Have you ever had that feeling that no matter what you do, you’re getting nowhere? That feeling is an old… friend of mine. However, lack of progress is a dangerous illusion.
I’ve recently been reading the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. I highly recommend it. His argument that the little things we do daily, over time, lead up to the positive or negative outcomes of our lives is dead on. He states several times that these positive or negative changes are subtle. I couldn’t agree with this more based on my experience in martial arts training.
I go to class and lose. I learn a new variation of D’Arce choke or arm bar from spider guard, try to apply it, and my opponent slips free. The next day, I get submitted… and the next. However, the other day, I arm-dragged my instructor, got him in a traditional rear-naked choke and he tapped. I let him go and thought, wait a minute… I just tapped Joey! Two freakin’ years, and I finally won! You’ll forgive me if I took a moment to celebrate.
That seemed to be a significant change in my game, but the truth of the matter is, I’d been getting closer and closer to that moment each day I attended class. When we show up to face our challenges, millimeter by millimeter, we improve. The dangerous part is, we can’t feel the change, which is the largest reason people give up. The trouble is inherent in our primary motivation. We are programmed to need confirmation that our actions are leading to success.
Olson makes the comparison to turning the light on in a dark room. “When you enter a darkened room, why does your hand reach out for the light switch? Because you know that when you hit the switch, the light will go on.” (The Slight Edge, 2011, p.46) He offers the comical image of people giving themselves positive assurances before reaching for the light switch. We don’t need self-talk in this situation because we know flipping the switch will result in the outcome we want.
When we’re reaching for challenges beyond illuminating a room, we have to operate not on assurances, but a kind of faith. We must believe that, despite all appearances, when we show up daily, we are moving in the right direction. Most new martial artists quit after they achieve yellow belt. Why? Because they had a vision of what training would look like, and at first, there is a quickness and excitement to learning—new kicks, punches, throws, etc. The light comes on when we throw the switch. However, as the first year wanes, the learning seems to slow and can become boring. Students throw the switch, but there is little illumination. They feel the same day after day, even worse as the challenges increase. In lack of understanding in the process, they lose motivation and quit.
However, if we keep showing up no matter what the challenge is, one day the light does come on. Rarely at first, but after a while we begin to realize that if we make small, good choices today, then do it again when tomorrow is today, and do that every day, then the forward motion becomes a bit like running down the other side of the mountain.
For more detail check out www.TheSlightEdge.org. I think it’s worth a look.