The way you do anything is how you do everything.
I heard it said once that ‘the way you do anything is how you do everything’. This statement has many meanings, but today I take it to mean that the life lessons you learn in one area can and do transfer over to all areas of life. For example, a few years back I heard a speaker say that it is good to challenge ourselves to do something difficult every so often. Something that would get us outside of our comfort zones and expand our possibilities. Start that business, talk to the girl, sign up for the race, speak your mind. For me, I decided I would challenge myself to 7 days of cold showers. I was raised in tropical weather, so I get cold quite quickly. Day one was a bear. My brain and body were arguing with each other, but eventually I made the decision to jump in and completed my 7 day challenge. Excited about my ’accomplishment’ I told my friend about it. But he wasn’t impressed. He said It didn’t count since I started the first half of the shower with hot water and only finished with the cold. He did have a point so I told him i’d do another 7 days of nothing but cold water. Surprisingly It wasn’t that much harder. Having completed two weeks of cold showers, I thought i’d just finish the month, then 50 days, then 2 months, then 90 days, 100 days, 6 months, etc. Little by little I kept extending my commitments until I popped a pimple on my knee which got infected. The doctor forbade me to take cold showers and had me take hot baths instead. At that time I had completed 521 cold showers in 384 consecutive days. To the outsider at first glance it may seem like a stupid thing to do. But I gained a lot of valuable life lessons from this seemingly meaningless experiment that are still impacting my life and thus my Aikido practice to this day. Here are 4 lessons I gained through this journey.
If I would have told my old self that I was capable of 521 cold showers throughout all seasons (including winter). I would have never believed it. But If you had challenged me to 7 days of cold showers, I just might have taken the bait. That being said, big and complex things are not necessarily big and complex. They are just a bundle of small and simple things that appear big and complex when attempted all at once. When feeling overwhelmed, I try to remember this lesson. Thus my ability to accomplish something isn’t diminished as the complexity of a thing increases. As complexity increases the only factors that change are the time and effort required to attain it.
When I started taking the cold showers, I expected that at some point it would begin to feel less and less cold the longer I did it. But the truth of the matter is that it never felt any warmer. It sucked every time I did it. What did begin to happen, is that my mindset adapted to the new regimen. In a way, I almost became resigned to my fate. I would tell myself “You have no choice, this is just what you do, so let’s just get it over with”. This mental resignation, quieted any debate in my mind and made the action a lot easier to take. Thinking of other people who may not have access to hot water (poor people in cold places, navy seals in battle, etc.) also helped put things in perspective. I heard it said that a ‘double minded man is unstable in all his ways’. Sometimes cutting your bridges and intentionally making your alternatives more painful than actually taking the action is exactly what we need to push us on. Commitment in some ways makes things easier.
Albert Einstein once said that “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it. Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” While he was referring to finances in this example, I believe that you can compound anything. For example, to become a piano virtuoso, it takes many years of intense and consistent practice. The earlier you start, the more time your skill has to compound on what you have previously learned. Believe it or not, the same applies to cold showers. Over time I started learning little tricks that helped minimize the shock to the body. I learned that if you keep breathing you shiver less, I learned that if your head is outside of the stream, for some reason, you feel slightly less cold, Screaming out loud helps as well ;). Whether you are learning a language, learning to dribble with your left hand or practicing Aikido, the magic of compounding only shows up if you are consistently hitting at it. Learning can still happen even if we are inconsistent, but like popcorn in the microwave, I suspect it’s the consistency that yields results.
Many people see patience as a passive word. It has a sense of ‘waiting around’. But to me patience is an action word. I define it as the mental state to persist in one’s course despite not seeing immediate progress (more around the lines of persistence). Let’s just say patience is probably not my best virtue, but going through this cold shower journey has taught me how to remain focused on the present and do what is before me to the best of my ability. That is why I appreciate how much emphasis is placed at our dojo to perfect a technique and practice it over and over until it becomes instinctual. Achieving a black belt rank means different things to different martial art styles, but from what I can tell in my limited experience in Aikido, An Aikido black belt represents an acknowledgement and a celebration of patience. The fact that no matter your skill level, background, or knowledge you still must go through the same process and spend years before you can call yourself a blackbelt seems to confirm this.
What started out as a stupid challenge ended up being one of the most profitable experiences i’ve had to date. It’s amazing what we can learn from nature if we simply pay attention. Hope this has been useful to you as it has to me.
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