4 Things MMA Taught Me About Work, Life and Running a Company The octagon is the ultimate stress test for the mindset required to be successful in business.
- My experience in recreational MMA has had a major impact on me, concentrated my mindset, and allowed me to help at-risk youth.
- It has taught me that if we have trained well, done our research, and practiced adaptability under stress, we set ourselves up for success in business and life.
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There is no place for doubt when sizing up a fierce opponent across the octagon in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). In my experience as a recreational fighter and a supporter of some of Kazakhstan's best MMA athletes, I have learned that the fighter's focus is singular as it narrows into the moment. Nothing else exists. If I have prepared well, I will know my opponent's style and angles of attack — and be ready to impose my will on the contest. To be clear, I am not making an analogy that business is like combat. Instead, my passion for martial arts has been a crucible for forging a mindset that helped me as a tech company CEO.
Regardless of its image, MMA is not just about people hurting each other. In fact, the roots of the fighting disciplines are self-defense, mental wellness and competition. Crucially, it also offers a method for training the mind as well as the body. This is why we have opened gyms for kids and youth and offered the opportunity to learn MMA, along with gaining substantial soft skills. We are giving kids and youth the tools to succeed in life and work and keep learning martial arts by staying humble and disciplined.
There is so much we can all learn from the dedication and focus that MMA athletes use to meet their goals. So, here are the areas where I have applied those lessons to the competitive arena of the business world.
1. Do your prep work and scout the opponent
Call it market research. When fighting a new opponent, it's critical to watch films of their fights, learn all about their training methods, and try to get inside their head to understand how they think. When an opponent strikes, it happens at lightning speed. Mindset affects tactics and temperament, so understanding an opponent's tendencies can help predict those moves in advance.
Across sports, NBA players are given scouting reports on their direct opponents. NFL athletes spend a third of their training analyzing films of previous games. It is a similar concept in business. After founding my tech investment company in 2013, our team spent the next seven years investing in dozens of smaller companies, researching and learning from our competitors, potential clients, and partners.
Our determination to understand their strategic moves, goals and mindset yielded vital intelligence about how to shape our business and who to bring along to make us stronger. We have since combined our tech into one ecosystem, providing solutions across fintech, education, enterprise, and media. In other words, doing due diligence sets us up for success.
2. Find your balance when in motion
Research can provide intel on whether an opponent is offensive or defensive, but one will not know how they will shape up until the contest begins. Once inside the octagon, the skill of perceiving the moment allows us to know instantly whether they are masters of their domain. Then, you have to adapt to their tactical approach.
Whether the fight is won or lost in a single strike or the result of sustained pressure, being highly responsive at the moment is the key to victory. Think of the business person who goes into a meeting with a potential client, having thoroughly backgrounded themselves yet being confronted with a different response than the one they had expected — sometimes forcing them to change their proposal or strategy on the spot. However, this is still better than being unprepared and getting even worse results.
In business and martial arts, we need to think not only on our feet but also when we are down, pressured, and pivotal as evolving tactics and market disruption change the game. My MMA hobby has taught me that balance is not static but a constant state of adjustment to maintain our center. This form of fluidity allows us to remain stable in the face of a moving opponent. But despite all this, one other opponent will put our ability to stay balanced to the ultimate test: Defeat.
3. Get your ass kicked (and then get back up)
Nobody goes through life undefeated in training sessions. We all have areas in which we excel and others that have bested us. I have been in training situations where I was so fatigued I could not hold up my hands anymore, but knew that if I did not move, I would be taken down. However, even in defeat, we must get up the next day, analyze where we went wrong, and strengthen ourselves for a new battle. Studies show that athletes have higher levels of confidence, emotional control, determination, and "mental toughness." For these warriors, one loss does not mean they cannot try again. In fact, the results of rematches are often reversed because of the learning opportunity defeat provides.
Mental toughness is forged in the fire, and fighters get their asses kicked in training so they can avoid that fate in real life. To thrive in the business arena, we must also condition ourselves for life's knocks and learn from our trials. Then, the measure of our resilience will be our willingness to respond to adversity with renewed determination.