The Toughest Opponent I Ever Fought Was Worry

Jack Dempsey’s 3 Strategies to Stop Worrying

“During my career in the ring, I found that Old Man Worry was an almost tougher opponent than the heavyweight boxers I fought.” — Jack Dempsey

Books give us perspective.

They allow us to see that our problems are not only common but have been solved, if only we take the time to look hard enough. As I was scanning through my collection of books this morning, I came across an old book; one published before the internet, but with anecdotes that could not be more prescient to today’s climate.

Below, I included one of these short parables. A letter written by Jack Dempsey, the world famous boxer who was nicknamed “the Manassa Mauler.”

Jack was no weak man. He was the heavyweight champion of the world for seven years. He is referred to as one of the most famous boxers of all-time. But he, just like most of us, dealt with the same fear of failure. The same shame of not being “enough” to others. And the same doubt that comes with any pursuit of a goal.

If Jack gave into his worries, he would receive a beating, both psychologically and physically. So, for him, it was an occupational hazard to be controlled by his emotions. He had to figure out a way to work with his fears and his worries if he was ever going to be successful. His tactics were very much tied to what scientists and psychologist would come to categorize as positive psychology, and they worked for him.

Jack Dempsey’s 3 Strategies to Stop Worrying

“I realized that I had to learn to stop worrying, or worry would sap my vitality and undermine my success. So, little by little, I worked out a system for myself.” — Jack Dempsey

1.To keep up my courage in the ring, I would give myself a pep talk during the fight…I kept saying over and over, “nothing is going to stop me. He is not going to hurt me. I won’t feel his blows. I can’t get hurt. I am going to keep going, no matter what happens.”

2.The other thing was to keep reminding myself of the futility of worry. Most of my worrying was done before the big bouts, while I was going through training. I would often lie awake at nights for hours, tossing and worrying, unable to sleep…when I got into this state of nerves, I used to get out of bed, and look into the mirror, and give myself a good talking to. I would say to myself. “what a fool you are to be worrying about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen. Life is short. I have only a few years to live, so I must enjoy life…nothing is important but my health. nothing is important but my health…I found that by saying these things to myself over and over, night after night, year after year, they finally got under my skin, and I could brush off my worries like so much water.

3. The third — and best — thing I did was pray…I have never gone to bed in my life without saying a prayer; and I have never eaten a meal in my life without first thanking God for it. Have my prayers been answered? Thousands of times!

Although the first two strategies are great, I loved Jack’s dedication to prayer. His belief that n0 matter how hard he tried there was something outside of himself necessary for his successes and his failures.

This idea, that we are not in total control of the external, is an important one. Whether you are an atheist or devout Christian, the same advice holds true. If you wish to be sane, you have to realize that you have no control over the end result. Period.

As in Jack’s case, he did everything he could. He trained. He practiced positive self-talk. He had a strict regiment. But he knew that there were things out of his control, so he prayed.

Instead of focusing entirely on the metrics and the external validation of your work, concentrate on getting better. On mastering your craft, and taking control of your worry, by not giving it priority over your goal. That way you can stand above your opponent, knowing that your hard work got you there. Or oppositely, laying on the ground looking up at your adversary, knowing that you are not less of person for being there.

Get up. Do the work. Realize you will never be able to control the outcome, but do not let that stop you from putting in the time to master your craft. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be surprised by success than failure. It is much easier to manage.

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