No one likes hitting walls as they directly get in the way of progress but there is no real way to achieve any kind of development, personal or otherwise, without dealing with them. Partly a condition of the learning process and part circumstance it is pretty natural to experience a slow down in growth and development in activity. Even when we decide to “really commit to this” (whatever “this” may be for you) and “master” a topic or activity, barriers to growth just happen. Recognizing walls for what they are and dealing with them appropriately makes all the difference between long term development success or failure. I have found over years of teaching and training in martial arts the following apply to hitting walls and how to deal with them.
We All Want Change Quickly
Let’s face it, Western culture is an impatient lot. Combine our need to focus on success and achievement in very external ways (money, climbing the job ladder, etc…) with a culture of “I want/need this now” and we expect change to occur pretty immediately. There is a movement going on away from this but even so, most people want to know they can change. And even try to force that change to occur.
- Change doesn’t always happen quickly, and it never does on a self or personal development level.
It Takes 1000 Steps
Training for a black belt is a perfect metaphor for progress over the long term. Stated simply you are taking many small steps towards a larger goal. In the karate dojo I trained in the average time from white belt to black belt is 5 years. Some people arrive at this point more quickly and some take longer, but you pretty much know you have to train a minimum of twice a week for this period of time (much more when you reach brown belt). When new students first start training, we do not actively push them to focus on the goal of getting a black belt. Once they have shown they have a level of talent and commitment then we start referencing black belt. That’s usually not for 12 to 18 months.
Most people may be taken aback by this approach: “How can you not have a goal?” It runs counter-intuitive to most “goal setting”. All along the way a student is making progress and we are confirming that, we are just not holding up the black belt as the prize right away as that fixation gets in the way of progress.
- Don’t completely fixate on the goal. Often times it’s less important to focus on achieving success of a really big goal and more important to make progress towards it. (There is a place for fixation, but don’t obsess, especially early in the process).
Recognize the Difference between Failure and Plateau
Without a doubt this is the hardest part of achieving any large goal. Sometimes it can be difficult to see that you are making progress over a long term, especially if no one is watching you and providing feedback. It is very common to throw yourself into something and not be able to see your own progress.
- The entrepreneur of business start-up may have created great technology but no one seemingly wants to buy it. That may be more of a condition of business plan execution and timing, not progress towards the company being successful.
- A tennis player feels frustration that they have been working on their serve for the past month but they are still double faulting. Perhaps adjustments still need to be made, but it doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made.
Keep in mind that just because you don’t see progress doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You may have just plateaued and need to keep working “through” what you are doing until you can visibly see success. Sometimes changes and adjustments are needed for success. But sometimes they aren’t.
- You may be doing everything correctly; you just need to stick with what you are doing until success presents itself.
I Am Working Hard But Not Making Progress
In a dojo where you are training consistently for long periods of time and often with the same people you get the benefit of others having watched you progress over time. I remember as a brown belt wanting to “master” a very advanced kata necessary to be a black belt (karate nerds will know what “Jion” is). It is a long form that is physically taxing and takes years to master. If you can perform Jion well it shows you know how to generate physical power. I threw myself into it for 6 months once I first learned it. While I knew improved over time, I didn’t feel at the end of that period I made substantial progress. One day, after a class with an exhaustive training session where I had performed this kata in front of the entire class, I was dejected. Here where the public comments I got:
“Your stances are to high”
“The timing between your punches and kicks is off”
“Your balance is inconsistent”
I was a little dejected after class and thought to myself “I will never get this right. I’ll never reach black belt”. A senior black belt walked by and just said “Nice Jion tonight, very powerful”. The moral of the story:
- You may not see progress but others probably do so don’t beat yourself up (to badly).
Don’t Stop, Just Recognize “The Wall”
It’s easy to get dejected when we run into life’s walls. That leads to lack of a feeling of success, which decreases motivation and “hunger” towards the goal as personal development blogger Sid Savara writes about, and makes you question what you are doing and why. This is natural and it’s where the actual self development work really occurs. Recognize a wall for what it is: a checkpoint. Use the experience to take stock of the situation. If you have the ability to ask others for feedback on your progress do it. It is likely you are making more progress than you think. I won’t make little “campy” statements like “Don’t Give Up” or “Break Down the Wall”. That has its place and I’ll assume you can draw on self help and personal development lingo to push yourself through, as I have written my thoughts about the concept of “Just Do It” here.
- Recognize when you are hitting a wall, take stock of it, and then look at the progress you have made.
Hitting walls in any activity or development exercise are part of the game. Know that and you can then take steps to manage the challenge you are facing so you can figure out how to proceed.
Thanks for training with me.