Wednesday, April 03, 2013

That's Gotta Hurt

I'm going to paraphrase a bunch of things to make a point.
Someone asked how to develop mental toughness.  The answer is easy: Do things you don't like to do. Things that scare you or disgust you or chores that you dread.  At the same time, cut out things you do enjoy if they serve no purpose.  What have your hours or maybe years of TV watching done for your life?  No excuses.
That was my answer and the guy kind of chuckled and said, "No, seriously.  How do you develop mental toughness?"
Another wants to develop fighting skills without the ick factor of touching people.
Years ago (and the day I decided I really liked Steve Perry) we were on an Orycon panel on the future of pharmaceuticals (and I have NO IDEA how we wound up on that panel).  Steve asked the audience; "If there was a pill that would increase your energy, make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex, make you better at sex, make you live longer, lose weight and even make you smarter, would you take it?"
The audience clapped and smiled.
"Would you pay a hundred bucks a month for it?"
"Hell yeah!" the audience cheered.
"Well," said Steve, "It's called 'eat right and exercise' and I can tell just by looking that most of you aren't doing it."

People want things to be easy.  They want something for nothing.  I get that.  But there are some subjects where it is not possible.  Your body is not designed to improve under conditions of comfort.  It improves under stress.  With stress, muscles grow.  Without stress, muscles atrophy.  You don't get better at running by sitting.

You can get to a certain level of knowledge without pain or exhaustion.  You can get to a certain level of skill.  But you can't get good.  You can convince yourself you're good.  As long as you hang with other people who have avoided the same things you have, you can be comparatively good.  But you can't get good.  Not at fighting and not at competition level anything.

It's gonna hurt.  It has to.  People want a magical method where they can learn to deal with shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion without feeling shock, surprise, pain and exhaustion.  That's not the way the world works, kids.

And I'm not just talking about the swimming analogy-- you know, where you compare learning about any fighting system without fighting as learning to swim without water.  That's not what I'm talking about this time.

 You can't get good inside your comfort zone.  You want to get stronger?  Your muscles have to hurt.  Want to get flexible? Don't overdo it but you have to stretch beyond your comfort zone.  Want to get anaerobically endurant? You have to push until you are sucking wind.  Maybe puking.

Want to be better at a motion than the other guy?  Then you either practice more than him or more mindfully or, ideally, both.

In "Campfire Tales from Hell" Dan Gilardi did a little article called, "Want to Learn how to Win?  Learn How to Lose."  Essence is, unless you go into challenges that will kick your ass you will never rise to the level of skill or 'mental toughness' or conditioning required to meet that level of challenge.

When in doubt, push.

Some of our training-- with the team, with Dave, with Wolfgang-- literally scared people.  People would walk in and walk out after watching one class.  Administrators would say, "Is that really necessary?"  For their jobs the answer was "No." For our jobs, yeah, it was necessary. It never stops hurting, you just stop caring.  Some would tell us it was unnecessary.  A few openly called it abuse. (But these are the people that think that sore muscles are a punishment.)

I'm worried, frankly.  When people start having a knee-jerk reaction that pain is bad and discomfort is bad it seems like a short step before they start classifying Olympic level training (as an example) as child abuse or torture.

Caveat here, before I close:  Train hard, don't train stupid.  Injuries make you less survivable.  And there is no gain in emotionally abusing a student.  They have to feel emotionally safe in order to learn about physical danger.  For that matter, if you feel safe emotionally abusing your self-defense students, you aren't teaching them right.

That said, all valuable training happens outside the comfort zone.  Physically, mentally, emotionally you have to push the envelope.  It's gotta hurt.


Neil Bednar said...

Good God what an awesome post. Why do I feel like people (those most likely not reading this blog) need to hear this message?

Lisa said...

I had a great conversation with my sister yesterday. She was bullied (by the 1980's definition of the term) as a kid, got through it, grew up. A year ago or so, several of the girls who had bullied her, now women, wrote to apologize. As she's telling me this, she kind of laughs. She says, "You know, I wrote back to them telling them that I appreciate the apology, but I don't really think about it anymore... I'm a good, strong person anyway."

She's totally right- she is. It was definitely a painful experience. But she lived through it. And it helped make her into the person she is.

Do I recommend that kind of pain to everyone? No. But you can see the effects... and I sometimes worry about the level of protection we are giving "bullied" kids today. Though I once pulled her out of the center of about 15 girls pushing her, she mostly dealt with it on her own.

Just interesting thoughts.

North Valley Aikikai said...

Definitely sharing these words.
Thank you, Rory.

raggi said...

Think I'm just gonna print this and put it on my wall. People should call a spade for a spade more often.

Lisa, very interesting post. I concur about having gotten through (-80s) bullying and come out stronger and more compassionate on the other end. Yet I disagree with the stance of "let the kids figure it out themselves", when they hear the grown-ups say bullying is not allowed, yet observe it happens nonetheless... kids copy what they see, not what they are told... and if all they see are grown-ups ignoring bullying, that the breach of rule has no consequences, they'll think that is the way it's supposed to be.
That said, it's a big difference between adults intervening and guiding a constructive resolution; and sorting every little thing for the wee ones before they have a chance to even understand what's going on (re. 21st century "bullying"). It's a balance act I suppose.
...sorry, this topic is rather a pet peeve of mine.

Randy said...

The key theory behind any physical training/physiological adaptation is Hans Sely's GAS- General Adaptation Syndrome. Essentially, an organism or a system within the organism will adapt if it has been exposed to sufficient stress to disrupt homeostasis. The syndrome progresses through 3 stages- alarm, resistance and exhaustion. This is relatively well known, but what often gets left out is the implicit 4th stage- recovery. The body adapts to stress after exposure, and will adapt better if it has time to mobilize resources. In our case, this means sleep, relative rest from the overload in question, good nutrition, and self-care strategies such as tissue work (this is a whole topic unto itself; there are some excellent military studies on "hardiness").

I'm familiar with this model from the exercise physiology angle due to my job, but have come to wonder about it from a psychological angle. Physical stress often accompanies mental and emotional stress in committed martial arts training or competition, or jobs that require frequent use of force. To make an analogy- muscular and connective tissue is subject to maladaptation if we overload it without sufficient recovery. Adaptation may occur, but at the price of tissue integrity, movement quality, etc. An injury becomes more likely as the maladaptation continues (for example, foot turnout from lots of lunging strikes or stances; the hip external rotators become hypertonic; knee valgus becomes a persistent movement pattern in daily life and in the training that contribute to it, and the ACL and MCL are repetitively damaged over time. When one or both go, we tend to think of it as an acute event, when it was actually created by months or years of the primary maladaptation).

If the same stage of GAS can be applied to the mental and emotional stress of difficult training or events, what constitutes the recovery stage? How important is it? What maladaptations will result from insufficient recovery, the wrong type of recovery, or a lack thereof?

Randy said...


Lisa said...

@raggi- you make really good points, and I don't disagree with you. I promise I'm not advocating bullying as a means of building character! I was more trying to reflect on a different kind of pain induced growth. I don't know what the best solution is!

tpk said...

So this is wicked pretentious, please forgive me. Albert Camus advised Sisyphus to fall in love with the feeling of his cheek against the rock. Joe Strummer said that persistence beat talent, charm,intelligence and anything else. I think you need to sort of like the sore muscles, the bruises, the chance you might lose or get hurt, in order to get better. At the same time liking that stuff really increases your chances of getting hurt.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I couldn’t agree more with the value of sustained hard work. “Nothing is life is free. Pay with discipline now or regrets later.” In my opinion the key part that is only alluded to in this post is the amount of stress you induce on the individual. In my mind the key would be to push them out of their comfort zone enough that there is tangible benefit but not so much that they are injured or too frightened by the experience to return. This requires an intimate understanding of your own personal limitations or a switched on trainer/mentor. This is also why bullying/hazing as a "toughening up" method is so inefficient. It is being run by a bunch of amateurs who clearly don't have the victim’s best interests at heart. Each person's ability to handle stress/physical activity is based on where they are in life. Of course someone who hasn't been inoculated to a high level of stress/physical activity will look at that activity as crazy. It’s all a matter of perspective.

raggi said...

@ Anonymous, couldn't agree more.

Lisa, I did not mean at all to imply that you were advocating bullying, and yes, different pain can certainly induce growth. I guess if we have no control of what circumstances throw at us, e.g. being bullied, it won't help gripe about the unfairness; rather, one can decide what one chooses to do in the face of it. In your sister's case, wringing lessons from the bullying and decide to overcome and grow stronger, rather than see herself as the victim of unfair and nasty behaviour. Blessing in disguise, and all that rot! But what the best solution is... who knows!

Randy, that's what my old sports science prof used to say, regarding the importance of recovery stage of GAS, and the possible maladaption response if done improperly. It ties in with the whole "train hard, but not stupid" methinks. But being trained a psychotherapist, I do agree with your point on the mental and emotional stress as well. It's about providing space for healthy reflection/debriefing, if at all possible. I've seen some nasty cases of unhealthy coping mechanisms result from emotional/mental pressure.

RXian said...

As a close friend of mine says, "anything worth doing is gonna involve some fluids coming out of your body".

Wallace Smedley said...

This is awesome! Thank you for posting this one!!

Unknown said...

The two general rules I give to martial art students and fitness clients about training are 1)Don't be a sissy and 2)Don't be stupid.

Unknown said...

Sounds like my mother. You doesn't frame it quite like you but her message was clear, consistent, and merciless. Who ever said life was gonna be easy ? What does happiness have to do with anything ? No matter what happens keep moving. Life owes you nothing. Life isn't fair, so what ? Now at 78, my mother has more social activity than all of her kids combined. She is harsh and calls it the truth. Still, she is "pro-enjoying life" just don't bother her with "feelings" about the slings and arrows. She did apologize once.

Rory, all this to say you reminded me of my mother with this one. A good thing.