Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stuck in a rut? Stop trying.

What does it mean to try or try harder when you are doing an activity? Will trying harder allow you to lift more weight, dance better, play guitar better? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on what you mean by "try".

If you mean "concentrate more", ok that might work, but most people seem to be "trying" to do more than they are capable. If you jump as high as you can, that's all you got. You don't need to scrunch up your face to get more out of it. "Trying" is often wishing you were better than you are. It is thinking about doing something while you are doing it and, worst of all, it is clenching up muscles not involved with an activity.

Watch someone do an activity that they are new to like playing a musical instrument or rock climbing when they really want to do it well. They try to do better by flipping the "ALL SYSTEMS GO!!!!" switch and start moving like a prehistoric robot (ok, now I want someone to draw one). The wishing to be better doesn't do squat. Most activities are complex and demand subtle movement. You have to try out certain methods and slowly exchange them for better ones in a relaxed fashion.

Now, lets move on to fighting and non-cooperative/competitive training like chisao. Trying to "win" and getting all stiff doesn't lead to getting better. What you are really doing is isolating yourself from experiencing the activity.  When I started doing chisao, I wanted to be better than everyone, or at least everyone at my school. I "tried" like a banshee. I did ok, because most of the other students were trying too. Then something happened.

I would love to say that I figured something out or that I had a revelation, but actually I just got hurt. I jammed my fingers really badly twice in one night. I couldn't really move them and they hurt like hell for about a month. I still wanted to train, but I really didn't want to screw them up any worse than they were. My ego kind of went on vacation. My thinking was, "well, I am hurt so I will just kind of pretend chisao...of course I can't win while I am so hurt."

I would ask people to chisao and tell them to take it easy because of my useless sausage fingers and would just let them do what they wanted and while I went along and "watched". That was really the first time I really paid attention to my opponent. Before I was focused on beating them and not getting hit. For about a week, I just chisaoed really passively. Then I started to "feel" what the opponent was doing. Not in any mystical way, the information was always there, but I was trying too hard to pay attention to it. In a couple of weeks I was moving forward without trying to win and winning easily. In a month, I went through everyone at the school. It was pretty shocking to me at the time. I didn't really understand what was happening. I understand now.

If you are having a problem improving, let what you don't want to happen happen. If you have writer's block, write something horrible (it's harder than you think). Lose spectacularly in a tennis match. Go hit on a woman and say the most ridiculous thing imaginable. Play horrible music with as much passion as you can muster. And, if you haven't walked into a super fancy pants place-to-be-seen nightclub and hoisted up your pants and danced in the most ridiculous fashion you can muster alone in the middle of the dance floor, you are missing out on some serious fun.

Learning skills is really very simple. At first, you suck. Do the skill anyway and enjoy sucking. Stay relaxed and don't bother trying. Just smile and pretend you are awesome no matter what the evidence to the contrary.  I promise you will never stop improving as long as you do this and don't "try".

I work out with a lot of different kinds of people doing boxing, wing chun, bjj, taichi....whatever. I still make it a point to "lose" to almost anyone a few times. Keeps my ego in check and really helps me see how and why they do what they do. Mostly it's just fun.

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