Why Success Is Scary (Even More So than Failure)

Why Success Is Scary (Even More So than Failure)It is often said that people fail to pursue their dreams because they fear failure. They fear that if they try and don’t succeed, they’ll confirm their worse fears; that they never had it in them to begin with. As such, people only make meagre efforts, if any at all, citing various reasons for their lack of trying, not enough time, too many other commitments, etc. They never really give themselves the option of success. With that, they can always look back and believe that they had it in them, but it just wasn’t meant to be. They can hang on to the shadow of a dream. (more…)

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Size/Strength vs Technique vs Spirit in the Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Hong Man Choi

Have you ever gotten frustrated at being unable to apply a joint lock, do a throw, or get good shots in when sparring against someone much bigger or stronger than you? You’re not alone. Many people come to train in the martial arts because they’re looking for something that will help level the playing field for them if they should ever have to raise their hands to defend themselves physically. But after they’ve been training for a while, they still find themselves struggling to do the same techniques that bigger, stronger people seem able to apply more easily. They become disillusioned and often quit because they don’t realize what it takes for smaller people to be successful in the martial arts. (more…)

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Reducing Time-Wasters for Efficient Living

New Year’s is around the corner and at that time people all over the world make resolutions of what they’re going to do to improve their lives. Inevitably, many of these resolutions will fall flat. One of the most common reasons people give to explain why is lack of time. We’re all guilty of wasting time, of not making the most of the time we have in our lives. In continuing with last week’s blog “How to Live Life Efficiently and Effectively“, I’ve written about four time-wasters people frequently engage in. Think you can help “make time” by reducing your engagement in these?

1. Watching TV. The average person in Canada watches TV 16.9 hours a week. In the US, the average is approximately 21 hours. Personally, I don’t have cable or satellite TV. I’m not saying you should NEVER watch TV, but at the very least, it’s good to be selective. I have a few shows that I choose to watch, but I either watch them on DVD or through the Internet when I’ve made a conscious choice to watch them. I don’t really sit down and turn on the TV because I have nothing better to do. I turn on the TV because I’ve decided that I want to watch an episode of one of my shows to relax, usually with my husband. On average, I don’t watch more than 3 hours of TV in a week.

2. Surfing the Internet. The average person in Canada surfs the Internet more than 18 hours a week. In the US, the average is approximately 29 hours. Granted, the average is higher because a lot of people use it for work, research and communication, which is not necessarily time wasted. How do you spend your time on the Web? Are you using it to enrich your hobbies, relationships, work, etc? Or are you spending the time checking out Failblog, watching inane videos, reading/forwarding chain letter emails, etc? I try to use the Internet mostly to enrich my life, minimizing “clutter” surfing when I can avoid it. I’m not 100% consistent, but I am very aware when I am doing clutter surfing, so that I don’t get carried away doing it.

3. Playing Video Games. I used to be an avid video game player. Back when I was in high school and even university, I could play video games for hours at a time. I found them very addictive. Nowadays, I still have an Xbox in the house, but I limit my video game playing to social activities. I don’t really play games by myself anymore. I can’t afford to get caught up in them like I used to. I will, however, play Rock Band at parties or play co-op games with friends every so often.

4. Spending Time People Who Aren’t Worth Our Time. This one is a tricky one. We may not always know when our friends aren’t worth our time. Sometimes we spend time with people out of habit not realizing that those people aren’t good for us. Some people drum up pointless drama for themselves, creating problems that don’t exist, both for themselves and others. Other people are negative and nasty and point out the problems with people and things around them constantly. If you find that a person you hang out with causes you a lot of stress or brings you down, you may want to reconsider the amount of time you devote to that friendship. There may be some exceptions, like maybe your friend is going through a rough time and needs the support of people around them to pull themselves out of it, but if it’s not something like that, it’s worth considering.

It’s amazing how much time you can free up for the things you want to do most in life, whether those things are training in martial arts, writing a book, or spending special time with your loved ones.

What are your worst time-wasters and what steps can you take to reduce them?

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How to Live Life Efficiently and Effectively

Every so often people ask me how I manage to do so many things in my life. People often find it hard to make time for things like martial arts, writing, and other hobbies while balancing their jobs and personal relationships. My ability to live life efficiently and effectively is about knowing my roles and setting goals.

Knowing Your Roles

We all have roles in our lives. Some we choose. Some are chosen for us. To live life efficiently and effectively, it’s important not to let other people define our roles for us. You have to choose your own path. You’re more likely to stay focused and motivated if you’ve chosen your roles based on your own personal values.

Here are my roles for example (in no particular order):

1) martial artist
2) teacher
3) writer
4) wife
5) daughter/sister
6) friend

These are the roles that I define myself by. Knowing these roles is fundamental to setting personal goals. Of course, I do other things with my life. I do marketing contract work as a sort of “day job”, but notice that I didn’t put “marketing consultant” on the list. It is not one of my life roles that define me. Though the work I do as a marketing consultant does play a factor is my role as “wife” in terms of providing in my family, and for my role as “teacher” as I use the skills to bring in more students.

Setting Your Goals

Without setting goals, people often end up spinning their wheels, or working very hard to end up in a place they don’t want to be. This is not the way to live life efficiently. Once you’ve set your roles, you should set goals related to them, long term, medium term, short term and daily. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s fun work.

Long-Term Goals
Long term goals are about what you want most in life. Ask yourself this: what do you want to have accomplished by the end of your life? Let yourself dream big. One of my long term goals is to be a martial arts master who truly understands the inner workings of the arts and has an international reputation as a teacher. I also want to be an internationally renowned author, with several dozen books under my belt.

Medium Term Goals
Medium term goals are ones that you’re working toward over the next 1-3 years or so. These should be related to your long term goals. Following my long term goals listed above, I have the following medium term goals; I want to earn my purple belt in Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu (by March 2011). I want to promote at least 5 students to purple or blue belt (by July 2011). I want to establish of base of 40 students (by January 2012). I want to move to a larger dojo location that would allow me to use all my mats (by April 2012). I want to publish a martial arts book (by January 2012).

Short Term Goals
Short term goals are your weekly and/or monthly goals. Depending on the scope of your work, you may prefer to use one or the other, or a combination of the two. For example, following my medium term goal of wanting to earn my purple belt, here are a couple of examples of monthly goals: Train in Shorinji Kan curriculum at least 8 times. Memorize the Japanese terms for each technique. Weekly goals are simply an extension of these, for example: Train in Shorinji Kan curriculum twice. Memorize the Japanese terms for 4 techniques.

Daily Goals
Daily goals are probably the most important part of the whole goal setting process. Personally, I set 6 goals for myself each day that all pertain to my life roles. Here is an example of a typical set of daily goals:

1) Write a blog post for (roles: martial artist, teacher, writer)
2) Plan belt gradings for the next month and email students about dates (roles: martial artist, teacher).
3) Do 3 hours of marketing contract work (roles: wife).
4) Finish writing wedding thank you cards (roles: daughter, sister, friend, wife).
5) Do visualization practice and work on memorizing 4 Japanese terms for Shorinji Kan techniques (roles: martial artist).
6) Run a great class at the dojo tonight (roles: martial artist, teacher).

There may be other tasks I need to do in a day that appear on a separate list, but these ones are ones that pertain to my life roles and ultimately, my long term goals. If something on this list doesn’t get done in a day, it gets bumped to the top of the list the next day. By always adhering to your daily goals, you ensure that every day you’re doing something that contributes to what you want to be and achieve in life.

I will continue on with this theme further in my next blog post about reducing or eliminating time wasters.

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Fail Better: How to Learn from Your Mistakes

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
-Samuel Beckett

When training in the martial arts, you will at some point fail to do something. And this is a good thing. One should go so far as to hope to fail throughout their training career. It is failure that makes us stronger, smarter, more technical martial arts. But it’s not just about failing. It’s about failing better, failing in such a way that you learn from it and adapt quickly to address the problem that led to the failure.

In my 16 years in the martial arts, I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of failures, failures to learn quickly, failures to defend one’s self, failures to complete a set of physical exercises, etc. The ones who bounce back the quickest are the ones that fail better.

Here are 7 ways to fail better that came from an article recently published in Psychology Today that I’ve put in perspective for martial artists:

1. Lighten Up

Most people who bounce back from setbacks have a sense of humor. They know when they’re taking things and themselves too seriously. I’ve seen students who were so paralyzed by fear of failure that they handicap themselves, sabotaging themselves by providing reasons for why they fail and will continue to fail at something. There is a certain logic to it, because, hey, if something prevented you from doing your best, you can’t be said to have failed, right? Humour is about stepping back for fresh perspective. Many believe that it’s something you’re born with, but we can become better at seeing the lighter side by sheer exposure to that way of thinking. And it does take the edge off of failure. After all, an embarrassment today makes for an entertaining story tomorrow.

2. Join the Club

Misery loves company. There’s can be value in commiseration. Some students will speak to others who have similar training problems. The positive side to this is that it can give them the impulse and insight to do something about it. They train together to work through their difficulties and try to find the right questions to ask in order to get the best direction from instructors. That being said, any such discussion should be positively oriented, seeking to find solutions, as opposed to pure commiseration of one’s difficulties, which may only serve to build the walls surrounding the problem.

3. Feel Guilt, Not Shame

The difference between guilt and shame is the reason we assign as to why failure occurs, notes Richard Robins, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Guilt says it’s “something I did.” But shame means feeling failure occurred because of “something I am” — in which case, you expect failure and don’t act to avoid it.

But the cycle of learned helplessness can be broken. Instead of thinking “I’m a failure,” think “I’m a normal person who made a mistake I can learn from.” If your perpetual explanation for your failures is simply, “I suck,” you might need to practice looking outward and ask yourself, “What other things — things that aren’t about me — might have caused this failure to perform?”

On the other hand, if your story is, “It’s never about me,” you may need to seek out some aspects of the problem you can do something about. Because let’s face it, you do mess up, everyone does. In which case you need to own the failure, see what you can learn from it, and move on.

4. Cultivate Optimism

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so,” said Hamlet. Paying attention to the positive infuses you with hope, creating a climate in which your failures lose their sting and a belief that things will get better if you work at it prevails.

5. Scale Down Your Expectations for Yourself

When we succeed, we tend to just ratchet up our expectations for ourselves and not get much of pleasure out of it. But when we fail, it’s much harder to ratchet down our expectations for ourselves. “That might be what failing well is,” says psychologist Jonathan Haidt. “A willingness to lower our sights when that’s realistically required.” If failure is about failing to meet goals you set for yourself, then one way to avoid failing is to revise those now-outdated goals. That way, instead of failing on a stage you once mastered, you’re still succeeding on a more modest stage.

6. Don’t Blame Yourself

Self-blame is corrosive. Blaming yourself for the every training problem you ever encounter makes you metabolize failure badly. This makes you get down on yourself and your training. The more you blame yourself for problems, the worse you feel about your training, the less you’ll grow past those problems. And it’s a vicious circle. By contrast, students who accept their difficulties and believe in their abilities to work through them, usually do so. The stronger that belief, the faster they’ll adapt and learn to fix them.

7. Embrace Failure

Failure is an opportunity to grow. Seize it and appreciate how much it can teach you.

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Natural Talent vs. Systematic Practice in the Martial Arts

I read an interesting article about peak performance in the NY Times. Part of it discusses the importance of the total number of hours of practice time vs. natural talent in the development of peak performance in a sport or art.

Having taught Jiu-jitsu for 12 years, I’ve seen all types of students and what it takes within them to excel in the long run in a martial art. I agree that hours of practice does correlate with excellence. However it’s not just about mechanical repetition.

My Sensei, Ed Hiscoe, always said: “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” This, of course, does not mean he expects everyone to only practice if they can do it perfectly. It means the student should practice and consciously make corrections as they practice to continually get closer and closer to their goal. If a student only mechanically repeats movements without analyzing them for improvement, they will never fix the problems they may be having with technique.

While practice is a key component in developing as a martial artist, natural talent is also factor. Every so often I get a student who can learn and adapt amazingly fast, even without prior training. If these students put in the hours, the have the capacity to become awesome martial artists. The practice process is the same as it is for other students, except that they take on corrections and adjustments faster, which leads to their faster development as a martial artist overall. That being said, natural ability isn’t enough on its own.

I’ve seen talented individuals come and go from my mats. The reason they don’t necessarily make it as martial artists is that they don’t have the motivation and temperament to continue their practice through the inevitable plateaus that appear, particularly in later stages of development.

On the other hand, I’ve also had students who are of average ability, but because they’re motivated, they maintain their practice through the plateaus to achieve great things. It may take them longer, but by maintaining consistent motivation to train, they get there eventually.

So what should we take away from all this? I can tell you from many years of having observed my students: It doesn’t matter if you have natural talent. If you have the motivation to put in your hours of training, you’ll eventually succeed in your goals, given the right training atmosphere. And if you love what you’re doing, you won’t care if it takes longer to develop because you enjoy training for training’s sake.

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