Success doesn’t come easily but it is there for the taking if you want it. I first learned this principle stepping out onto the dojo floor as a white belt at the age of sixteen. After 2 or 3 classes I pretty much thought I knew what I was doing. In my mind I was throwing punches like the black belts were, so I thought I was ready to be one of them. Although I didn’t realize I would need to put in the work to punch like they did, it didn’t stop me from trying to act like them.

One night in class after watching the black belts perform our sensei (teacher) said “if you can go up in front of everyone and punch like the black belts just did, we’ll pin a black belt on you as well”. So I and several other white belts ran up to the front of the class and tried to imitate them. I took the statement literally and did the performance but no black belt came. I didn’t realize it at the time but my instructor was seeding the principle of success.

Often success is right in front of you, but you just need to decide to see it and take it.

The One Thing Between You and Success
After years of teaching karate I have come to realize that most people really are afraid of success, even successful people. I have seen the successful business person come in and lose all confidence in himself on the dojo floor. And generally speaking this boils down to one problem: fear of the unknown.

Most of us have difficulty visualizing how things should be once we are successful. And since we can’t see it ourselves it is difficult to model that behavior. In the karate world a black belt simply serves as a milestone of success – it’s not an end, just a marker. But that symbol can apply to anything such as:

–         Getting your next promotion to advance your career

–         Working for a college degree

–         Achieving a certification

–         Becoming proficient in a hobby or activity

Your Mindset Matters
The most important thing is to decide what it is you want, and then go after it. To be clear, I am not talking about goal setting. That is a tactical function. What I mean is that you put yourself in the mindset of stating that you want to achieve a specific level of success and then take the necessary actions (set goals and deal with setbacks) to achieve success.

How you get to success can take several forms. Many people make a plan. In the business world the motto is plan “your work and then work your plan”. Certainly easy to digest advice and it works as I and others do this all the time professionally. However some undertakings don’t require a plan, they just require commitment to go after something, regardless of how you get there. In any case, if you are going to be successful you have to internalize that you want success regardless of how much or little you know about what that looks like. It doesn’t just happen.

The Transition Point
In the karate dojo the plan to achieving a black belt is somewhat made for you already. And typically a lot of people are involved in helping you succeed. Don’t get me wrong, you are working hard, running into walls and dealing with the highs and lows of training and progress all the while keeping yourself motivated as I have written about here. But at the end of the day, those that succeed move from a point of “Can I do really do this” to “I can do this” or “I am doing this”. It is at that turning point where the necessary elements come together for success and they include:

  • Confidence in yourself
  • Your willingness to move forward through any obstacle to make progress
  • Seeing in yourself that you are good enough to succeed
  • Internalizing that you are successful – however that is defined for you

All of those points are wrapped around a statement my instructor told me and numerous others that have trained. “Decide when you are ready and then go for it. Take the obi (belt) off the waist of another black belt and it is yours”. It’s a figurative statement but the point is that whether you believe in yourself and are ready or someone else tells you its time to get yourself to a new level you pretty much are already doing it.

Take It Already
Success only comes with hard work, commitment, setting goals, dealing with failures and continually pushing yourself to move forward. However, achieving success is right there in front of you. You just have to be in the right frame of mind to see it and grab it.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Koen Cobbaert.

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This is Part Two of a series on the martial arts principle of giving criticism.

In my last post I talked about the value of leveraging a feedback mechanism for personal development, relating the use of the criticism process commonly used in martial arts training. As I stated previously there is simply no better way to make improvement over time whether it be for personal, professional or other developmental growth than to have others you trust provide feedback on what you do well, what needs improvement, and most importantly how you do things currently.

In the martial arts context of physical and mental training this process is ongoing and you are constantly receiving “trusted” feedback. I say “trusted” because the party offering feedback (giving criticism) is doing so solely for the purpose of helping you improve. You “trust” some people on a personal level more others (a spouse or very close friend, for example). However they may not necessarily be the best resource to seek personal or professional feedback due to their existing relationship with you. That said, colleagues, acquaintances and friends can all be good sources of feedback to help you in personal or professional development and they would be a parallel substitute for the belts one trains with in a martial arts dojo.

Criticism Personified – It’s Your Ego
This post is aimed at how to solicit criticism or feedback because I am suggesting that you actively go out and seek it. That means your “trusted” feedback providers won’t necessarily understand where you are coming from our why. Your goal is not to try and get them to understand the process, just to get the feedback from them. However by doing this you are opening yourself up to their commentary about you. The challenge here is how to take that feedback and ensure you really hear what is being said, and then be able to turn it into something actionable you can work on. This approach speaks directly to the concept of Sharing Knowledge, one of the 6 Elements Black Belts train for. In this case you are asking others to share their perception and thoughts about you.

In the karate setting, none of that matters, and this generated some conversation offline from my last blog post. A trusted source to me indicated that criticism is always “personal”. While that is very true on one level, over time in a martial arts setting you come to realize that whether or not it is doesn’t really matter because the feedback (if offered correctly) you are getting transcends your ego. And ultimately this is one of the major benefits of a feedback process – how you deal with others providing you criticism is the essence of personal or professional growth and development – In a word, the process helps you come to grips with your own “ego”. Whatever the feedback is “e.g. you not that good with people in a face to face environment” is actually less important than how you contend with whatever feelings that generates for you internally. That part is very personal. So there are two very important tracks here:

1)      How it makes you feel (and how to come to grips with your own ego), and

2)      What to do with feedback you have received

Over time you begin to see how on a personal level your ego doesn’t really matter. Unless a comment is something extreme e.g. “you are not a good person because you don’t treat others well” you should be able to focus more on the actual comment and how to use it to improve and less on how the comment makes you feel personally.

In a martial arts setting it is never the intent to make someone feel good or bad about anything, the process is simply used to provide a snapshot in time of how you are doing and what you may improve on. In the next post, I’ll discuss the process and implications of dealing with comments and how they affect our ego, as another form of significant personal development occurs through this aspect of the process.

A Framework for Soliciting Criticism and Using It
I’ll tell you that I love feedback, good or bad. I really don’t mind if people tell me what I am doing right or wrong because I make my fair share of mistakes.  I’d like to suggest a methodology you can use to implement the same martial arts principle on a personal or professional development level. I personally use the process I am describing below frequently and directly and it all comes from a martial arts environment:

  1. Pick an Area – It’s easier to learn the process by focusing either on a personal or professional area initially. Overtime you can mix it up but pick one area to start, simply to learn the process;
  2. Identify “trust agents” – A little play on words here from the best selling book by social media guru Chris Brogan. What I mean here is to identify 5-10 people on a personal and professional level that you can approach to solicit feedback from. They should people that know you well but are not your best friend, spouse or boss (to trusted and you don’t want to put them in a position of feeling awkward, and they won’t tell you the complete truth anyway).
  3. Provide Education About Why You Are Asking – You will need to explain to the “trust agent” what you are doing and what you are asking of them. The first approach is really to solicit general feedback and impressions to help you categorize areas you are probably unaware of that you may want to focus on or improve over time. You can certainly approach someone and tell them you are trying to focus in a specific area but that actually doesn’t accomplish as much based on what I am trying to get at here. On a professional level I would approach someone as follows “I am really working to improve my performance as an executive/teacher/work (insert profession) here and I’ve decided to ask people that I know fairly well on a professional level to provide me some feedback. I think highly of you and it is why I am approaching you. Would you be willing to give some feedback on myself in a professional context?” (They will usually say yes and you are looking for a 10 minute conversation).
  4. Categorize to Create an Inventory – After you have agreement with your trust agent you will need to guide the conversation so they can provide meaningful feedback. You can start by saying something like “I think I am good at something’s but not strong in other areas and I am hoping you can provide some additional insight for me. In your opinion what do you think I am good at and why? People skills, follow-up skills, commitment and follow through, helping others, etc…” Give them a few items to think about but tell them those are just examples and if something else sticks out in their mind you want to know what that is. After this exchange you will ask for the other side “Can you tell me in your opinion areas you think I need improvement in or don’t do well and why you think that?” I’ll tell you right now that this is not easy and the majority of people don’t do this, but this is the real personal development learning.
  5. Evaluate and Prioritize – After you have gone through steps 3 and 4 a few times and have written the feedback down you now have a personal inventory of areas to look more closely at and work with. I wouldn’t suggest “working on them” right away. You need to sit with them, internalize the feedback, deal with any personal emotion (ego) from what you heard, etc…But at least you will have an alternate viewpoint of how others perceive you and your strengths and weaknesses.
  • You want to look for similarities and differences to help you rule in or out what how important the feedback is and whether or not you should work on it.
  • There is a personal element here as you may here things you weren’t expecting and we have a tendency to shy away from that. But don’t. That’s the real personal development happening.
  • After this evaluation process you can then decide for yourself what you want to pursue and how to pursue it.

Example Feedback
Some examples of feedback you may get can include statements like:

  • You don’t always follow through on what you say you will do;
  • People seem at ease talking to you;
  • You give up to easily;
  • You are fair with others;
  • Sometimes you can’t see another point view or dismiss others views to quickly;
  • You always have to be right;
  • You are willing to listen to both sides of an argument;

These are simply examples and each statement has implications (personally or professionally) for you. I am not trying to solve what to do with the information you receive. This is just a mechanism to solicit feedback about you.

You are in the “Digital Dojo”
This process is what essentially happens on a daily basis in a karate dojo although you get the feedback whether you want it or not (a key difference). The other difference here is that I am not suggesting you go back regularly for this type of feedback on a developmental level, only do this occasionally. The real purpose in doing it is to get alternate points of view about who you are, how you are doing and where you can improve. It is very hard to see that on a personal level because we can’t easily look at ourselves. That’s why the process is so effective in a martial arts setting. You can’t see yourself perform but others can.

What are your thoughts on seeking feedback about yourself? Do you do this now? If so what process do you use?

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Victor Bezrukov

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This is a series on the martial arts principle of giving criticism. On a true personal development level there is simply no way to progress in whatever you are doing without getting some type of feedback from others. I find this interesting because while there is a large and ever growing personal and professional coaching community, many people are simply looking at ways to self improve. But this is often done in a vacuum.

One of the key premises of martial arts training, especially in a traditional karate dojo, is to both give and receive feedback to others during the training process. In a dojo (training hall), we refer to this as “giving criticism” but it simply means providing direct and candid feedback to those you are training with. It is a true bi-directional learning process of Sharing Knowledge, one of the 6 Elements. It ss never meant to be personal or vindictive. Most importantly it is done for the benefit of both parties.

Your Performance is Who You Are
There is a lot to be learned on a personal development and leadership level outside of karate training by understanding this process. In a martial arts context giving criticism is a normal part of the exchange and it is expected by all involved. It is a process that looks at who you are, both physically and mentally, directly at a given moment in time with all involved understanding that their obligation is to point out what they see about what you are doing. This is usually not the case in our normal and everyday lives. Quite frankly most people shy away from criticism or pro active feedback and they really get it. But they shouldn’t.

Personal development, personal and business relationships and virtually any other human interaction we undertake can benefit from a more pro-active effort towards receiving solicited outside views more frequently.  This notion of “feedback” gets back to the concept of centered truth” as I have written about here. I would argue we should pro-actively seek out criticism much more often than we do. Solicited feedback is a powerful tool because outside of a structured environment (e.g. training in the martial arts) we can all be selective in how we give and ask for critiques (assuming we do it all).

“Most development and learning in martial arts comes from the process of giving and receiving criticism about one’s performance. It can work the same way in a self development framework.”

The Criticism Process
On the training floor the functional process is simple. When watching a karate student perform black belts look for areas that can be improved upon, regardless of how well the student is performing. We are expected to analyze and comment on the student’s performance that we see in that particular moment. A criticism can be based on anything the student is doing such as:

  • Technique – An executed action, such as a kick or punch, for example;
  • Physical Characteristic – Assessment of posture, eye movement or balance;
  • Mental  Acuity – Observations about the students mental state, such as a “suki” (e.g the mind freezes and the student temporarily forgets what they are doing or makes a mistake).

This same process can be “lifted” into a self development context. In Western culture receiving “constructive” criticism is valuable but it assumes that both sides are “open” to the process. And that is the key difference between an Eastern application and a Western approach. It’s different in a martial arts context (and more powerful) because not only is it expected that you “take the criticism” given to you by others but you also must acknowledge the person that gave the criticism. Then you must demonstrate in front of others over time that you are improving on what has been said to you.

A Teaching Mechanism – Learn About Yourself
The “art” of giving criticism is one of the most practical and beneficial parts of karate training. It can also be used in every day life situations. Ultimately the process of criticism is focused as much on learning about yourself as it is about helping another person. Unfortunately this principle is sorely misunderstood in a Western world. The reason is that in a martial arts training context it is expected. All sides accept the fact that they will be required to criticize others as well as receive them. But the real value in criticism process isn’t just having someone else analyze what you are doing and provide you feedback about what can be improved and how. There is tremendous value in being the provider of criticism if done appropriately because it:

  • Requires that you intently analyze the actions of another person – so the process is as much about putting you in a position to watch someone else so that you can make useful and productive comments for improvement, versus just commenting for the sake of talking;
  • Pushes you to think through what you are watching and confirm you know how to do (or not do) what you are seeing. In short you are confirming your understanding of the topic/action/activity because the comments being made are very specific;
  • Dictates how you deliver the criticism. It needs to be simply stated and “actionable” for it to have value to the person receiving the comment. If you can’t succinctly articulate a comment on improvement, it is likely you don’t understand the criticism you are making, and the student won’t either.

Don’t Let Personal Feedback Become “Personal”
Obviously the criticism process I am describing here is specific to a martial arts environment. But the lesson is not. Anyone can benefit from the process of analyzing personal or work performance, attitude, and the ability to act (or not) in our daily lives. By watching and offering comments to others you will be moved to analyze yourself and assess what you are doing correctly, as well as what you can improve. And by proactively asking for others to provide you feedback (criticism), as long as you can separate out your request and the feedback you get from being personal, there is a much that can be learned since you can’t always truly look at yourself. Certainly not the way others see you.

Paul Worswick, a personal development and leadership coach, who writes the blog Diary 4 Life, did an excellent write-up on dealing with criticism that was the inspiration for this post. My mission at Black Belt Guide is to look at all of the aspects developed over years of Karate training and relate them to personal development and leadership ideas. That is after all the real purpose of studying martial arts: a path of self development.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the process of how to give and receive criticisms, based on a martial arts methodology but translated to a practical personal development context.

How do you feel about giving or receiving feedback (criticism) to others as a way of expanding your own personal development?

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Robbert van der Steeg

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Nowhere is the study of opportunity and how to seize it more real than in martial arts training. A black belt and his opponent face off against each other.  Cautiously and defensively they move around each other – circling, sensing, and waiting for the right moment. A seasoned black belt is patient, knowing how to look for that moment when a subtle change in posture by the opponent creates an opportunity to strike.  The opponent feels like he has to “make something happen” to create an opening himself. He decides to “go for it” and lifts his foot off the ground stepping towards the black belt. And in that moment, that one instant, the black belt instinctively knows his opponent is off balance. He moves to action. This is where mind and body become ”one” and the black belt strikes – opportunity taken.

The concept of seeing an opportunity on a personal development level (you are the black belt in this metaphor) is fairly straightforward and not that difficult to achieve. The explanation above is the identical methodology I use for opportunity identification and action whether it is on the dojo floor, in business, parenting, or personal development. It is a key component of “Centered Harmony” one of the 6 Elements black belts train to achieve.

The Pillar of Opportunity – Preparation
Simply stated, you will increase your chance of getting opportunities only if you are prepared to receive them. That means you have to work hard to be ready to act instantly. Black belts train for years doing drills, partner work and sparring so that they can physically and mentally act (not react) when an opening (opportunity) presents itself. On a personal development level sometimes you don’t always see an opportunity even if it is right in front of you.  You need to have prepared yourself to really take an opportunity and when it presents itself, and move on it. What does preparation mean in a personal development context? Most of us aren’t “training” in the classic sense I described above. But there are ways to prepare you for opportunities simply by stepping outside your comfort zone as I have written about regarding performance breakthroughs.

Personal Development Opportunity Framework
Here is a very simple framework (set of steps) you can take to put yourself on a path of personal development in simple and achievable way:

1. Allow yourself to follow your curiosity

Generate some initial ideas by brainstorming areas you want to explore whether that is for career purposes or personal interests. Sit down and make list of the areas of interest you have. Starting this blog is a great example. Although I work in technology professionally the concept of social media is all new for me. I identified this as an area I wanted to explore without knowing much about it.

2. Invest Time in Yourself to Identify New Interests

I don’t think we make time to explore areas we are interested in. There is always an excuse to not do something – too many chores, too much work at the office, picking up the kids. You have to make time. Look at your daily schedule. What can you cut out to start investing in the exploration of that new interest? Less TV? Getting up earlier or going to bed later? You need to find time so you can invest it back into yourself. In my personal social media example I have made time to understand it, work at it, and learn about it. And that is already paying off in personal and professional ways by increasing my knowledge base and connecting with other people to expand my network as two simple examples. Will this level of preparation pay off for me in some other way beyond my enjoyment in blogging, writing and being involved in social media? I can’t say conclusively but it is clear that not doing gives me no chance for an opportunity later. But it is something I have acted on out of curiosity and found time to work on.

3. Putting Yourself in New Situations

I think too many of us worry about looking foolish. I excel at this (go ahead and laugh). Don’t make an idiot of yourself. But go out a little bit and try something new, preferably something you know you are not good at. Some simple examples:

  • Public speaking – If you do not do well in front of large groups go and try this. Start small, address a group as your child’s school or do a brief for colleagues on something you are working on;
  • Cooking – Those that know me know I love to cook. I used to lack considerable talent in this area.  You’ll learn about working under pressure and timing. I now cater events for fun on behalf of friends for 50-60 people at a time. You can see how far I have come in this area here;
  • Travel – I am blown away at the number of people that don’t go out of the United States, much less their own city or town. It’s easier to do this in Europe where distances between very different cultures are short. That said, even a lot Europeans don’t get around as much as they could. Go check out another culture, you cannot NOT LEARN by traveling. I am at 30+ countries – there is no downside to this;
  • Social Media – Seriously, it makes no sense at first and is hard to start getting used to but by jumping in you will learn how it works.

“A Spark of Flint Striking Steel” – Ignore Your Conscious Mind
The excellent Zen text “Zen and Japanese Culture” by D.T. Suzuki describes the concept of acting without hesitation. This concept is described as a piece flint striking steel and creating a spark. The “spark” is what we are really seeking on a personal development. In the opening paragraph above a black belt always moves without hesitation. He knows the opportunity is there and takes it. In short he does not doubt himself. The mind has been trained to block out anything extraneous that gets in the way of scoring a point. In a real world personal development level the concept is identical. Usually our minds distract us from moving. We aren’t ready or prepared to act. We over-think and say to ourselves “what happens if I do this?” or “What are the consequences of acting or not acting?” We lack the confidence to act as our mind gets the best of us. This is personal development on a very real level. If you can get yourself to the point of acting without hesitation it is progress.

Timing Matters
Other times you see an opportunity but you can’t move quickly enough. This is a different but related issue to preparation. I see this happen all the time in business situations. An excellent post I read earlier this week from Mike Myatt who writes the CEO leadership blog N2Growth does a terrific write-up outlining timing from a business perspective. But timing, while important, isn’t enough. You’ve got to have put in the work, OR at least make yourself move, to see an opportunity and take it. Making yourself “move on something” is a fall back strategy at best. It doesn’t matter if it is a market opportunity, a potential change you can make to your personal life, or something else.  Don’t get me wrong, on a personal development level, you don’t always have to move in a split second. However, you can over think something and the opportunity to act (the spark) is gone. You’ve missed the opportunity. It’s fine to reason things out, get validation and move towards something. But many times we fall into a trap of not acting because we think we are not ready. Or worse, we don’t think we can do something so we don’t try.

The Reason You Can’t Strike – Fear
Sometimes lack of movement or being ready to seize on an opportunity isn’t about preparation, or knowing when to act. Often it is just over thinking a situation. In business this is commonly referred to as “analysis paralysis”. On a personal level it is “acting cautiously”. Either way there is only thing holding someone back from moving (and doing it instantly): fear.

In Japanese warfare, having fear of the opponent is considered certain death (read failure on a personal development level). Samurai warriors trained for centuries to accept death as part of their job and honed this attitude. I am not equating this level of attitude to making a foolish decision. I am just saying that those that are prepared, or at least prepared enough through putting themselves out there, can see an opportunity and take it.

(On a side note, the book Zen and Japanese Culture I referenced above is virtually mandatory reading for any black belt to be in a traditional karate setting. It’s implications for personal development is significant and I highly recommend you read the two chapters on Zen and Swordsmanship, regardless of your interest (or lack of) in martial arts.)

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Stefanravn.

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One of the more fascinating elements of martial arts training to me is how the characteristics of leadership are formed. To be able to lead means you have to get others to go where you want to take them. This skill is innate to some people but it can be learned over time by almost anyone. In fact, most people that wind up reaching a black belt training level, weren’t very capable at leading at the beginning from what I have seen and experienced (myself very much included). That said, I view leadership as a skill – it is most certainly learn-able.

Leadership is a complicated subject because there are so many components to it. A leader has to have a vision, set an actual direction that others can strive for and ultimately be able to motivate others to take action. All are critical elements of leadership and we see them often in everyday life situations.  Some examples of leaders (in my personal development definition) include:

  • Business people, who are responsible for making decisions that affect the livelihood of themselves and others (employees, customers, etc…);
  • Teachers, who influence others intellectual development and opinions;
  • Parents, who guide a child’s framework of what it right and wrong;
  • Writers, who put opinions and thoughts out in the public domain;
  • Scholars, who advance theories that challenge conventional thinking;

These are all the types of people I have trained with in karate over many years and they are each leaders in their own way. Yet, many people that walk through the dojo door don’t necessarily view themselves as “leaders”. I found this to be odd until I really analyzed it from martial training perspective and realized that the majority of people have traits of leadership – they just lack the confidence associated with this trait because they cannot see themselves this way.

Most people think leaders have to be authority figures, but they don’t. They just have to exhibit the traits of them through a projection of confidence.

I write a lot about the characteristic of confidence. It affects so many things from a personal development perspective. Virtually everyone doubts themselves to some degree. Yet the most successful people I know leverage confidence as a tool to project authority. And projecting authority (effectively) is at the heart of leadership. They also view themselves as being a leader of others. Put simply, they “Stand Tall” when they need to.

Look for Ways to Lead
In martial arts training we constantly look for ways to put people into positions of leadership as it is one of the 6 Elements of martial arts training. Quite frankly it’s the mainstay for getting to this level. If you can’t lead yourself through a path of personal development, you cannot lead others. One of the most common ways we develop leadership is to simply have students teach some kind of technique in front of a larger group as I have written about here. A drill or exercise where they have to get stand before others, explain a technique and show it, get the class up and working on the drill, make comments individually on what students are doing right and wrong, and then bring the group back together to address them.

Get Uncomfortable
The process is a great vehicle for helping someone establishes leadership. Why? Because to get up in front of others and address them requires a level of authority that others believe in what you are saying. Addressing a large group is one of the best ways to develop confidence and ultimately leadership. It forces you to believe in yourself and have a level of mastery over a topic. If you can’t do this others won’t believe in you. You don’t have to be forceful in the delivery of the topic, just confident in how you project it. I am also a firm believer that people like to be led. They may disagree with you on a specific point, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want someone else to lead them down a path of knowledge or direction.

Here is the interesting part. I see people that are very confident in one aspect of their lives (they are authority figures on some professional level as outlined above) yet when they are thrown into an unfamiliar situation, they lose the qualities of leadership. They cannot “stand tall” enough to be considered a leader and take on that role. I realized through this process that many people have many of the traits of leadership they simply struggle to view themselves as a leader until they are in front of a group of people explaining something. And even then they don’t view themselves as a leader or an authority figure.

The Opportunity of Situational Leadership
A business mentor of mine once told me “you can be anyone or anything you want to be in business, just play the part”.  I remember the day I was first promoted to a position Vice President in my work life. I went into a meeting with about 15 other staff members. They day prior we were all peers and now I was “in charge”. We were seated around a large conference table and the person that called the meeting started off by explaining why the meeting was gathered and what needed to be accomplished. She talked for about a minute and then stopped and everyone was staring at me. There were staring at me because they expected me to lead the discussion. It’s important to point out that the topic was something I wasn’t involved with and didn’t understand as it was ancillary to what I normally worked on. But everything changed overnight.  Mind you, only a split second elapsed between the time my colleague that called the meeting said “Marc, what do you think we should do?” and the realization that all eyes were on me.  I couldn’t just say “I don’t know” as everyone was expecting something from me.

So I did what came naturally from years of training. I started by stating I wasn’t familiar with the topic but I wanted to lead the group in a discussion to explore ways to solve the problem. I asked one of my co-workers to re-state the problem in the simplest terms possible. I then solicited feedback on solving the problem from each person in the meeting and had someone write them on a whiteboard. This got everyone involved. I then divided everyone into two working groups and told them to brainstorm a solution in 15 minutes and that I would come back to the meeting and have them present their ideas to me. We come up with a solution that everyone was happy with, I got smart on the situation at hand and everyone went on with their business.

A Simple Leadership Framework
The purpose of the story is to show that leadership isn’t always about dictating what others should do (although that can be part of it and often is in a martial arts setting). It also can’t be taught in a single posting. However, I believe focusing on the pursuit of leadership development pays very real dividends in personal development. For leadership to be developed on a personal level you have to pro-actively look for places where you can evolve it. I offer a simple framework that anyone can leverage by:

  1. Spotting the opportunity to lead something;
  2. Taking the opportunity (to me, this is the hardest part);
  3. Expressing and projecting confidence when a situation to lead or learn unfolds (very much the hardest part for most people);
  4. Involving others to provide input so they help to set the direction (which allows the situation to rely less on you to solve a problem);
  5. Guiding the conversation to establish authority and overall decision making.

This is a very simple process. I used to believe leadership was all about dictating to others what to do. Sometimes it is that, but often it is not. If you look at the picture at the top of the post you will see a small figure walking between the trees. Often people, even those that are authority figures, fall into this trap of not thinking they are “tall enough” when situations outside their comfort zone emerge so they don’t lead. A black belt automatically sees these opportunities and seizes them. They stand as tall as the trees.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of 96dpi

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An odd title for a post coming from Black Belt Guide, I know. I first heard this put into context at about the age of 23. A young black belt, I was physically confident and slightly full of myself (at least I thought my attitude was slight). I was attending a seminar on multiple brick breaking techniques. The teacher I was working with was a relatively young man, and a student of a well known local martial arts master our dojo trained with periodically. The master was an ex Vietnam war veteran. He had seen a lot of combat action and he had killed people in hand to hand combat. You could say he had “street cred” in spades. All of us were pretty scared of him. He and his students knew how to break stuff.

On a technical level brick breaking is really not about generating massive force. Or even hitting through the object that is in the way of your punch/kick/strike. It is much more subtle. It is about having confidence in yourself and not worrying about the outcome. You simply need to be yourself and just understand the end state you want. Try to break the brick and you will fail. By fail, I mean you will break your hand or foot. It’s not about hitting the brick as hard as you can as that never works. You just need to focus on the end state which stated simply is for your hand or foot to move to the underside of the brick.

So there I was, staring at a pile of 6 bricks with spacers between each brick (they are harder to break than when stacked directly on each other). My adrenaline was pumping. I walked around the pile of bricks, eyeing them as the enemy. I started breathing heavily figuring that my physical pronouncement would make a difference. I wasn’t concentrating at all. My mind raced as I thought about how much force I needed to generate, would I break the brick, would I fail – I wasn’t in a state of centered harmony, one of the 6 Elements black belts train to achieve in the classical martial sense. I gathered up all my breath, tensed my body and slammed my hand on to the top break with a big “slap” which everyone else hard (and winced because it was so loud). My hand was throbbing. I looked at the stack of bricks and they stared right back – nothing had broken. The young master stood in the corner, a slight smile on his face. He was about 6’3” and weighed about 250 lbs. He was all muscle. I was waiting for his judgment on how weak I must have been for not breaking the breaks, and how I must have screwed up the palm heel technique hitting the stone like a sissy.

Then he said “you won’t be able to do this until you get in touch with your feminine side”…       I was floored.

Femine side? We are talking about breaking bricks. Man stuff. What warriors are supposed to be made of I thought to myself.

He walked up to the bricks and gently caressed the stone with his hand, slowly running his fingers over edges. “You see, right now you are making this all about you. But it’s not about you. It’s about them. You are seeking all the attention. But they want the attention from you.” I calmed myself down, focused on the end state, and focused on the entire situation. I ended up breaking all six bricks on the second try.

So, why am I writing about this? Because far too often we try and force something to occur when it shouldn’t or doesn’t have to.  Definitely a masculine trait. A more feminine approach is to seek understanding first and then potentially act. Often times men are seeking a solution or a “fix” to a problem. But sometimes there is no immediate or obvious fix. Or sometimes we think the fix is needed when it is really not. We are not focused on the proper end state, whatever that may be. We are just focused with fixing the immediate problem in our way. Hit the brick, break it (hopefully) and move on.

I am not for a moment saying that a feminine trait is not to problem solve. But there is a level of understanding women place more of a value on then men do in terms of relationships and interactions with others.  You have to actually care about what the other person or party is concerned with to play a productive role in a mutual relationship whether that be with a friend, a loved one or a colleague.  You can only achieve this through a state of active listening. In short, there is no way to effectively reach an end state, either your own, or helping someone else reach theirs if you only focus on what is right in front of you.

Since that day I have regularly asked myself what is the end state I want. Am I listening or just acting, going right into problem solving mode? Asking these questions helps to slow myself down. It doesn’t matter what I am doing when I do this. Negotiating a business deal. Doing a physical work out. Whatever the situation is I try to consciously put myself in a state of receptivity to what others are seeking, just like a mother that knows how to listen to a child. Taking care of the issue at hand but keeping an eye on the ultimate goal.

So I ask both male and female readers: are you in touch with your feminine side?

Thanks for training with me.

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This is a companion post to the “Know your worth by finding centered truth” post I wrote that was published on 6 Aliens.

One of the most powerful and difficult aspects of self development is the need to feel respected. I believe most people seek respect from peers, colleagues, friends and even strangers if only to feel that they have gained validation for themselves. I say “confusing” because we have a tendency to believe that if we are respected by others we are somehow complete. We have “arrived” as it were in terms of how others see us.

It is as if our position in life only matters if we are respected by those around us.

Consequently many people focusing on winning the respect of others. We spend a lot of time working hard to build success through work, academics and other activities simply to prove we are “worthy”. These actions are important and I am not for a moment suggesting to not work hard for success, whatever that may mean for you. But it is this need for self worth that creates and drives the actions we take to be respected. I think that ultimately this is the view of the majority of people, and their actions reflect this.

Interestingly it is this intense focus we have about “working on ourselves” that only provides a one dimensional view of the respect most of us seek. I have seen this play out many times teaching in a martial arts domain. The reasoning is puzzling at first because an important part of the answer is not obvious.

How is Respect Defined?
The term “respect” has several definitions but I believe they are misinterpreted. One common view, such as in a martial arts setting, is that respect is taught and subsequently shown due to age and wisdom of the people with who you train. Traditionally speaking this has been the case. The Japanese concept of senpai (senior) and kohai (junior) speaks to respecting knowledge which is historically associated with age. There is a lot of value in this type of training framework but it is only part of the picture I am getting at.

Another definition commonly held is respecting others that are more powerful than we are. Being powerful can mean a lot of things but it can include:

  • Intimidating personalities who physically project their power through words and appearance, anything from a bully personality to the extreme of how a gang member carries themselves (“show me respect or I will hurt you”);
  • Autocratic authority figures, which can include an abusive partner in a personal relationship, such as a spouse, or in a business setting, with a boss or supervisor;

I can “project” a lot of power when I need to, although I almost never do. And those that don’t know that I train in the martial arts view that as weakness, but it is not. It’s actually the opposite as I am choosing not too. Most people will say “respect is earned” which is true and commonly held view. But for it to really matter, there is another element, a reciprocal element that must be applied.

You Haven’t Offered Dignity – How Can I Respect You?
So, when we look at the term “respect” is it really possible to despise someone and simultaneously respect them? I don’t think so. Perhaps we may respect certain qualities or characteristics of them. But on a personal development level, respect is really framed around the view of the whole person. Anyone that has ever trained with me in Karate knows that I can be “unpleasant” in a dojo setting. I actually use quite a bit of humor (I think I am funny) when I am teaching. But I am only hard on students because I am driving them to succeed and advance themselves. It is a training mechanism and is not projected personally at a student, or more importantly to make me feel better about myself. And that is a fine line because the only way respect can be taught for others to associate the quality of respect towards you is if you offer (read “give”) someone dignity. It is this missing element that makes the respect and dignity a reciprocal relationship. Dignity is given and respect is earned.

I am not saying to not be demanding or not to be firm. You should do this. Just do it in a way that offers others dignity to those you are dealing with. Western culture is fairly focused on the concept of respect. But hardly any activity is focused on giving dignity to others. It’s hard to offer dignity to others because often times we are so focused on ourselves (need to earn that respect) we forget, or more likely never even think of giving others dignity.

Ways to Offer Dignity
There are many ways to do this and it is more of an approach than a hard and fast rule.

  1. Praise – Offer praise to someone when they do a good job. I do this all the time with students and employees.
  2. Don’t Belittle – Don’t belittle others accomplishments (which I see for too often). Instead complement others on achievement. Belittling others points to a problem with you, not them.
  3. Mean That You Care – You can be hard on someone (your child, a student, a subordinate at work) to make an important point or get something out of them, but then turn around and let them know if it because you care about them as the reason behind your action. You have to actually “mean it” in regards to the later part of don’t do it as you will only be lying to yourself and the other person.
  4. Stop Avoidance – Engage others that are less “successful” than you. This is hard to explain but a very simple example is the beggar on the street. If a homeless person comes up to me I don’t always immediately avoid them. It depends on the situation, however I do listen to them, ask them how they are, and tell them I can’t give them any money. I can quickly end the conversation simply by saying “I am sorry, I have to go. But I hope you are OK.” At least I have bothered to acknowledge their existence rather than just turning away and not offering any dignity.
  5. Proactively Engage – In a social setting where you know others and a new person is present, proactively go up to them and talk with them. Introduce yourself, welcome them and ask them some questions. I am amazed at how little dignity we show others in this kind of situation, especially when the person that needs it most is not fitting in right away.

The most powerful and fully developed people I know put others before themselves. A different definition of power perhaps, but I think a more accurate one. It is through this idea of offering dignity to others that shows a strength in character that is evolved. They likely live by an internal code as I have written about here. They may not necessarily be the most successful people in the text book definition but that doesn’t really matter for this discussion as we are talking about this idea on a personal development level. This sort of comes down to the question of how you gauge others. Is it based on what you have achieved or who you are? Believe me; I am not down on achievement at all. I am simply saying that those who can show dignity are ready to respect others. Because they feel that they want to, not that they have to in order earn their own self respect.

If you look at the photo at the top of the post you will see a cultural example of embracing dignity. The people bowing to each other (called a “rei” and pronounced “ray”) are offering dignity as a show of respect to each other.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of This Particular Greg

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This is part 2 in a series discussing performance breakthroughs.

I always tell karate students to push themselves to the edge of what they can take and then I get them to go beyond that for short periods of time. This kind of short period, high intensity focus forces exhaustion and frustration. But it also achieves performance breakthroughs and gets you down the path of being at a higher level of performance as you get put outside of your comfort zone as I have written about here. This concept is a lot like weightlifting where you periodically lift slightly heavier weights than usual. You can’t keep that up indefinitely and you won’t necessarily see the progress of the effort immediately as the noticeable progress of increased strength comes over time. The technique I am talking about here, called “Edge training”, is similar and just moves you along the path higher performance much faster by temporarily pushing you to the edge of what you can do. The thing is this training mechanism is not reserved exclusively for martial arts or weightlifting. And it is not restricted to physical activities either which is why I am talking about it here.

What is a Performance Breakthrough?
In my last post, I talked about the trade off between short term and long term results and the importance of not fixating on how much progress you have made in the short term. This is definitely a pillar of martial arts training, and by extension a basic philosophy in many Eastern cultures. Long term results are the result of short term efforts. Although that sounds and seems obvious it’s really not.

Practically speaking you have to have periodic and repeated emphasis on a specific focus area over a long period of time to make a breakthrough in that specific area. That means you have to find a focus area, perform a series of activities for improvement to that area (for ease of discussion we will call this training), and then look back at your progress through a series of markers or milestones over time.

Performance breakthroughs can be achieved in many areas, not just physical activity.

The Zen of…Tennis?
Although the principle of “edge training” is used in martial arts training it works for a variety of activities. To understand the concept I’ll  use a very simple example most people can relate to: the game of tennis. Even if you don’t play the game you have likely seen it so the process described below should make sense. Top tennis players don’t just play a game of tennis to improve their performance. They focus on specific swings: forehand, backhand, volley, serve, and overhead. The best players are always working on these basics, but to really in improve on any of them they pick one element and overwork it for a period of time usually 2-3 weeks if they are playing regularly. An hour of practice 3 times a week, with a specific focus on forehand improvement might look like this:

  • Warm-up with all basic strokes – 15 minutes
  • Intense focus on forehand stroke – 10 minutes
  • Full game (set of serving, receiving and strokes) – 30 minutes
  • Warm down focus on forehand stroke – 5 minutes

So in this example, 3 hours of tennis in one week keeps your entire game moving forward but you are spending close to an hour of that working specifically on your forehand. 30% of the player’s time is devoted to working on the forehand. And the fact that you are focusing on the stroke carries over during the game you are playing with an opponent so the focus on the forehand swing is really 40% or higher.

Get to the Edge
This overemphasis on a specific area is what I mean by “getting to the edge”. The idea is simply to temporarily over train in an area you are focusing on for specific improvement. By doing this you increase two key learning mechanisms:

  • Focused effort in a specific area, for short and intense periods, absorbs the participant in that specific activity both at a mental and physical level promoting a quicker learning and improvement process.
  • When this is done against the backdrop of broader framework (e.g. tennis, martial arts, writing, etc…) you make connections to and from the broader framework through the focused activity.

We use the identical framework of practice and training in the martial arts dojo because there are so many types of punches, kicks, blocks, strikes, throws, and other techniques to master beyond the 5 strokes in tennis. In a more complex activity like martial arts (complex in the sense that there are more movements to perfect) we start most classes with a focus on basic static drills (punching, kicking, blocking, etc…), technique that are practiced in a solo environment. Next, a one on one partner drill is worked on, focusing on the basic technique where the student applies the focus area in a practical setting. Following that a set of kata (forms) are done which are a series of choreographed moves that includes the focus area in some way (among other important elements like breathing, balance, focus, control, etc…). And finally sparring training is done for free form combat training.

So while the student is working in several different training scenarios, the focus area is constantly being worked for short periods of time (2-3 weeks). The process of rotating through to a new area with similar intensity, while everything else remains constant provides a new “edge”.

Areas Where Getting to the Edge Works

Edge training works for many different types of activities, not all physical. Below are some examples:

1. Physical Activities – The most obvious place this training method works is for any kind of physical activity and applies to virtually any sport or fitness. The tennis and martial arts examples described above demonstrate this.

2. Writing – One of the best places the edge training strategy works is for writing improvement. If you are a blogger, spend one week writing a specific type of blog post, such as a short post, every day. Try and write 3 different posts a day of 250 words or less for 1- 2 weeks. Committing to this process forces you to find a topic you can write to, create a quick outline, and produce the content with as few words as possible. Set a fixed time period to try and complete the piece. This helps to “exhaust” yourself, very similar to a physical version of edge training, which is good. You won’t get the result you want at first (a perfect post), but that’s fine.  This becomes a focus exercise given the distraction the mind puts on us when writing. The time period creates an artificial boundary and as a milestone or marker for how well you are doing in terms of content creation.

One of my favorite bloggers is Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris takes getting to the edge to the extreme and takes about how he writes on a schedule and never misses a post, very much a form of edge training.

3. Public Speaking – I personally use this strategy as I love public speaking. For me, it’s less about a time period, as in the writing example, and more about finding different types of situations to speak in. Examples of this are:

  • Teaching in front of a group or class
  • Speaking at industry conferences
  • Presenting in front of a group of peers or colleagues
  • Giving sales presentations

I recently saw a very good video providing tips on how to present in front of audiences by Ben Lumley who writes the blog 6Aliens. Ben’s work is such that he presents in front of school children, usually in groups of 50-250 students almost every day for limited periods of time. His works gives him the opportunity to speak publicly on a regular basis, so there is no way he can’t improve. However, his video provides a good example of the steps you can take to improve your public speaking. In addition, his 7 step approach points out specific areas you can then focus in on. This can easily be converted to the edge training strategy I am describing here where you can focus on anyone of the 7 areas for gains in speaking improvement for short, intense periods and rotate through them over time.

4. Learning – This is a complex topic because people learn and take in information in many different ways. Recently, I set out to understand more about social media by focusing on blogging (the creation of this blog) which for me included creating and managing a self hosted WordPress site (vs. using a hosted solution from WordPress.com or Google’s Blogger), post writing (a much more schedule frequency driven approach than my last blog project), and site promotion using social media strategies including Linked In, Twitter and Facebook. I have had to take each piece and apply myself in one of these specific areas to make gains. I went from not understanding how to do any of this to getting each of these skill sets moving down a path. I’ll put myself at a white belt+ level right now, but using an “edge training” strategy has enabled me to move forward with quick and measurable short term results by focusing intently in one area for a short period and then moving on to the next.

The new blogging site Blogcastfm which does interviews with top blog writers and discusses what has led to their success, recently featured Adam Baker. He writes manvsdebt, a well established personal finance blog. Adam discusses how he started out researching the personal finance medium, learning his specific space by reading what dozens of other bloggers were writing about, and connecting with key people in his niche for promotion. His interview points to a “throw yourself in and learn as much as you can” style of learning. But you can hear in the interview how he used an “edge engagement” approach to further refine each of the key areas he was learning and improving in. It is worth listening to the interview as a good example of an “edge training” process.

Edge Training – Leadership of Self
Edge training is really common in martial arts training. Although this is done in a physical context, I categorize it as a Leadership exercise, one of the 6Elements that black belts train to achieve. But I am referring to leadership of self for personal development and self improvement, not leading others. You can’t always keep your foot on the gas all the time for everything. That just leads to burnout and failure for most people. The “edge training” process allows you to focus on an area and then change up your focus area every few weeks. By rotating through the areas you have defined that are important to the activity you are combining short term results with long term performance gains.

So go out and get to the edge to make a performance breakthrough. Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of Foto Pamp

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This is Part 1 of a series on training yourself to achieve breakthroughs.

One of the most rewarding aspects of self development through any activity, and one that is clearly seen in martial arts training, are the significant breakthroughs that occur in both mental acuity and physical performance over time. These are milestone events and are best described as getting yourself to the next level of ability or performance. I say “milestone events” because the changes, while not immediately noticeable to you, are very tangible based on how you view them.

Most performance development breakthroughs don’t happen quickly and it is not uncommon (really it is more the norm) that you actually won’t realize you have made a breakthrough at any one point in time. This is also true for some types of personal or mental improvement. There is usually no “Aha moment” for breakthroughs in performance development in the Oprah sense. The changes are subtle. It’s a bit like a tsunami (more on this below). I want to point out I am not taking about suddenly recognizing something about yourself and deciding you want to change whatever that is. That’s another type of breakthrough outside the scope of my training and teaching ability.

An easy way to describe the breakthrough concept I am referring to is to think about the development of a specific skill, like writing, public speaking or a sports activity and get a baseline of where you are at that point in time. For example, in karate training a simplistic way to view this is looking at differences in belt levels. A yellow belt can kick with minimal power, poor targeting focus and rudimentary balance. That yellow belt works hard, gets pushed by senior students and over time improves. A year later at testing, the person is now a blue belt who can generate substantial focused power to a specific target and not fall over when making contact. I am sure you can think of similar examples to activities you are familiar with but you get the idea.

It’s important to look at performance both in the short and long term.

The Value of Short Term Results
Our society values short term results. There is nothing wrong with this but most personal and performance development really occurs over long periods of time. The short term results are valuable to us however because:

  1. We see where we are currently and visualize where we want to get to next;
  2. We can try new techniques or approaches and potentially see small changes of improvement;
  3. We get frustrated because we are not making the change as quickly as we’d like

The final point of all three of these – frustration – is key. It’s the most important one. Often times we dismiss too quickly whether or not we are achieving something because we are not getting the “immediate results” we are looking for. I am not saying immediate results are wrong, just don’t make an “end all be all” judgment on whether or not you are making progress towards something just because you are not getting the desired change quickly enough. Most of the time you can’t so don’t stop what you are doing without serious reflection. All of the points above are great markers both for the actual activity you are undertaking and from a character building perspective, especially (but not exclusively) when a physical activity is being pursued.

The Tsunami Approach – Long Term Improvement
As I said above, breakthroughs occur over long periods of time but they are only successful if you intensely pursue whatever the activity is. In any physical activity it’s associated with doing the physical elements regularly. In public speaking it may be simply taking more opportunities to address groups, speak in public, do a presentation with peers, etc…For a software developer it may be focusing on a specific technology and applying AGILE practices regularly for a period of time to create new software. I point this out because whether or not you realize it you may be half way towards breakthrough training. The intensity matters. Just doing something over a long period of time will eventually lead to some form of breakthrough. But to get them more quickly you have to sustained periods of intensity to move yourself up the achievement ladder.

Tsunami waves are defined as large bursts of intense amount of energy. They travel large distances (typically but not always) and reflecting their result only right at the end. It’s at that end point, and especially if you take the metaphor and look back at yourself, that you see the change. Interestingly on a scientific level you can be in the middle of an ocean with a tsunami passing underneath you and you won’t necessarily notice it. Its intense power is lurking below and only raises its devastation up as it approaches the shore line. Personal development breakthroughs are a very similar to this same concept.

(I’ll add that I have been thinking about this post for some time and the recent events of the earthquake in Chile that caused massive devastation and the resulting tsunamis that struck different parts of the area are both tragic and a reminder of the power of nature. I have been to South America many times and my heart is with the Chilean people right now.)

I like the generic picture of the term tsunami as it serves as a visual cue for me in different periods of training for improvement regardless of the activity. In essence, if I choose to work on something specific for a breakthrough (like the kicking example or public speaking). I like thinking of the wave and associating it with the activity. It’s an easy way to remind myself of the focus I am placing on it versus “just doing kicks better” or “improving my public speaking”. I grew up on the shore of Pacific Ocean so it works for me. Nature is also such a relevant part of martial arts training as so many concepts are culled from it. If the nature aspect doesn’t work for you, find something relevant to help you as a visual cue to associate what you are focusing on. It really does work.

A Training Framework to Achieve Breakthrough
This is purposefully generic. I am outlining the general steps I see when teaching others in terms of how to achieve long term breakthroughs.

  1. Set a baseline for yourself in regards to where are you now
  2. Identify a specific area for improvement and focus on it intensely
  3. Define what the improvement should look like to you
  4. Establish a preliminary time period to focus or train towards
  5. Periodically review progress through feedback from outside sources

The intensity doesn’t have to be done every time you perform an activity; you just need to seek periods where you heavily focus your effort so you can speed up the process of improvement.

You also need to take periods of time to reflect back on where you where and how you got to where you are to see the break through. This is done regularly in martial arts training as the express principle is to “shine a light” on your successes because getting good at the activity is not a quick process. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t see improvement right away, you will do that over time.

Make a Breakthrough (Look Right)
You’ll notice on the right side of this blog is an area labeled “Make a Breakthrough”. This shows the 6 Elements I have defined that black belts train to achieve. Each is a category of personal development where breakthroughs are relevant and evaluated over time. They are the martial arts principles I talk about in this blog but are applied to any type of personal or performance based development. If you select one of the elements it will automatically pull up all the posts relevant to a particular topic. Each topic is categorized to only one major element for simplicity.

In my next post, I’ll dig more deeply into each of these points and how to push yourself to the edge and to failure so that you can get to a breakthrough. It is commonly done in martial arts training but the principle can be applied to any personal improvement process.

Tell me about your breakthroughs. Do you recognize them? If so, when and how do they occur for you?

Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of TarikB

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Surfing through TV channels late the other night, I came across one of the ultimate Hollywood personal discovery movies – Jerry McGuire, starring Tom Cruise. In the beginning of the movie McGuire is wrestling with his place in life as top sports agent and how unfulfilled his life is. In a fit of alcohol fueled passion he sets out to write a personal mission statement about the person he wants to be. He spends the rest of the movie discovering who he really is, guided by his new manifesto.

I think there is value in a personal mission statement, although I am not crazy about the “touchy feely” aspect of that term. I prefer to view this as a code of conduct, something the Samurai warrior class developed and lived by over centuries in ancient Japan. The code they upheld and I have trained by (to an extent) is called Bushido. The term “Bushido” translates to “The Way of the Warrior” and entails a focus on Loyalty, Benevolence and Courage as important traits the Samurai strived to live up to.

Codes of conduct have been developed by a wide array of institutions as a way to identify the principles and values they believe their members, employees or communities should strive to follow. It’s common to see codes or mission statements in corporations, universities, and militaries. In these settings the code is typically more of a mandate – something you are supposed to do.

It’s also typical to see conduct codes developed in martial arts dojos, but usually it is structured as something you strive to achieve over time, more in the Bushido spirit. In the dojo I have trained in over many years the students collectively created the conduct code.  It is something one may never achieve mastery of, but it provides a serious set of core values one seeks to constantly develop and drive towards. The key with any code of conduct, especially one focused on your own personal self development, is not to get caught up on working at all of the defined principles at once. Ideally you consciously focus on one of them for a period of time and then choose another for a renewed effort.

In the fast paced world of multi-tasking, Twitter and the constant interconnectedness we have through our BlackBerries or iPhones it takes some doing to slow down and focus like this. That got me to thinking about having my own code of conduct. The things that are important for me to strive to focus on and continually work towards achieving on a personal level while the frenetic world rages on. I’d like to share those here as a model for others to look at and consider. Not to adopt mine but simply to establish this thought process for you. In martial arts training I refer to this as the “Internal Morality” aspect of black belt training, one of the 6 Elements.

My Personal Code of Conduct

1. An Obligation to Teach Others
I believe people have an obligation to teach others and share their knowledge proactively. Certainly we all do this to some degree. Parents automatically do this with their kids, to an extent by setting proper examples of behavior (sometimes not). In work situations this can easily be done. For example, I spend a lot of time coaching new sales people, or even those that don’t sell professionally but need to know the basic principles, just as others did for me earlier in my career. This blog is a reflection of that principle, something I want to continue to expand and grow.

2. Demonstrably Show Appreciation
I am constantly amazed at how little appreciation we show towards one another. I see this a lot in the workplace, for example. It also happens on a personal level as we take for granted those we know – family, friends, and loved ones. There needs to be more proactive kindness. At work I try and do this regularly, thanking employees for contributions they have made or a job well done. I am surprised more company executives don’t do this. It is such an inexpensive motivator that really means something to people and it’s free.

3. Actively Offer Dignity
This is a challenge for a lot of people, me included. I see a lack of dignity being offered to others, notably strangers. A simple example is how we treat those that serve us. When you are at the market do you push your money towards the checkout worker or politely hand it to them? Have you asked them how they are today, just out of courtesy? I know I haven’t done this as much as I should. Perhaps the most troubling of all is our actions towards strangers. Not offering any amount of dignity to the beggar on the street. I am not saying make someone in this situation your best friend. But given the state of the world economy more people than ever are in places they don’t want to be and I think we need to be cognizant of that through external action. I know I do.

4. Embrace Differences
I am honestly tired of the whole “Red State vs. Blue State” mentality in the United States. There is no problem in disagreeing but the escalation that is occurring now is counter productive on a societal level. Fortunately I have traveled a good part of the world having been to 30 countries so I find the uniqueness and differences of other cultures and countries very appealing. Yet, even I forget that these differences are valuable learning methods. This is a reminder for me to try and see viewpoints other than my own regardless of what I personally believe. I can only grow by doing this which is something I want to expand on through this blog.

5. Be a Good Steward of Planet Earth
I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist but more and more I believe there is an obligation to future generations for us to be cognizant of how we live right now. I think I have done somethings well in this regard. My family recycles like no one’s business, something I wouldn’t have imagined we would have done to the extent we now do since moving to Northern California last year (it’s just huge up here). I’ve been telecommuting for 4+ years and sold my SUV. We live with just one car, which do-able as a telecommuter, but still tricky in transportation challenged California. I have a feigning interest in astronomy and I am blown away by the scientific discoveries going in the Universe right now. Earth is so small in that context, but it is all we have. We need to do a better job protecting her. The samurai would, that’s  what any true warrior does.

As you can see, this is not goal setting, it is much deeper than that. In order to achieve peak performance in anything, I believe you need to look at yourself and reflect on more than a superficial level of what you want to achieve in life. It’s how you live right now that matters just as much, if not more. These are deep seated values one carries with them.

If you decide to try this exercise, it is fine it doesn’t come out for you exactly how you want it to the first time. The important aspect of this is to simply start the process of really identifying these core values for you and course correct them over time.

I’ll wrap up by saying that ff you know me than keep me honest on these. And if you don’t, well keep me honest anyways. Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of Piero Sierra

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