The other night I was having a conversation over wings with a few of our students. We were discussing the different martial arts instructors they have been exposed to at the dojo during guest instructor seminars. The topic of one’s personal intensity came up in the context of how intense overall the various instructors were. It got me to thinking about my own intensity and how I use it in training, teaching and life in general.
Intensity may not be the perfect word to describe what I talking about here. When I say intensity, I mean that fire you draw on when you are dealing with heightened circumstances. If you train in the martial arts, you may have already experienced it at some point, whether that was during a belt test, sparring or some form of intense training circle. This mental state is basically the controlled use of adrenaline. While in this state, your surroundings are more clear. Your attitude is more serious, more focused. You’re not thinking about all the steps before taking an action, you just act on the instincts you’ve developed for yourself.
The Use of Intensity in Daily Life
People use this intensity in a variety of ways. Some people have never been in a position where they have developed the skill of using this intensity so when faced with a highly stressful situation and they enter into an adrenalized state, they are more likely to freeze up, unsure of how to channel the energy. On the other hand, some people rely on this skill so much in their daily lives that they never turn it off. Many people who work in law enforcement, in the military, even as a paramedic, make a lifestyle of living in that state, only turning the dial down when they’re not working, but never off. Some martial arts instructors even do this, getting so into what they teach they find it difficult to switch it off.
The Disadvantages of Intensity
If you have this intensity going all the time, even if it’s dialled down, it can negatively impact different aspects of life. It can make it harder to connect with people. People who are in this intense state can seem distant or disconnected emotionally. It also makes it hard to just relax and enjoy the moment.
I met one woman who had had an early childhood trauma that she had blocked out of her memory until her 40s when it all came flooding back. Because she had never fully dealt with that trauma, all her life, she lived in a hyper-aware state. She described to me that it was like she had no feeling, not just emotions, but actual physical touch. All feeling sensations were dulled. Whenever she walked into a room, she looked for potential threats as well as exit routes. She thought this was normal until that fateful day when the memory of her traumatic experience returned and, over time, she dealt with everything her mind had locked away. She has since learned how to turn her intensity dial down enough so she can enjoy life and its experiences more fully, and she now has new appreciation for it.
How I Use My Own Intensity Dial
I am quite liberal in the frequency in which I use my dial. It’s not an on-off switch. It can be fine-tuned for a variety of circumstances. I have learned that I turn it up quite high when facing situations that require that level of intensity, like when I’ve faced what appeared to be imminent physical threat. I turn it up when dealing with lower level emergency situations, like non-life-threatening first aid response situations. I adjust my dial on the fly when I am in the centre of a Jiu-jitsu/self-defense circle in which I have students of different levels attacking me with varying levels of intensity. In this case, I turn it up when a more experienced student comes in with a more physically intense attack, while I turn it down when a hesitant white belt nervously comes in to attack me. That being said, once I’ve done one dialled up attack, the less experienced, more nervous students are much less likely to go in to attack because the intensity can be somewhat intimidating.
When I’m working on something, whether I’m training a new skill, playing a competitive game, or writing a blog post, the intensity dial is on, but not all the way up. It makes me more in tune with the task at hand, more focused, and more productive.
When I’m teaching, however, particularly when dealing with an individual student, I usually dial it way down. Because teaching is a social skill, I find it easier to connect with and assist my students in this state. I’m more approachable so students don’t hesitate to ask for help, plus the help I do give them, is more dialled into their unique dilemmas. I don’t turn it off completely as I also need to be aware of what’s happening around me to help maintain safety as my students practice a very physical art.
When I socialize among my family members and friends in familiar environments, I turn the intensity dial off completely. The people who are closest to me see this side of me most often. When the dial is completely off, I am more playful, fun-loving, and sometimes even downright goofy as my closest friends will attest. The only other time I like to have the dial turned off is when I’m trying to use high levels of creativity, like when I’m trying to generate completely new ideas and approaches to something. I find that intensity can interfere with the free-flowing mental state you need to be in to be truly creative.
Using Your Own Dial
In reading this blog post, you may recognize certain levels of your own use of intensity, ones you tend to favour in your day-to-day life. As you probably know from reading this, I don’t believe that there is one single setting for the dial that we should all live in. I believe it is a truly useful life skill to be able to fine-tune your ability to set your dial to the exact right setting for every situation. I’m not saying I have it completely down. I have found it worthwhile to take a close look at my own life once in a while to think about what settings I favour, and to consider what settings I might want to use less or more often. Sometimes I turn it down so much in social situations that I say something mildly inappropriate. Other times I turn it up too much and I come across as intimidating. But the more often I play with the dial, the better I become at using it in all sorts of circumstances.
Now over to you. How do you use your own intensity dial and what settings do you favour? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.