Georges St-Pierre is one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. It’s a reputation that has taken many years of diligence and persistence to establish.
In his career, St-Pierre has earned a 26-2 ledger, avenging each of his losses. During that span, he won a historic nine consecutive title defenses in the UFC’s welterweight division and went on to be only the fourth person to hold a belt in two separate weight classes. He claimed that distinction after beating Michael Bisping at the end of 2017 for the middleweight title.
In all his success, it wasn’t just physical prowess that made it possible. It has been a deliberate effort by St-Pierre to concentrate on building an elite level of confidence and focus.
St-Pierre is adamant about the importance of confidence when competing. Confidence, he explains, is like a credit card. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have a way to access that money, it can’t help you when you need it.
Even if you possess a world-class level of athleticism and skill, without confidence you can’t access that potential when you’re in a fight. Circling back to St-Pierre’s credit card metaphor, in essence you’re wealthy, but with no access to what’s in your bank. Confidence acts as a credit card to access the ability. As simple as it sounds, there must be something in the bank to withdraw. In this case, confidence without ability creates a disconnect. If you are confident when you enter a fight, but you don’t have the skills gained through training, you’re in trouble.
By changing myself from the inside out, I changed my environment as well.
As a child, St-Pierre was bullied, which led him to pursue a form of self defense. During that tough period of his life, he would walk with his head down and his shoulders up high, making him a target for bullies. But as he began to develop skills through martial arts, there was a marked change and the harassment faded.
He wants others to learn from his lessons and the first teaching is: Fake it until you make it. Outwardly present confidence and it will permeate in several ways. He pointed out, be more confident in your posture, change the way you walk and talk. Make eye contact while talking to others and shake hands firmly.
There are elements of that notion he carried with him into the MMA world. He said he puts on a mask before each fight, allowing him to escape into a state of confidence. He explains humans are very similar to animals. Predatory animals seek out prey that appear weak. By putting on this proverbial mask, it allows the wearer to disguise any weakness, while gaining a positive change in how one is treated. That will, in turn, allow feelings of confidence to settle in.
“What martial arts gave me is the confidence,” St-Pierre said. “I knew that I knew how to defend myself and … it created more confidence in me. I knew I needed to put on a mask because when you play poker or you’re going to fight, you can’t show your weakness. By changing myself from the inside out, I changed my environment as well.”
For him, having that confidence mixed with his martial arts ability held a direct correlation to his MMA career.
Visualization is another key component in fostering a new level of confidence. St-Pierre urges people to always imagine yourself achieving your goal, whether it’s winning a tournament or beating an opponent. Do this as much as possible. Negative thoughts are natural and can creep in at any moment, but it’s important to visualize turning the match around before it’s done. Doing this ensures you see yourself winning consistently before there is even a fight.
“I act like it’s impossible for me to fail,” St-Pierre said.
Once inside the cage, St-Pierre, like most professional athletes, has incorporated an excellent level of focus. He is able to ignore the unimportant commotion, while honing in on the necessary information in a fight. For instance, during a bout St-Pierre is able to pay attention to the time left in the round, the advice of his corner, and even the advice of the opponent’s corner, all while contending with an adversary in front of him.
The ability to process what is happening with a detailed level of focus can allow a person to avoid an overload of information. You’re able to block out the crowd noise or how you were feeling earlier in the day. Instead, you’re keeping pace with the task at hand.
Developing that focus comes in two forms that work in conjunction with the other. The first is to have a simple, well-rehearsed game plan. And secondly, focus only on things that you can control, ignoring what you can’t.
According to St-Pierre, it’s imperative to have a clear, simple, and practiced gameplan to focus on during a match. One point of focus for St-Pierre against Bisping was to “Stay all the way in or all the way out.” It was a simple plan, allowing for a clear direction. More importantly, there was no way that psyche could be clouded through overthinking.
In the lead up to a fight, only focus on things inside your control, while eschewing those things that can’t be controlled. Thoughts on headaches, how you slept the night before or the opinions of others, to name a few, should be jettisoned. What you should focus on is the execution of your well-rehearsed game plan.
These are all things that helped a kid, once the victim of schoolyard bullies, transform into one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time.