Mental Strength in Judo; Mental Strength in Life - Commoncog

This is a follow up to an earlier piece titled An Expertise Acceleration Experiment in Judo. You should read that before starting on this.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

Super interesting. Thanks for vulnerably sharing your journey, and how it applies to the rest of your life.

And I think it’s common to need somebody to push you into uncomfortable territory. Most people need a coach or manager to push them off the ledge and believe that they can do it, or at least figure it out. That being said, it is a superpower to just dive into the discomfort (the first essay you linked in the email has a link to Staring into the abyss as a core life skill | which discusses building that skill after seeing others model it).

So now that you’ve discovered this about yourself, do you want to engage with it, and improve?

If so, there’s some practices you can try - varying your routine, setting aside time each week to ask yourself “What am I not engaging with?”, building a habit of making the uncomfortable choice when you notice, etc. It might help to find a friend or accountability partner who is energized by new situations, as doing activities with them will let you build confidence in your own ability to handle such situations (a journey i’ve been on with my wife over the past several years as I like routine, and she needs novelty). Over time, you will realize that it’s just a choice, and you can stop preplaying the decision, and trust your ability to handle whatever happens.


But was the expertise acceleration successful? If I were to compare it against training recreationally a few times a week: yes, it was successful. If I were to compare it against the training program of my youth: absolutely, it was more effective and pedagogically better in every way.

So, by any reasonable standard you could have set at the beginning of the experiment, it was a success.

@ramon’s wisdom bears repeating here:

I’ve started paying a lot more attention to celebration of successes and failures in continuous improvement because of it. Because if you never stop to celebrate successful changes or learning from the unsuccessful changes it really becomes a treadmill without an end.

And then you write:

But if I were to compare it against what I know could be possible today, having gone through this journey, then I guess my answer is no — I did not benefit from the training as much as I could.

No matter what you achieve, you’ll always be able to conjure a greater mythic hero your results won’t measure up to. Or at least, I am prone to this, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to conjure.

If doing this works as fuel, and doesn’t keep you from acknowledging and celebrating your progress, that’s fine. Just remember that the hero you conjure isn’t real.


Really interesting retrospective, I liked it a lot.

I think it’s really cool that you did this, and it seems like you should be proud of yourself (for taking the plunge to do this and winning your first match if nothing else).

In some ways, I think Judo seems applicable to business:

  • it’s easy to see how you’re doing – did you win? good job, you’re doing well. similarly, as an entrepreneur, are you making money? ditto. As Patrick McKenzie says, revenue is your best productivity metric. No participation trophies and raw effort doesn’t guarantee anything.

  • There are multiple ways to achieve your goals. I don’t know anything about Judo, but I gathered this from your throwing vs gripping discussion. In the same way, there are obviously a ton of different ways to succeed in business with a ton of different personality types, aptitudes, etc.

However, I think they’re different in some major ways:

  • Judo (like all competitive sports) is zero sum, business is positive sum. This makes succeeding at business a lot easier IMO, esp for us overthinking types

  • Realistically, there are many more ways to succeed via business (or the market generally) than a sport. Yeah, gripping and throwing are different, but not as different as working as a content marketer vs (say) an uber driver, or a doctor, or a manger or whatever.

So as much as I’m down with embracing harsh reality of own imperfections etc, I would reject that who you are on the judo mat is who you are off the mats. I also reject that most of life is fighting (as opposed to a positive sum game).

That said, I do think it’s very worthwhile to reflect on this experience and what it says about you and how you can improve, and that this type of reflecting isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It’s to your credit that you’re doing it.

I am wondering though if your realizations about your weaknesses are nec as true as you think. For example, you took a massive plunge in starting Commoncog. That seems like a pretty big leap, no? I’m not up on the origin stories but I don’t get the impression it was someone (a boss etc) else forcing you off that ledge.


This comment opened up the insight (for me) that continuous improvement done well (certainly applies to @cedric’s judo experiment) is relentless in two distinctly different ways.

  1. There’s a constant cycle of changes, the next improvement, which is relentless in its own right
  2. Participating in the continuous improvement process itself, with the focus on learning, opens up your perspective on what is possible

The latter causes you to put the bar much higher than you normally would. In fact, reflecting on the non-intuitive truth about process improvement, from the 2nd article “how to become data-driven”

To simplify further, SPC tells us that we should:

  • Reengineer or completely rethink the good processes
  • And tweak the bad processes.

points clearly at an understanding of local maximum (what you achieved during your judo experiment) and growing understanding of what the global maximum might look like. (What you could achieve rerunning your judo experiment with your new gained knowledge).

I think this is ultimately what makes continuous improvement so exhausting.

You both engage in a constant learning exercise to reach for a local maximum while simultaneously learning through the process how far away the local maximum is from the possible global maximum.


It was indeed an interesting read. It make me wonder whether the realization that you need to develop mental toughness and other skills comes from having the right person (your coach) knowing/pointing out where you go wrong, and have some notions of at least what the right way looks like.

This seems to be the difference between Judo and working in a startup where almost no one knows what’s “the right it” looks like (been reading the book The Right It so I’m borrowing the term), and the feeling that we’re going in a wrong direction often develops in the form of vaguely felt exhaustion or irritation. I’m curious whether lessons from Deliberate Practice could apply to the startup world.


I also found this post compelling and respect the level of vulnerability echoed, as well as the quality of insights and encouragement of everyone responding here.

I will add that your worry about not providing much value because you didn’t structure this to “make it useful”. You are a good enough writer that if you are writing about something you find interesting, I am going to learn something useful. While being explicit and structured is important, and your typical style is probably best for public posts, for members-only posts you can rely on the tacit knowledge you capture in telling your story to be valuable to us.

One other point related to “who you are on the mats is who you are off the mats” - this statement is not true/false, it is useful in some ways and not useful in others. The interpretation “judo exposes your areas for improvement both in judo and in life” is useful, but the interpretation “losing at judo means you can’t win at life” is not useful.

What I see is someone who wants to be great who is not perfect. Should I have expected something else?


Thank you all for the kind words. <3 I took some time to respond, mostly because I was, err, trying not to think too hard about the fact I wrote all those words and put it out in public.

Oh god yes this. I, too, like routine, and my wife needs novelty. So one thing that I’m trying to do is to try out new risky bike paths, and new routines or ordering weird new dishes that I normally would never do before the experiment. The other day I bought a brand new pasta shape at the supermarket and felt it was an achievement; my wife laughed at me.

Thank you for that reminder :slight_smile:

And this was really helpful too!

Thank you for pointing this out. There are limits to the saying, and I’ve greatly enjoyed reminders that business is not like Judo.

It was more like I … erm, fell into it, actually. :sweat_smile:

But thank you once again for the main point you made!

Yes, this. Exactly this.

Probably in the micro, for well defined skills. It’s an interesting question to ask if effectual thinking (which seems to be the primary type of thinking in early stage startups) is amenable to deliberate practice. I think … maybe not?

A good reminder. I think useful/not useful is a nice alternative way of framing this — and it is true that treating it as not useful in some contexts is a good idea.

Thank you for the kind words, @Roger :man_bowing:

I guess this goes without saying, but I want to say it anyway: thank you to all of you who read this. I know it was a very long piece. I’m glad to be back in one piece.