The Benefits of Martial Arts: Insights on improving Mental Health and Outlook

Guest post by Nick K @ BJJmotivation.com

Can training martial arts help you improve your overall health? The short answer is an astounding yes. Scientific studies also back up this claim. From improved concentration, to better self confidence, the martial arts offer an excellent means to improve your physical and mental state.

In my years as a practitioner of judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, I have noticed “improvement” in my overall outlook on life and my relationships. Studying martial arts is more than just being able to learn how to fight or defend oneself. While this might be a goal for some, it is a very narrow view of what training should be about. Instead, by looking at the broad scope of all the benefits of martial arts training one can see that they are much more than learning how to impose physical violence on one another.

Self-Actualization & Growth

Martial arts is a great way to understand and develop your sense of self.  Martial arts can be hard work, both physically and mentally. However, because martial arts training requires you to push yourself, develop responsibility, and respond to stressful situations, it presents a unique opportunity for personal growth. The martial arts are in so many ways about opportunities and invitations to grow and improve yourself. A frequent story is the one shared by Dr. Neil Farber In Psychology Today on how martial arts have given him opportunities to grow his own self worth.

Humility

Humility is not a favorably viewed virtue in mainstream Western culture. Yet, martial arts present an opportunity to make objective assessments of oneself and abilities. In a martial art like Judo or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, one is often told to “leave your ego at the door.”  Because training in these arts is essentially live, one needs to “tap” before a move is fully executed. While there is a tendency and certain value in not giving up, there is an equal lesson, and perhaps more important lesson in learning when to admit your own defeat. From the time you put on your first BJJ gi to the time you receive your black belt, defeat will be your constant companion. You must accept that you have been broken down, but each defeats presents an opportunity to grow. You also learn that there will always be someone, faster, quicker, stronger, etc. In essence, you learn how to be comfortable with discomfort. This is a very humbling experience.

Stress Relief

Training in any sort of martial art can be therapeutic and relieve stress. Whether you are a student, working a job or running a business, stress is a problem that almost every person faces. In martial arts training, your body will release tension and build up energy through a rigorous training session. Take it from me, there is nothing better than leaving all your worries and problems “on the mat” after a stressful day

Reduce Anxiety and Enhance Mood

It is a well-researched fact that if you train hard and push your body, your brain releases endorphins and reduces cortisol. Endorphins improve the overall health of your brain and your body, while cortisol is a hormone produced by the body under stress, such as anger or fear, and it ultimately can damage our organs. Exercise reduces cortisol, and thereby improves our health and makes us happier. By extension, when martial arts are practiced as an athletic endeavor, they also produces these same effects.

Increased Self Confidence

Martial arts can teach people, especially children, how to resolve conflicts, whether physical or psychological. The ability to defend oneself can evoke courage inside the individual and lessens the need to resort to violence in a situation. Any sort of provocation can be dealt better if the individual is confident in his physical/mental abilities and fortitude. It is the knowledge that one can defend themselves that results in the ability to know when it’s appropriate to respond physically and when it is not. Most often the answer is to not engage in physical confrontation, which is always a win.

Conclusion

In conclusion, martial arts will increase your capability to persevere and stay resilient during any task you face throughout the day. You will find more meaning in your life once you start your journey.  You will also better your relationships with the people around you and find yourself at more peace and ease to communicate. Whichever martial you may be looking at, my suggestion is that you just take the first step and join your nearest gym/dojo/club. You will be surprised how welcoming these gyms can be and how easy it is to get hooked on them, whether it is Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Wrestling,or  you name it. Start training and become the best version of yourself.

Improve your emotional intelligence with this simple journaling technique

Growing up, I somehow got the idea that emotions were something to hide.  That, except under very special circumstances (like while watching sports), they should never be expressed.  And I became quite adept hiding my emotions – so adept that I believed I didn’t have them.

I’m not alone in this habit.  In fact, I see something similar in most of my coaching clients.  Though I’m still a work in progress, I have begun to chip away at this emotional blindness and the problems it causes, and have developed some techniques to aid in this process.  So I’m writing this post to share one specific technique, which borrows heavily from the practice of Nonviolent Communication.

This technique can help with self-awareness, which, according to Daniel Goleman in the book Emotional Intelligence is the foundation for EQ.  We need to be self-aware in order to manage ourselves more effectively, as well as be more socially aware.

The journaling technique is very simple, and should be practiced regularly (eg every day for 10 minutes) until it can be internalized.  And even then, it’s useful to practice it again sporadically – sort of like a musician practicing the scales on their instrument.  You’ll never be ‘done’ practicing.

Here are the steps:

  1. The practice consists of bringing to mind a situation about which you still have strong feelings – you can practice with both positive feelings and negative feelings
    • I’ll focus in this article on negative emotions since those are typically the ones people want help with, but doing this exercise with positive emotions can be an effective technique for experiencing gratitude and improving overall well-being.
  2. Once you’ve identified the situation you want to process, sit with it for a second.  Steep yourself in the feelings that come up when you bring this situation to mind, without running away from them.  Just allow whatever is arising to arise.
    • If you are processing something painful and that becomes too uncomfortable, then sit with the discomfort.  Let your current situation become your focus of attention.
    • You might go through several layers of thoughts and thoughts about thoughts, feelings and feelings about feelings.  But try to pick one emotional stimulus and stick with that for the entire process.
    • Check out this post for a more in depth discussion of this process
  3. Next, take out your journal and identify the emotions you’re experiencing – it doesn’t need to be limited to one emotion.  For example, you can write, “I am feeling annoyed, conflicted, frustrated, hurt…”
    • At first you might have a hard time coming up with anything beyond “I feel bad” or “I feel good.”  Because we’re taught to suppress emotions, we typically don’t develop much fluency in the vocabulary of feelings.  To begin developing that lexicon, I’d recommend checking out this PDF developed by the Center for Nonviolent Communication
    • Take some time to read over the list of feelings and write out all the words that resonate with what you’re experiencing in that moment as you recall the situation.
  4. Read what you’ve written, and, as much as possible, allow those emotions to come forth.  Sit with them.
    • Note – I am not suggesting we ‘wallow’ in our painful emotions.  Wallowing isn’t simply feeling bad – wallowing is feeling bad ABOUT feeling bad.  This is a very important distinction.
    • am suggesting directly experiencing whatever emotions are arising, without judging them as good, bad, useful or otherwise.  Just observing.
  5. As you’re observing your emotions, they will probably shift in one way or another.  Sometimes they become stronger, sometimes they dissipate.  Your job is not to know WHY this is happening.  Your job is to observe WHAT is happening (check out this NYT post for more on that).
    • The purpose of this exercise is to build the muscle of sustained, nonjudgmental, present moment emotional awareness.  The purpose is NOT to change your emotions or ‘get over them.’

One important point – this technique is less about learning and more about unlearning.  Emotions are a natural human process which we’ve learned to downplay, ignore, or judge.  You were born with the skills necessary to practice effectively.  Get out of your own way and let it happen.

TLDR:

To make yourself more emotionally intelligent, write down your emotions and create time to experience them nonjudgmentally.

Truth vs. Happiness

Wanting to share an allegory that comes from the book Thinkers of the East by Idries Shah, a famous Sufi author and teacher.  This story helps me remember the importance of always seeking truth over happiness:

A certain man believed that ordinary waking life, as most people know it, could not possibly be complete. He sought the real teacher of the age. He read many books, joined many circles, and heard the words and witnessed the deeds of one master after another. He practiced many meditations that appeared to be worthwhile. He became elated with some experiences, and at other times, he felt distraught. He had no idea of what his stage was at, nor when his search might end.

This man was reviewing his life one day when he suddenly found himself near the house of a certain sage of high repute. In the garden of that house, he encountered Khidr, the secret guide who shows the way to truth.

Khidr took the man to a place where he saw people in great distress. The man asked those people who they were. They answered, ‘We are those who did not follow real teachings, who were not true to our undertakings, and who revered self-appointed teachers.’

Then Khidr took the man to a place where everyone was attractive and full of joy. He asked them who they were. ‘We are those who did not follow the true real spiritual path.’

‘But if you have ignored the true path, how can you be so happy?’ asked the man. ‘Because we chose happiness instead of Truth, just as those who chose the self-appointed teachers actually chose misery.’

‘But is happiness not the ideal of man?’ he asked. ‘The goal of man is Truth,’ they replied. ‘Truth is more than happiness. The man who has Truth is able to encompass all moods,‘ they told him. ‘Happiness makes you its prisoner, as does woe.’

Then the man found himself back in the garden with Khidr beside him. ‘I will grant you one desire,”‘said Khidr.

‘I wish to know why I have failed in my search and how I can succeed in it,’ said the man. ‘You have all but wasted your life,’ said Khidr, ‘because you have been a liar. Your lie has been in seeking personal gratification and happiness when you could have been seeking Truth.

‘And yet I came to the point where I found you,’ said the man, ‘and that is something that hardly happens to anyone.’ ‘You met me,’ said Khidr, ‘because for one instant you had sufficient sincerity to desire Truth for its own sake. It was that sincerity, in that single instant, which made me answer your call.’

Now the man felt an overwhelming desire to find Truth, even if he lost himself in the process of finding it. Khidr, however, was starting to walk away. The man began to run after Khidr. ‘You may not follow me,’ said Khidr, ‘because I am returning to the ordinary world, the world of lies, for that is where I have to be, if I am to do my work.’

When Khidr left, the man looked around once again and realized that he was no longer in the garden of the sage, but standing in the Land of Truth.

In my experience, happiness is not necessarily an obstacle to truth – but being attached to happiness is. When I’m attached to being happy (which is most of the time), but not feeling happy, I am inclined to deny the reality of my unhappiness.  Not only is this turning away from reality, but this is also likely to keep me further away from happiness in the long run.

Seeking truth over happiness is just one more way to practice owning my shit It also helps me remember to embrace my shadow and to keep it real.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from the readers – would you take the red pill or the blue pill?

Note – I have never seriously studied Sufism.  I’ve learned about it from a couple different meditation teachers, who themselves were more grounded in the Buddhist tradition.  So take my interpretation with a grain of salt.

On White Supremacy

The recent demonstrations in Charlottesville by white supremacists have been all over the news in the past few weeks. My initial response is to think, “Those are the bad white people!” so that I can feel smug. But feeling smug is not conducive to ending white supremacy. It’s also a lie.

I’m writing this post to help me process some of my thoughts about white supremacy and the role I play in it.  Pointing the finger at white supremacy is useful, but I think it’s important for white people to remember to point that finger at themselves as well.

If I’m being honest, I can find many instances in my life where I unintentionally practice white supremacy. But actually, whether or not these actions are intentional, they still have the same impact: supporting white supremacy. Intention is irrelevant.

Here’s some of the insidious ways I support white supremacy:

  • Blaming racism on other people – This is a way of shirking responsibility. It’s a rationalization for not taking action. “White supremacy isn’t my fault – it’s those damn Nazis! Why should I do anything about it?” Truth is, even if I don’t drop N-bombs or shout ‘Blue lives matter,’ I have plenty of implicit bias that typically flies under the radar. In other words, my subconscious is racist AF. And my subconscious mind probably makes the majority of my decisions for me which means I’m pretty much racist AF.
  • Wanting to be perceived as a “good white person.” This is on the flip-side of the last one. They’re bad, I’m good. This will likely spur more hatred and disconnect between me and people I perceive as ‘bad.’ It’s pretentious, elitist, and another excuse for me to take less action
  • Getting trapped in guilt and shame – sometimes when I think about white supremacy and realize some of the ways in which I contribute to it, I get all emo. Feeling guilt and shame is fine – but when I feel so terrible that I decide to stop thinking about it and/or not do anything about it, that only makes things worse.
    • Check out Robin DiAngelo’s article “White Fragility” for a much more in depth explanation of this phenomenon
  • Perhaps the most problematic of them all is how unaware I am of my offenses. I’m sure I do much more terrible shit and have no idea about it. I’m so used to privilege, I don’t usually notice when it’s happening and when I’m abusing it.

White friends – I invite you to ask yourself: do you also do these things?

My hope is that by writing about this, I will shed some light on the issue so I’ll be more aware and do it less in the future. Hopefully it will also help me be a little more humble and maybe even get other white people to change their thinking and actions. I don’t believe it’s possible to completely root out my own internalized racism. I also think it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the end of systemic racism. But I think if I ignore one or the other, it’s more likely I’ll be doing more harm than good.

TLDR

  • I’m racist, whether I like it or not (and so are all white people)
  • I need to do work on myself, not just point the finger
  • I need to do work in community, not just by myself

 

I’ve been trying to learn about this stuff a lot lately, and am still a major noob. Here’s some of the more influential stuff that’s contributed to my understanding and writing of this post –

Why I Quit Google

My mouth still waters when I think about the Google cafeteria.  The catering team was five-stars – our chef was in charge of meals for the US Olympic Team one year.  And we didn’t just have free lunch – it was hot breakfast too, and ‘microkitchens’ everywhere you turned, with unlimited snacks, of the stupidly expensive variety.  I never had to pay a cent for medical costs.  And I was making enough money to pay off $20,000 in student loans and save up another $20,000 in a year and a half.  I could write a love song about the benefits that came from working with Google, and the incredible people I worked with.

Why in God’s name would I leave all that behind?

In a previous post I wrote about How I quit Google.  Now I’d like to write about Why.

Meaning vs. Comfort

My life during Google was incredibly comfortable.  Too comfortable.  There’s a concept called the ‘golden handcuffs’ – it refers to the incentives a company gives out to ensure employees don’t leave.  I was terrified of those handcuffs – I saw them as chaining me to comfort and away from meaning.  I knew the longer I stayed, the tighter those handcuffs would grip me.

I quit because the I found the majority of my work there unfulfilling.  Working as a stuntman and now as a coach has been incredibly uncomfortable.  In China, I once lived in a place with no toilet to save on rent.  But the meaning I derived from that work made it clearly worth it.

Freedom vs. Security

I generally don’t like the idea of working for the man.  Admittedly it’s a bit silly or even infantile, but I’d much rather be doing my own thing.  Even if that means not knowing how I’m going to pay my rent for the next year or what my retirement plans are.

Ever since leaving I’ve felt much more freedom – I choose my own schedule, I leave the country for a month and work remotely, and I can always be there for a friend in need (even if all they need is to party).  I take days off whenever I want.  But there’s no paid time off.  And I don’t get a fat paycheck every two weeks.  This can be incredibly stressful.

Courage vs. Certainty

“I’d much rather regret something I’d done rather than something I was too afraid to do.”  – Some shitty Jason Statham movie

I was afraid of leaving.  Staying at Google, my future was certain.  But I was surrounded by coworkers who had been there longer than me, and I wasn’t attracted to their lifestyles.  I wanted more adventure, more fun, more absurdity. It was terrifying to quit, but it was more important to me to buck up and take a risk than it was to be certain of my future.

I want to be courageous.  And staying at Google did not feel courageous enough for me.  I’m able to face my fears much more often since leaving, and am learning to be OK with uncertainty.  It hasn’t gotten much easier.

 

I don’t want to glamorize the life I live now.  It has its challenges too.  But they are challenges I’m more willing to overcome.

TLDR

  • Working at Google was pretty tight
  • I quit because:
    • I value meaning over comfort
    • I value freedom over security
    • I value courage over certainty

PS – I’ve got nothing but love for the big G.  I still believe in Google’s vision, and I did a lot of work there that was meaningful for me.  I do not mean to imply that you can’t find meaning, freedom, and courage with a job at Google or any corporate job.  I simply was not finding enough of those things during my time there – which is more of a reflection of me than the company.  If you work at Google, please invite me back for lunch.  I really miss that cafeteria.

PPS – Do you share similar values and want help breaking your own golden handcuffs?  I would love to help you with that.  Click here to learn more.

Owning My Shit

Lately I’ve been working on what I call ‘owning my shit.’ Ideally, this would look like me being totally unapologetic about who I am and how I show up – even when I do things that parts of me don’t like.

I’ve studied how to do this from some masters. Nannan, one of my best friends, went on his first date with his current girlfriend wearing no pants – just boxers and a tank top. “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you wearing pants?” she asked him. “It’s too hot for pants,” was his response. Zero fucks given.

His girlfriend, Xiaodan (also one of my best friends), is similarly a master of owning her shit. For example, I have never seen anyone take more selfies in my life. When I try to tease her about it, she flips it on me every time. “Don’t you have anything better to do than bother me? Mind your own damn business!” she yells, and without skipping a beat, goes back to making a cute face for her phone. No shame.

Xiaodan, Nannan, and me, all owning our shit in 2014

For me, owning my shit just means not buying into the idea that there is something wrong with me. Here’s an example of what it looks like to NOT own my shit:

I was at a conference with some very successful people, and I couldn’t help comparing myself to them. “Why does he look so much cooler than me? Why isn’t my business making as much money as theirs? Why is she so much funnier than me?” I started to beat myself up, feel ashamed, and then beat myself up for feeling shame. It wasn’t fun.

And here’s how I attempted to turn that situation around:

I realized I was beating myself up, and decided I didn’t want to do that. I thought, “You know what, who cares if I compared myself with others? At the time it seemed reasonable, and now I know better.” As soon as I stopped labeling myself as being wrong, I felt better. The temptation to compare myself with others naturally subsided – for a little while, anyways. When it came back, I accepted it again, which helped it go away again.

Instead of getting sucked into beating myself up, I want to move on, and take corrective action if need be. Instead of thinking I’m wrong, I want to recognize that there was some wisdom to my actions. I took them to meet some need of mine, and although the action may have failed at meeting that need, it had a positive intent. Right and wrong got nothing to do with it.

Actual image of someone owning their shit, big time

I’ve found that acceptance is the key to getting out of the vortex of beating myself up. No matter how deep down that rabbit hole I am, if I can accept that, all the layers of self-loathing collapse.  Acceptance is NOT enabling or acquiescing.  For me, it means empathizing with the need behind the action, and seeing that need as a beautiful thing.

It’s simple, but not easy. So next time I find myself not owning my shit, I want to take a deep breath, think of Xiaodan and Nannan, and accept.

TLDR

How NOT to own my shit:

  1. Beat myself up about something I did
  2. Beat myself up about beating myself up
  3. Beat myself up about beating myself up for beating myself up

How to own my shit

  1. Don’t beat myself up.
  2. But if I do – first, become aware that I’m beating myself up
  3. Accept what’s happening – but don’t enable it
  4. If necessary, take corrective action

Be Careful, and Fall Down the Stairs

I’m a Roman warrior standing on top of a huge stairway during an epic battle in ancient China. Facing my enemy below, I’m wearing a full suit of armor and cooking in the blistering summer sun and movie lighting. “You!” Alan, one of the stunt directors from Hong Kong, says to me. “We say action, wait signal, we shoot the arrow, you fall down.  OK?”

“Fall down the steps?” I ask. It’s about two flights down.

“Yeah. Be careful-ah” Alan tells me, adding some flavor from his native Cantonese. As usual, I had next to no time to think about what I was doing, which was probably for the best.

“3… 2… 1… Rolling… Action!” I’m looking mean but weary. Alan makes a motion of firing arrows from behind the camera, which will get added in later with CG. I’m hit! I scream in terrible pain as the imaginary arrow pierces my lung.  I fall back,and roll down the steps. The armor is soft, and the stairs are covered in foam – it’s not the most dangerous or painful stunt. But there’s a lot that can go wrong rolling down two flights of steps.

If I was trying to be careful in my habitual way of thinking, I would probably avoid rolling down staircases altogether. Working as a stunt man, Alan taught me a new way to be careful. A braver way.

Celebrating Alan’s birthday (center) with the stunt team during the filming of Dragon Blade. I’m on the right, next to the dude in the red shirt.

Being careful is important, but sometimes I conflate being careful with being comfortable. If did that in the above scenario, I would never have shown up on that movie set, and missed out on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. But I don’t always have the courage to separate safety from comfort.

In fact, many missed opportunities in my life come from an addiction to comfort and absence of courage. For example, I had a huge crush on a woman when we were both single. I ‘played it safe’ for too long, and by the time I admitted I had feelings for her, she already had a boyfriend, but confessed she’d had a crush on me at the time as well. Similar things have happened more times than I care to count or admit.  And I will certainly continue letting my fear get the best of me.  I’m writing this post to remind myself to cut that shit out.

Safety is important. If I wasn’t careful falling down that staircase, I could have broken some ribs, or ran into someone else and broken theirs. But for me, wanting comfort is usually just an excuse for a shortage of guts.

Being a stunt man taught me it’s possible to be safe AND brave. If I know I’m going to fall, there are techniques to minimize the chance of injury. In most scenarios, if I think about it, I can usually think of a way to mitigate potential danger, or I can find out ways. And if I’m being honest, in most scenarios, the potential for danger is over-inflated by my mind.

So instead of thinking of a million reasons for why I shouldn’t do the thing I’m afraid to do, or say the thing I’m afraid to say, I want to think of Alan. I want to remember to “be careful-ah,” and then do the thing before I have time to make excuses.

TLDR

  • Being careful does not mean being comfortable
    It is possible to be brave and safe
    When I’m afraid to do a thing, my goal is to be as safe as possible, without using that as an excuse to not do the thing

Note – I was introduced to the idea of safety vs bravery by this article, which is in the context of social justice and diversity: “From Safe Spaces to Brave Space”

Getting Out of My Head

When it comes to personal and spiritual growth, it’s much more effective for me to process things I learn about myself non-cognitively. That is to say, process through feelings rather than thoughts. I find that when I slow down and digest new ideas in this way, they’re much more likely to stick and influence my actions.

As much as I’d like to believe my rational brain is running the show, it probably isn’t.  As Elliot Aronson said. “Human beings aren’t rational animals; we’re rationalizing animals who want to appear reasonable to ourselves.”

I think it’s possible to learn in a non-rational way. This is what my meditation teachers* call non-cognitive processing. Here’s my understanding of how that works. The thoughts of which I’m conscious are the tip of the iceberg of subconscious thoughts, emotions, physical sensation, and other deep mysterious shit. Behind every thought, there is some kind of a corresponding physical sensation, which can be felt directly. Ignoring the thought to feel the physical sensation is the key to non-cognitive processing.
If I only pay attention to the thought and ignore the physical sensations, I will never have that deeper experiential understanding. I call this ‘being stuck in my head.’  I’m stuck in my head much more than I care to admit – so this is something I’ve been working on for a long time.

If I’m stuck in my head when I eat a taco, I am only focused on the thought ‘Tacos are delicious,’ and miss out on the celebration of flavor happening inside my mouth, as well as the rest of my body’s reaction to all that gustatory glory. I believe this is what Bruce Lee was talking about when he said, “Don’t think! Feeeeeel.”

This applies to more than just tacos and high kicks. I like to apply this most often to learning about myself, or helping others to learn about themselves. Here’s how I’ve been trying to do that: when I have some kind of insight, I pause. Typically, a cacophony of thoughts begin to arise – in other words, I start going into my head. I ignore those thoughts. I take a deep breath. And I sit with whatever sensations are arising. I bask in those sensations – even the painful ones (especially the painful ones).

Clients often ask me, “But how do I feel those sensations?”  I respond by asking them, “Do you have a left hand?”  They say “Yes.”  I ask, “How did you know that?”  Before the cognitive mind kicks in and says, Yes, I know I have a left hand, something else happens.  My mind somehow puts its awareness onto the hand and feels its existence.  The annoying truth is that we all know how to feel – and as soon as we start thinking about it, we’re not doing it.

The bigger the realization, the more time I spend basking in its associated feels. Sometimes I can pull this off, most of the time I can’t.  When I do this, I’m much more likely to remember what I’ve learned, and act in accordance with that knowledge.  When I don’t do this, I stay the same and don’t grow.

TLDR –

  • I’m not rational
  • I learn more effectively when I do so non-cognitively
  • To learn non-cognitively, don’t think – feel

*Carol Blotter and Matt Flickstein

Practicing Presence while Networking

I previously wrote a post about practicing presence in relationships, and in this post I want to focus on a particular piece of that pie – practicing presence in networking.

I’ve been doing a lot of networking for my business lately, and noticing two different ways I can be a dick about it:

  • Talking about what I want without listening for what the other person might want. For example, recently I was connecting with someone over the phone for the first time about possibly teaching some workshops for his organization. I dove straight into what I had to offer without connecting to what he was wanting. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t invited to offer a workshop for this organization.
  • Not talking about what I want. For example, I used to call up old friends “Just to re-connect,” when in reality I was hoping they might be able to introduce me to some possible clients. I can’t recall this ever working.  It also makes me want to puke.

Though these seem like opposite types of behaviors, both of them are motivated by attachment to a specific outcome which benefits me, with no consideration for the person with whom I’m connecting.

Realizing this, I am setting a new goal for networking, which I stole from Nonviolent Communication. That new goal “is to create a quality of empathic connection that allows everyone’s needs to be met.” Business needs, emotional needs, or whatever – all the needs.

From a moral perspective, this makes clear sense – my needs are not more important than other people’s needs. It also makes sense from a business perspective – if I repeatedly place my needs above others’, eventually nobody will be willing to work with me.

How will I do this? First, when connecting with someone for the first time, I need to be upfront about my motives. If they’re not willing to connect for that reason, then I won’t waste their time – or mine.  If it seems like they don’t want to talk, I’ll thank them for their time and leave them alone.

If they do want to talk, I’ll usually try to schedule a time to have a more in depth conversation. If I want to create a meaningful business relationship with someone, I find that it’s usually not so convenient to do it on that spot.

Whenever that deeper conversation happens, instead of steamrolling the other person with questions, first I’ll take some time to connect “Is now still a good time to talk? How was your day? How do you know so-and-so?” The key here is that these questions come from a place of genuinely caring about the other person, not from a manipulative desire to make them feel comfortable so they’ll be more likely to help me.

Another key is to allow space between my questions – space for them to think, to respond, and to ask questions of their own. I want to be sensitive to what the other person might be wanting, and if I don’t give them space to voice that, I’ll never know.

Even if they only want to help me, I still want to think of and offer other ways I might be able to help them – in the same way I might offer my friend a cup of water when she comes to my apartment. If she says no, I won’t be offended – it’s simply an offering of care. Whether or not she accepts is irrelevant.

It’s my hope that by practicing networking in these ways, two things will happen: 1 – I will be slightly less of a dick. 2 – Authentic connections will get created, and both the person I’m connecting to and myself will benefit from that.

TLDR:

How I don’t want to network:

  • Goal – get what I want
  • Be sneaky about my motives
  • Ignore the other person’s wants
  • Steam roll the people I’m networking with questions or pitches
  • Offer my help (and get butt-hurt if they decline)

How I want to (and am learning to) network:

  • Goal – create quality of connection that facilitates mutual benefit
  • Be clear about motives
  • Genuinely care about the other person
  • Allow space for them to talk
  • Listen for what they’re wanting
  • Offer my help (without any attachment to them accepting the offer)

Having Fun Being Serious

In a recent post I mentioned how simultaneously not taking my goal seriously while taking it really seriously was one of the keys to living out my dream as a stunt man. I want to expound on that a bit because I’m hoping to apply it to more things in my life, so hopefully writing about it will make it more of a tangible practice.

First, I want to share what seems to be true for me about when it’s useful to be serious and when it isn’t:

When it’s useful to be more serious:

  • Whenever I want to begin and complete an action which is already clearly defined, but I am averse to doing it. Example – I’m doing my taxes

When it’s useful to be less serious:

  • When I’m connecting with others. Example – I’m meeting someone for the first time
  • When I want to be creative. Example – I’m trying to think of an idea for a new blog post
  • When I want to have fun. Example – It’s Friday night

I need seriousness and its opposite – I’ll call it fun. For example, in my pursuit of becoming a stunt man, I had to be serious about practicing kung fu consistently. I had to be serious about cold calling assistant directors to ask them if their production was looking for white dudes. If I wasn’t serious, I wouldn’t have done these things.

But in the back of my mind, there was always a little snickering boy, giddy about the prospect of being on a movie set. It was that deeper sense of fun that drove me forward and kept me going through the excruciating uncertainty of my time as an actor.

This is what I mean by being simultaneously serious and not serious – having the sense that the big picture of what I’m doing is fun, even if the specific task I’m currently working on might not be.

This came naturally to me in my pursuit of being a stuntman. But when I stopped my career in the film industry to become a coach, I killed my sense of fun. My life became very serious. Now I’m a business man, and need to make money, I’ve got bills to pay – this is the narrative that is on repeat in my brain. It is not fun, and also sets me up for failure.

Just recognizing that I’m telling myself this story is liberating. I also want to replace it with another narrative, one that has the little boy in the back of my mind snickering about how liberating it is to not have to work a 9 to 5, and to get paid help others grow while also growing myself.  Giddy about the tapping into the freedom that I already have, and that my clients have as well.