When I received my new black belt uniform a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed wasn’t the bright white fabric, colorful patches, or black lapels. I noticed this phrase on the packaging:
“I Am My Own Nemesis.”
This stopped me in my tracks. We usually see cheerful phrases like “Just Do It” (Nike) or “Impossible is Nothing” (Adidas) on our athletic gear. Yeah, I can do anything, especially now that I’m wearing this $50 dry fit running shirt! The company that packaged and sold my uniform may have the same motivation to pump up their customers, but their motto came with a warning and a dose of reality.
It was a stark reminder that I have a long road ahead of me. No matter how fast or forceful I am as a black belt, my deadliest opponent is lying in wait squarely between my ears. Mental discipline is a tenet of all martial arts, and can be more difficult to master than the physical demands. It’s fairly easy to hit a kicking bag (or another person) with a solid roundhouse kick, but trampling down our own doubts and fears can take years if not a lifetime to master.
The enemy nestled in our minds can attack us in many ways and in many incarnations. It can begin to drive us insane as we begin to doubt more and more our abilities to overcome adversity or accomplish goals. It often appears in these forms:
Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.
Self-Doubt: Doubt in our capabilities, intellect, choices, and many more. The more we doubt ourselves the more our sense of self begins to crumble. Doubt is like scraping a big eraser across a drawing of yourself; your essence begins to disappear. Doubt yourself enough and you will be frozen in indecision and fear. Self-doubt can lead to self-hatred, which is a very dangerous downward spiral.
Anger: Our inner enemy likes to be combative and paranoid, and it will convince you that the world is out to get you. Anger can often stem from a feeling of vulnerability and a deep fear of being hurt. When mired in anger we start to see conflict everywhere and begin to take every encounter as a confrontation. I have known people who created many enemies in their life simply because they began to assume the worst about everyone they encountered.
If there’s a silver lining about being your own nemesis is that you know the enemy better than you’ll ever know your other opponents. One way you can battle this Self Nemesis is by observation, which is a useful tool my fellow martial artists and I use in sparring. We don’t just rush into a fight with fists and feet flailing. We study our opponent and look for their strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to help us plan our attack and defense.
Are you beginning to feel overwhelmed by doubt, anger, or fear? Stop. Observe, and more importantly, observe without judgment. Don’t berate yourself for your feelings. Simply acknowledge them. You’re afraid? Well, that’s okay. What is it you’re afraid of? What’s the very worst that can happen? Are you 100% sure that what you fear will happen? Are you really and truly 100% helpless, or is there something you can do? Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is true or if you’re telling yourself lies. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Taekwondo has been my saving grace for overcoming low self-esteem and crushing anxiety. Sometimes when faced with a challenge at work or in my personal life (or most recently, trying to climb up onto a Bosu ball at physical therapy) I think, “Chin up, you can do it! You’re a black belt!”
There are real dangers and opponents out there, but sometimes the great nemesis is all in our heads. I’d love to see in the comments below your tactics for overcoming your self-doubt and fear. What do you do when you realize you are your own nemesis?