Guest Post by Jamie at Warrior Punch
I’ve never met a boxer – a real boxer – that wasn’t mentally tough. It’s not hard to see why; brutal training, starvation diets, and routine gut-checks before sparring sessions and fights have that effect.
But some fighters redefined what it means to have an “iron mindset.” Warriors like George Chuvalo, Arturo Gatti, and Julio Cesar Chavez effectively “weaponized” their mentalities, relying on sheer grit and toughness to break fighters whose technical skills would give them fits. Iron mindsets like these get results in any walk of life, and they’re within reach of anybody, so long as you know how it’s done.
In today’s post, the Warrior Punch team takes a look at a technique used by two of boxing’s best thinkers to help you develop an iron mindset of your own.
Briggsian Affirmations: LET’S GO CHAMP and Other Mantras
Having beaten suicide, depression, and some of boxing’s best heavyweights, Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs is a role model and authority on mental toughness, both in and out of the ring.
You might know him as the 2000s-era guy with the dreadlocks, but “the Cannon” is the real deal; this man fought George Foreman, Ray Mercer, and Vitali Klitschko (for free) – and he’s still fighting today! A twenty-year veteran in the sport at age 45, he continues to chase big fights, and has the power to crack any face into a smile.
Briggs Struggled With an Unstable Childhood
Even before he started boxing, Briggs showed resilience in the face of adversity. Raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Briggs had a rough life. After his abusive, alcoholic father died in prison, he was left in the care of his poor, heroin-addicted mother. He began to exhibit a number of health problems associated with these childhood risk factors, including asthma, depression, and low self-confidence.
On his fifteenth birthday, Briggs’ mother died of an overdose; within a year, he was homeless, sleeping on the streets and in the local boxing gym. Lacking a stable home life, Briggs got into trouble from an early age, and would later spend time in jail.
Boxing Was a Positive Force In His Life
Briggs began boxing at age 17, a decision he described on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast as life-changing. Not only did boxing get him a place to sleep, it gave him a positive outlet. He embraced the sport and excelled, winning a silver medal in the 1991 Pan American Games only four years into his training.
Though he continued to struggle with depression, boxing gave Briggs the tools to build mental toughness, as well as a platform to showcase it. Notably, he overcame a hellacious in his 2010 loss to Klitschko, fighting through a left orbital fracture, broken nose, and torn left bicep to lose a unanimous decision. Somehow, he had endured the Thunderstorm showdown, but there were still rainy days ahead.
Building an Iron Mindset with Mantras and Affirmations
Though the loss to Klitschko hurt, real life hit Briggs harder than “Dr. Ironfist” ever could. Outside of the ring, he spiraled deep into depression. He drank, overate, and lost his motivation to stay in the gym. Before long, Briggs had hit the lowest point of his life, suicidal and weighing more than 400 pounds.
Fast-forward to 2014: Briggs has rededicated himself, gotten into the best shape of his career, and strung together a series of wins. He hasn’t lost since. Today, “The Cannon” is on a 9-fight win streak and looking for big fights for big pay. He is more relevant than he’s been in years, and inspires thousands of people every day with his Instagram posts, training, and interviews.
What brought Briggs back from the brink, and how can we apply it to our own lives to develop an iron mindset?
First, he credits his daughter. “It was looking into her eyes, her beautiful face, it told me I had to live,” he told the Telegraph.
Second, he relied on the power of self-affirmation. If you’ve followed Briggs on Instagram @cannon_briggs or heard a single second of his Joe Rogan Experience podcast, you’ll likely have heard his affirmative phrase of choice:
Briggs developed this affirmation – the Briggsian affirmation, if you will – as a tool to stay positive, pump himself up, and stay focused in dark times. He describes how the universe gave him this gift in the midst of a lazy heavy-bag workout, and how he accepted it as his mantra.
The Science Behind the Briggsian Affirmation
So what’s so special about screaming #LETSGOCHAMP over and over? How could this possibly be of use?
According to Sherman (2006), the Briggsian affirmation works by strengthening our “psychological immune system” (p. 1-2). Repeating the mantra is a simple cognitive strategy we can use to insulate ourselves from negativity, doubts, and unproductive thoughts that only keep us from our goals.
Repeating mantras and affirmations also manipulates our bodies’ Reticular Activating System (RAS) in a favorable way. The RAS is responsible for the “quality control” of our conscious thoughts, acting like a filter that focuses on important information and buffers out the rest.
Repeating your chosen mantra or affirmation sends a very clear message to your RAS: this is important information!
You effectively hack your subconscious into thinking about your mantra more often, until you start to believe in it. With progress constantly on the mind, your brain begins to notice ways to help you achieve your goals. In essence, the affirmation kicks your creativity into high gear so that you can start to “self-actualize.”
For Briggs, it’s simple; when he calls himself the champ, he’s declaring it to be true, which inspires him to act and feel like he thinks a champion should.
Still not convinced? Maybe you’ve heard the Money Team mantra:
Hard work, dedication!
Mayweather has built his iron mindset around these words. He repeats his mantra as he runs, trains, and diets; you can even see him mouth it during his pre-fight walkout. In a way, his mantra has become his identity. These three words keep him grounded and focused on the work required for his lifestyle, and help him avoid the trappings of fame.
Floyd lives in unimaginable luxury, but still he grinds harder than anyone. It must be hard to stay hungry when you’ve got four personal chefs and a 5,000-square-foot kitchen, but Floyd pulls it off. He’s notorious for training three, four, even five times per day; in the “doghouse,” Floyd spars for 20 and 30-minute rounds, then polishes off his day’s work logging miles on the road at 4AM.
Today, Floyd’s dedication is unmatched, even when measured next to other boxing greats. Marvelous Marvin Hagler once told the media that it’s “hard to get up at 6AM when you’re wearing silk pajamas”. But, Mayweather doesn’t seem to have that problem. His mantra doesn’t deserve all the credit, but it’s certainly a factor.
If affirmations like this work for TBE (The Best Ever), they’ll work for you, too, champ.
Everyone has struggled with self-doubt, and whether you’re preparing for a big interview or waiting in the locker room before your fight, affirmations can help. Repeating a mantra that means something to you will have a tangible effect on your mood, energy, and motivation.
Importantly, you need to find a mantra or affirmation that works for you. They should be the billows that stoke your inner fire; if Brigg’s and Mayweather’s don’t resonate, they’ll never do.
Think about your goals and imagine yourself as a fully-evolved version of yourself – what would you call yourself? Doctor? Champion? Olympian? Dad? Build your mantra around the best version of yourself that you can imagine, then say it out loud until your brain starts finding ways to make it a reality.
Admittedly, mantras and affirmations aren’t cure-alls for depression and doubt. Like visualization, they’re part of a larger arsenal of tools you’ll need to build an iron mindset. Try one out and see if this easy mental trick can help you get out of bed in the morning, ward away nerves, or push through a workout, just like “The Cannon.”