up”?

Quinton Rampage Jackson at UFC 135So why is it a good idea to be light hearted? What can actually change?

Quite simply, your body works better! What I mean by that is that when you take things too seriously, when you become too intense about your training, your fight and your career, your body tenses up. To prove this to yourself you can do a very simple exercise that will leave you in no doubt.

Stand up with your feet close to each other and straight legs. Close your eyes and then assume the facial expression as if you were angry, sad or frustrated. You don’t need to force the negative feelings, just keep that facial expression. Keeping that face on with your eyes closed lift your right arm straight in front as if you were pointing at something in front of you. Then keeping your lower body still, turn your upper body only, rotate clockwise and stop to where you can reach. Open your eyes and make a mental note of where your finger is pointing. Now do the same with a smiley face on, not a “rhetorical smile,” a real one; maybe think of something that makes you happy and see if how much further you get now.

If you do this right you will see that you will be able to comfortably rotate more when you have a positive body language and a positive mind-set. The reason behind this is very simple; your nervous system sends messages to your body all the time and these messages match your feelings, which are a product of your thoughts. Your thoughts are generally responsible for your body language, but the opposite is also true: the body can influence the type of thought you focus on. Your nervous system is used to smiling when you have happy thoughts and frowning when you have not so happy ones.

So in short, if you have negative thoughts or negative body language or both, your body will more often than not tense up. If your body is tensed up it will not work
as well as it would if it was more relaxed, loose and responsive. This is why most people would rotate further with a smile on their face than they would with a negative expression on. The same goes for anything else that involves using the body, including fighting.

How Do You “Lighten Up”?

You can tackle your negative thoughts by:

  • Sort your issues out. If there is anything in your personal life that bothers you, don’t hide in the gym as that would only alleviate the pain temporarily; do what you can to solve the issue and seek help if you need to.
  • If the intense emotions come for your strong desire to succeed in the sport then know this: the more lightly you take yourself, the better you will be. Of course you need to take your career seriously, but that word has been misused. Seriously must mean professionally, responsibly and intelligently, not intensely.
  • Read and apply the Power of Neuro Associations MMA.

If you find it hard to control your thoughts or your emotions, then use your body. Remember, the mind influences the body, but the body also influences the mind. Some good pointers that will help you with facilitating positive energy within your body are:

  • Look up, don’t look at the ground. When you look up it is much easier to let go of the tension and find a great balance.
  • Smile. If you are not the “smiley” type fine, smile inside and all you have to do so accomplish that is imagine your face smiling and that is enough. As soon as you think of your face smiling your mind has to make an internal representation of that which will force your mind to let go of the more negative internal representation that you had before.
  • Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for 10 seconds and then breathe out through your mouth slowly.
  • Let your shoulders fall – relax them.

Isn’t This Common Sense?

The above can seem like common sense but the thing is that more often than not, it is only common sense after you read it.

Good luck.


  • pooby

    So, when Nick Diaz is scowling and saying “Come on Bitch” to his opponent, he is actually smiling on the inside as he beats them?

  • RubeKegal

    MMAWeekly Staff, why do you continue to post MMA Mind Power articles repeatedly after the public has stated we don’t care for them?

    • No offense RubeKegal, but if you don’t like them, it’s simple, don’t read them. We realize they’re not for everybody and appreciate you tuning in to the site.

      • pooby

        Duh! I happen to find them interesting.

        • Count me as someone who doesnt understand the negative response to these articles.

          • RubeKegal

            oh ok now because the great Ken Pishna replied, everyone is kissing arse.

            When MMA Mind Power came out with “Who powered up at UFC 146” I wasn’t the only one who thought it was very stupid(and you can go back to archives and look for yourself) Others who agreed with me include but are not limited to:



            The majority of the posters above are quality loyal posters on this site along with myself.

            Not for nothing, Ken answered me very professionally and I do respect that, but I will be honest, I used to be a big MmaBay guy until they started posting garbage like this(I have maybe looked at mmabay 5 times in the past 2 years), then I jumped to MmaWeekly which I like the articles much better, but from a constructive criticism standpoint, this is the type of article over the long run will turn people away. Will it end your site? Of course not, but it will significantly damage the great reputation you have built for yourself.

          • RubeKegal

            MuayThaiFood also

  • maddawgmar

    I understand that a fighters mental state can be a huge boost for the way they train and fight. I just don’t think it can be used as an excuse if that fighter loses. Take GSP when he lost to Hughes and even Serra he used his mental state as a scapegoat. “I was nervous e was my ero.”<— in a GSP accent. Or he didn't train like he could so he got KO'd. Just say I lost, he was the better man. You don't here Sanchez saying well I lost because I didn't say Yes enough times.

  • khumbufalls

    I agree with RubeKegal on this. A paragraph through the article I scrolled back up to see which fighter wrote the article and didn’t see any name so I stopped at that point. Only good fighters are qualified to write this article. I won’t read it if it’s written by Mayhem Miller (look at what lightening up did to him) let alone some MMA writer who probably doesn’t even train MMA. Also I think Ken was channeling his inner Dana White but overall I think it’s been slow news week in MMA but I still expect quality articles from MMA weekly like Rube does.

    • RubeKegal

      I appreciate the backup khumb.

      Mayhem Miller isn’t the only one who “lightening up” didn’t help.

      Tom Lawlor and Pat Barry to name a few.

      Cain Velazquez always looks very intense and he got to be champ doing so. Brock Lesnar same thing. Vitor is a very intense individual who has had great success, Royce, Shamrock, Severn, GSP, Rory. All serious fighters who achieved greatness.

  • BunsoPaves_PhD

    As both an aspring fighter and aspiring psychologist, I can’t thank you enough for posting this. This type of mental approach is a huge change from old school “no pain. no gain” thinking and our old coaches who only used anger and punishment to motivate us. So obviously, it’ll be met with some resistance. I think a lot of readers are missing an important point. Yes, being intense can lead to success in terms of wins. However, losing at some point is inevitable no matter how great you are. Success is not defined here by the outcome of a single fight. But rather, whether or not you can live with yourself despite the outcome. If not, you can tell when athlete’s performance is taken over by a fear of losing (ever wonder why it seemed so and so fighter was holding back?) rather than just having and letting it all hang out. Some never recover because of it, while others still enjoy themselves and continue to have great careers; even if we as fans may think otherwise because they are no longer “championship material”.

    • BunsoPaves_PhD

      and to amend that post. One of the greatest ironies is that the best performances come when we let go of the pursuit of perfection.

  • MMAMindPower

    I am truly sorry that I was unable to produce material which can be liked by everyone on here. However, I guarantee that my intentions, as well as the ones of people who help me come up with the articles, are very good.

    I am no journalist or writer, I do sports psychology and mind performance coaching and since 2007 have been working work with many pro athletes. So I appreciate that my written work may not the best. The content and tips that I share are a mix of sports psychology, neuro science facts, my experience both as mind coach and martial artist and what is meant to be quirky opinions; of course on the latter some would agree and some would not. I welcome both disagreement and constructive criticism as it allows us to improve. This passionate rebellion an plead to get us off the site seems a bit excessive though since we mean no harm and since there are many who appreciate what I do.

    I work with many MMA athletes every week and have the great opportunity to help them improve and overcome various challenges and the articles on here are simply an attempt to help even more people; that’s all.

    And yes, although I am not training right now as I just had ACL surgery following an injury which I got in training, I have a martial arts years on my shoulders… Maybe next time do a little research first so that you don’t have to make wrong statements; you can start here .

    Once again, my intentions are good; I would think that if anyone can learn even only one tiny thing from my work then it’s worth having it on here. But feel free to keep on going, I really don’t get phased by it at all, I only posted this reply because others stood up for me and and so it was sensible to contribute personally.

    Have a great life everyone 🙂

    Luca Senatore

    • RubeKegal


  • We and Luca realize that not everyone is going to appreciate this type of article, but there are a lot of people who do appreciate them. We don’t hide the fact that they are MMA Mind Power articles when we post them, so if you don’t like them, it is very easy to avoid them if that is your preference. But we have had plenty of positive feedback as well, and believe they are a good addition to the site on the limited basis with which we have implemented them.

    But all in all, I’m glad that at least the conversation on here has been fairly civil. That’s what the comments are for. So thanks for all the feedback… positive and negative.

  • MikeMc1983

    Alright, so I was taking lens position and not reading these “articles.”
    I haven’t read any since the first one, but I saw this one get a bunch of comments so I checked it out. Then I noticed I had a shout out. Lol

    This is not phycology in any respected sense. It’s motivational speaking. And just like motivational speaking, it’s a solution looking for a problem.

    This particular article is asking for us to believe that the “winners” mentioned are winners because they’re light hearted and happy. Hmmm, okay. It couldn’t possiably be that guys are happy and light hearted because they’ve been winning.
    The fake it until you make it concept is great for these speakers because when the guys don’t make it, you can always tell them they didn’t fake it well enough, and no one cares about the losers so they get lost in irrelevancy.

    Sadly what the guy said towards the end was just as silly.
    Of course If you take care of all of the problems in your life, then yes, you’ll have less problems, and less stress.
    Having less stress is better than having more stress. (oh shit, now I’m doing motivational speaking. Lol)

    Being tense is not the same thing as being intense. And if your trying to confuse those two things with athletes then your doing more to harm, then help. Reguardless of your intentions.