The Eighth and Most Important Rule of Fight Club

Fight Club

If you watched Fight Club, then you know the Tyler Durden’s first and second rule, but what you may not recall is the eighth rule, and it can change your life:

“And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.”

When was the last time you got into a fight? Not an argument, or when you took your ball and went home, but a real fight where you could be seriously injured. I'm guessing it’s been a while, if ever.

I regularly train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu style of martial arts. It’s known as the “gentle” art, but it is anything but. I’ve dislocated fingers, received an elbow to the face resulting in a black eye, gotten a bad case of turf toe, and have been choked so hard it left bruises and burns on my neck—and that is just in practice with my training partners.

The objective of a match is to force your opponent to submit or face dire consequences.

This includes being choked until you pass out or die, or receiving a broken elbow, ankle, wrist, or knee. (It’s more fun than it sounds, or it may be the case that I’ve lost all sense of danger!)

Imagine yourself in a studio full of people who show up to do this a few times each week. It’s close to the end of the training session which is when you spar with an opponent. Someone looks at you and asks, “You want to roll?” 

You know that this person’s only goal for the next five minutes is to put you in a position of choosing a broken arm or submitting. If you’re a rational person, the answer to the question is obviously “no thanks.”

The next question then is, why not? Humans have been fighting since there were humans. It’s in our nature. Don't believe me; yell at my kids, and you will see my wife, who is the calmest, friendliest and most non-violent person turn into a mama grizzly bear with big teeth and sharp fangs in a second flat.

Why, then, would we avoid such a human experience? I ask myself this question every week because sparring with training partners is an essential part of the practice. Even after nearly three years of training and hundreds of matches, I feel a familiar surge of anxiety wash over me right before every match. 

I call it a familiar surge of anxiety because it’s the same feeling I face every day as a small business owner, or when I take the stage to give a talk or publish articles and videos on social media. My heart begins to beat faster and higher in my chest. My breathing feels constricted to just my throat, and my mind starts spinning around all the worst-case scenarios.

Why does this happen? It’s because we crave certainty. We may think we are addicted to coffee or Game of Thrones, but they pale in comparison to our addiction to certainty, and it’s limiting our professional success and personal happiness. I know what the outcome will be if I don’t spar—I will change my clothes and go about my day. If I spar, I might lose the match or be injured in the process. I might spend the rest of my day thinking about how I should have done better or what I could have done different. I might feel bad about myself.

Our addiction to certainty is limiting our professional success and personal happiness.

This desire for certainty can be a strong motivator for setting and achieving goals, but in some ways, it can also hold us back because it helps us rationalize why we shouldn’t take risk. When we are faced with a choice, we often choose the safest route because we believe it offers us more certainty of how things will turn out.

Certainty makes us feel safe, comfortable, secure, stable, and protected and provides predictability. It’s logical why we crave certainty but it can show up for us in unproductive ways.

What are the unproductive results chasing certainty?

Settling for Less

Have you ever worked a job or hung around people who brought you down? Have you ever said to yourself, “Well, this is just the way I am, or this is what I deserve?”

 If you’ve ever started a sentence with the words “I wish I could . . .” to someone who’s doing it, then you are settling for less. When you settle for less, you are allowing the desire for certainty to win the fight against asking more from yourself.

Avoiding Hurt

Getting hurt is part of the growing process. If you make every effort to avoid being hurt, then you are letting your desire for certainty win and it’s costing you. Is it really worth being alone because you don't want your heart broken again? Is showing up for that job you hate every day better than interviewing with new companies and possibly being rejected?

Half-Assing It

I remember a conversation with a friend who was a new nurse. She was telling us how she wanted to work in a better department. She might have been working professionally for six months at the time and had decided that the department she was in wasn’t right for her, so she wasn’t going to give it her all. She actually said the words, “I will be awesome when I get into the other department.”

I remember thinking about how poor her logic was, “I’ll be a C player and hope to be noticed by the department I want to work in, then I’ll be the A player.”  (Good luck with that.)

It reminded me of something Earl Nightingale once said: “I will look at the stove and say give me the heat, and then I will add the wood.”

Not putting in the effort says to the world, “I want you to guarantee me the results before I’m willing to put in the effort.”

How can you overcome your overactive desire for certainty?

Recognize and Name the Feeling

What makes you anxious? Is it speaking up in meetings? Is it going on stage to present your ideas? How about the thought of committing to running a marathon? Is it putting your resume together and finally looking for that new job? Could it be asking for the raise you deserve?

Whatever it might be for you, it’s important to sit with the feeling. What does it feel like to you? Get out a piece of paper and try to describe the physical and emotional feeling of it. Ask yourself why you might have such strong feelings. How are the feelings serving you?

Sitting with the feeling and not avoiding it will allow you to become more objective about it. A quick warning: The feelings won’t go away but shining a light on them will make them less powerful.

Use your Desire for Certainty in a New Way

If we are hardwired to seek certainty, then perhaps we can upgrade to a more productive certainty. What happens if you do nothing? What changes if you continue to play it safe? Whose life will you make better by waiting to be awesome? Reframing certainty in this way will allow you to quickly feel how much you and everyone else stand to lose in the long term by choosing to settle for less, avoiding hurt, or half-assing it.

Make Lots of Small Bets

It’s natural not to want to waste time or embarrass yourself, but that short-term certainty will show up and win the fight if you let it keep you from trying to create value for others.

If I’ve learned anything in my two years of running a small business, it’s to make small bets. Stop worrying about whether it’s good or valuable or worth the effort. We are hurt more by what we don’t do than by the pain of embarrassing ourselves. A friend of mine gave me some advice early on when I asked him about strategy. He said, “Make friends and help people.” If you’re trying to help people, then anything you do is worth it.

Do you want to write a book? Start with a short article and post it on LinkedIn. It doesn't matter if anyone reads it or likes it. What matters is that you overcome the fear of sharing your ideas with the world.

Want to get a promotion or work in a better department? Start by being the very best in your current job and building relationships with the people making decisions. It doesn't matter if you get the promotion or job right away. What matters is that you’ve proven to yourself that you are worthy of the next level of responsibilities.

Want to work for a new organization where you feel more valued? Start by inviting people to coffee or lunch. Don’t ask for anything yet. Just be curious about them and what they are doing. It doesn't matter if they have a job opening or if they think you’re a good candidate. What matters is that you are learning to overcome the fear of rejection.

Final Thoughts

When I first started going to jiu-jitsu, I was anxious about getting hurt. Once I got comfortable with going to classes, I then began to rationalize that it wasn’t worth getting hurt, so I would skip sparing with opponents. I noticed the pattern in my behavior and began forcing myself to spar every time it’s offered.  What I’ve noticed is that my desire for certainty and resulting anxiety remains, but the more I face it the less power it has over me. 

Ryan Holiday has a great book titled The Obstacle is the Way. It was inspired by Marcus Aurelius when he wrote, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

What I am learning most in jiu-jitsu isn’t the martial art but rather what I am learning about myself. Showing up over and over again helps me learn a deeper level of self-awareness. Subjecting myself to the fight gives me an opportunity to better recognize and acknowledge my desire for certainty and helps me practice overcome those feelings and do it anyway. 


Fight uncertainty with a copy of our Uncertainty Worksheet

Overcome the need for certainty with our free worksheet. These questions will help you be motivated by uncertainty rather than freeze in the midst of it. Get your copy today.

Jeff Shannon