This year I’m preparing to graduate from a few things including a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. While it’s really cool to finally have a degree, I don’t consider it my first. My first degree is literally that: a first-degree black belt. Honestly, the things I learned in my time training for it have always been relevant and important, even when studying at university. I have recently returned to training and it has been reinforcing a lot of these lessons, some of which needed refreshing. As I relearned them it was like 'ah, I already knew this! How could I forget!' So here they are written down so I hopefully don't forget them again.Swimmer: Bikiniboo via Etsy
1. If I’m lazy, I’m accountable to that
This is a basic law of investment. You only get out what you put in. Karate is hard. It is super hard when you’re unfit. I hoped I wouldn’t have to learn that again but, here I am, slogging through this stuff with a very unfit body. Lifting my legs is hard. Jumping is hard. Everything is exhausting. But I know a class only goes for around 45 minutes to I take my time. I kick as hard as I can every time. I jump as high as I can every time. As I get stronger, so do my kicks. I get a return on that initial investment. If I’m cutting corners now, then I’m not setting myself up for the strength I want in the future. Here’s the thing, though. It may still take just as much effort to kick hard when I’m stronger. That’s ok because I’ll have trained my mind to deal with pushing through that mental barrier AND my kicks will be stronger anyway from always giving the most I can. Giving 100% always seem to feel like giving 100%.
2. Give what I can, when I can
If I’m injured or busy and I can’t run on all cylinders, I’m doing my best to get to class anyway. If I can’t kick, I can punch. If I can’t fight, maybe I can do kata. The important thing is that I give all that I can at any given time, whether that’s 5% or 100%. Progress doesn’t happen by standing still and that ideal world of being 100% all the time isn’t real. So if I all I can put in is an inch, I do that, and I definitely don’t beat myself up over it.
3. Listen to myself
The first two points I learned here come with a third point to balance them out and that is understanding the difference between pushing myself past being lazy and pushing myself because of having unrelenting personal standards. Pushing is good, but I haven’t always found it is healthy. I check where my motivation is coming from and how not pushing makes me feel. If I’m pushing because I feel inadequate or not enough or because ‘I’m a failure’ if I don’t achieve something, I take a moment to check myself. Achieving goals isn’t validating myself or proving something to me (or other people), it’s about what I learn and what I gain on the path to that point. If I can ask myself how much I have put in and I can see I’ve done my best, then that’s enough, because I am enough. So I listen to myself. Rest is important. Sometimes my body says ‘that’s enough’, sometimes my heart says ‘that’s enough’. I’m ok with that. Tomorrow I will push again. And tomorrow I’ll be stronger and able to push more because I pushed today.
4. Done is better than perfect
Training for my black belt was an endless journey of seeking perfection. We used to have a saying: perfect practice makes perfect. Having that sort of pressure on myself must be balanced out by something else or it starts to become crippling. If I have something I need to do but I have a high standard of the result, it kills the motivation to ever begin it. What if I don't get it perfect? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I do something embarrassing? Well, to become a black belt I had to begin much less than perfect. I had to do kicks and punches when I looked like a fool and there were people around to see me do it. So what balances out that crippling feeling? Achievement. I use the same principle in my blogging. A presenter at a leadership conference recently described a perfectionist as 'the person up at 11 pm playing with the font'. That used to be me when I did my blog posts until I realised that the only person who cares is me. So if I contradict those unrelenting standards of perfection with a completed post then I'm building up my confidence in the fact I can do something. It's evidence that helps me say 'I got this' when I'm facing a challenge that's hard to begin. Just like those days when I started practising punches and kicks.
5. When things are hard, I’m about to break through
For every single belt or challenge that I’ve moved through in karate, there has been a moment when I’m absolutely done, frustrated and ready to give up on it. Then the hurdle passes and I seem to leap forward in progress. I’ve also seen a parallel with this with my blogging, my acting and in my uni work. When I don’t understand a topic, I work at it harder until suddenly it clicks and all my groundwork has laid a foundation for me to ‘get it’.
6. Persistence helps me achieve goals
To get to black belt, I had to keep working at it. Kind of like that saying that eating an elephant begins with a single small bite. When I reached a tough point, I still kept at, even if it was slow going. Giving up is a choice that could have sent me in a different direction. Once I was on the path to black belt, I had opted in. Giving up was a choice to opt-out and stop the machine I had put in place to get me to my goals. Understanding this was a real epiphany for me because it meant the difference between seeing my goals as inevitable instead of eventual.