Practicing Courage Through Movement
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Do one thing everyday that scares you. - Eleanor Roosevelt
After practicing movement and martial arts for so long, I sometimes lose track of the reasons I started in the first place. Lately, I've been on a bit of a hiatus, but I was able to get some training time in last weekend. The combination of time off plus the intensity of training reminded me of why I do this in the first place, and, more importantly, why I want to do this every single day.
You see, when I train regularly, I feel capable. I feel like I can handle whatever life might throw at me. I feel eager to face more tests and rise to more challenges.
I think this is one of the most important elements of any kind of regular training routine: that it allows us to challenge ourselves in such a way that we can overcome small hardships regularly. This gives us the mental stance of seeking out more challenges, rather than avoiding them.
One reason I feel so off when I'm not practicing regularly is because I'm stagnating. In the absence of challenge, the spirit turns soft, just as the body becomes weak in the absence of load.
Applying Your Training to Everyday Life
Many of the obstacles we face require us to trust in our skills, to work with and rely on others, to go out on a limb, or to take a leap of faith. Sometimes the biggest thing stopping us is fear of the consequences of failure: if things go horribly wrong, can I land on my feet?
So how can movement training help with this?
I'll use this weekend's training session as an example. The main focus of the workout was actually overcoming fear, so the skill I was working towards was balancing across the top of a swing set. The surface itself was well within my capabilities, but the height added an element of fear that made it much harder. Here is a list of the ways I tried to accomplish that and what I learned.
- Crawl across: I learned that I always have a fallback if I need it. It might not be as fast or effective, but it gives me a way to accomplish the task without any fear of falling. The lesson: Just because you can't do something well doesn't mean you can't, or shouldn't, do it at all. Starting and making do with what you've got is the best way to get better.
- Stand: I tried standing on the beam, and actually did pretty well. As I lifted my body, I tried to do exactly what I normally do when balancing: look straight ahead and trust my feet. Of course, when you're ten feet off the ground, there is a very strong urge to look down, which I did by reflex. I immediately fell, but was able to easily catch myself and get back on the beam. That alone put my fears in perspective; even if the worst should happen, I had the ability to save the situation and get back on to keep going. Lesson: In other areas of life, we may discount our ability to handle the inevitable crises and difficulties that will crop up, and this can paralyze us from taking any action at all. Just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing; quite the opposite in fact.
- Crouch Walk: Getting across the beam in some kind of walk forced me to hold myself up and actually move forward. Every time I started losing balance, I reminded myself that the fear was extra and had nothing to do with how to perform this skill. I just focused on doing the things I normally do: look up, keep my spine straight, rise off the beam a little, and move forward! Every time I started to think, "This is different from anything else," I would hunch down and get wobbly. The lesson: Sometimes situations only look bad but are actually something we are accustomed to. We shouldn't change our routines when we know they work just because the stakes have changed.
- Falling: I fell a lot, but I never got hurt. I was able to catch myself every time, partly because I was being extremely careful but also because I knew my limits. Even if I wasn't the greatest at balancing, I have good reflexes and am a powerful climber. I'd also tested my falling ability in less dangerous situations, so I knew what I could handle. Each time I fell, I was less scared to get up and try again. The lesson: Know your limits and your abilities. Don't go beyond them, but also don't underestimate them. Also, failure is an important part of learning confidence, because it teaches us a) what not to do, and b) that the consequences aren't as severe as we fear.
- Overall: Being up on the swing was actually really scary, to the point that I would be shaking and my heart rate would elevate just crouching there. I had to focus my breathing and mindset to calm down. That enabled me to perform better. The effect of fear was far out of proportion to the situation. The lesson: our fear of something isn't necessarily related to how good we are at it, and might not be a good indicator of whether we have any business doing something. Being able to see fear as something separate from the action can help us put it into perspective.
- Climbing up: Climbing on top of a swing set takes some doing. That's a lot of work to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Getting out of the situation (safely) is almost as difficult. So once you're up there, you're committed. The lesson: It's useful to learn how to put ourselves in situations we can't easily back out of, and it gives an understanding of what commitment entails. We don't often deal with that in a society that provides safety nets and escape routes for so many things, with plenty of ways to walk away without incurring consequences.
Walking home, I felt more in control of myself, having explored an entire toolbox of mental tools to overcome my inner demons and accomplish my goals despite them. I was energized and eager to tackle the blocks in my life, confident that I could handle them.
Obviously, you don't have to be ten feet up to face your fears, but the point is that it should be a part of your training or practice. Doing that safely requires a careful and skillful manipulation of risk and danger to challenge your sense of safety without actually putting you in harm's way.
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