‘Mental Jiu-Jitsu’

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3rd April 2024

On May 2, 1972, Bruce Springsteen auditioned for the record producer John Hammond.

Hammond had signed icons like Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin—two of Springsteen’s heroes.

“I would’ve been in a state of complete panic,” Springsteen said, “except on the way up in the elevator, I performed a little mental jiu-jitsu on myself.”

“I thought, ‘I’ve got nothing, so I’ve got nothing to lose. The worst thing that can happen is I come out of here exactly as I am.

If nothing happens, I’m going to walk out of here, the same person as when I walked in.”

With this mindset, Springsteen said, instead of panicking, he walked out of the elevator feeling confident.

Hammond said, “play me something.”

Springsteen performed his song, “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.”

“When I was done I looked up,” Springsteen writes, “and I heard him say, ‘You’ve got to be on Columbia Records.”

Springsteen signed a ten-album deal and would go on to record with Hammond and Columbia Records for the next fifty years.

What Springsteen called “Mental Jiu-Jitsu” is the art of engaging with your own thoughts and deflecting them; of always being ready with an alternate perspective, prepared for times of stress.

‘Mental Jiu Jitsu’ is known in psychology as “Cognitive Reframing.”

Whether it’s public speaking, a big game, or a potentially life-changing audition, it can be helpful to reframe the situation as something that isn’t that important.

Of course, “a little Mental Jiu-Jitsu” is useless without a little ability.

As James Clear, the author of the bestseller, ‘Atomic Habits’ likes to say: “Confidence is displayed ability, It’s not ‘faking it till you make it’—that’s asking you to believe something without having evidence for it.

And we have a word for beliefs that don’t have evidence—we call it ‘delusion.’

Before Springsteen walked in to audition for John Hammond, he had generated a lot of evidence:

“I had a lot of experience when I got signed, I’d been playing everywhere—every fireman’s fair, every bowling alley, every pizza parlor—for 8 or 9 years by that point.”

Bruce Springsteen sums it up beautifully, “It’s like anything else: you have to first take your mind to where you hope your body will follow. You’ve got to imagine the person you want to be before you can become that person. But then you need to acquire the skills to actually become that person. That’s where most people run out of luck: they don’t do the work to acquire the skills.”

At times of stress, perform a little ‘Mental Jiu Jitsu’ and stay blessed forever.