As your traditional training progresses, you’ll get to hear older students interact with each other outside of class. Sometimes it’s friendly banter and other times it might be to give or ask advice for any of life’s curve balls. A curious observer would notice that for almost every question, the answer you’ll hear is “Just train”. Having a hard time in school? Train. Having trouble with a family member? Train. Having a difficulty at work? Train.
Is this just a simple cultural tradition passed down from master to student? That’s what I thought when I first began my training. My friends told me that it was a cleverly disguised marketing tactic to keep us coming to class. But with unlimited classes per month, that didn’t make sense.
It didn’t hit home for me until years later but it all started with a very simple comment.
“Your movements are still like a blue sash.” Sifu told me as he finished counting First-Fist. I was 2 weeks away from testing for my green sash so naturally I thought to myself, “Good! They should be! I’m still a blue sash!” But as I reflected on this, I realized the puzzle. How could I expect to earn a green sash BEFORE I exhibited green sash-worthy movements? And so I started pushing myself more. Classes got harder, but another interested thing happened. My discipline improved. The surprising part was that it didn’t just improve in training but in other areas of life: studying, family arguments, finances, and even eating healthy.
What does training, studying, managing finances, family arguments, and eating healthy all have in common? The answer is: to succeed in these, one must exercise some degree of self-control or willpower. In fact, when researchers study self-control or willpower, they find that it is one of the main predictors of success in life.
However, fifty years ago, if you asked a scientist to explain what concepts like “willpower” or “self-control” were, they couldn’t have told you with any certainty. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that emerging research in this field began coming together to fully explain the mysteries of self-regulation.
As it turns out willpower and self-control are like a muscle – if you work it out, it becomes stronger. This may seem obvious to some people but what most people don’t know is that willpower and self-control in one area of your life affects all the other areas. There is no such thing as willpower for eating healthy, willpower for exercise, willpower for spending, etc.. Rather, it is one system that can be strengthened collectively to affect all aspects of your life.
Even if you exercise self-control in something completely unrelated to your goals, your overall willpower and self-control improves. In studies led by Roy Baumeister, people were told to sit up straight or stand up straight whenever they thought of it. The results? They strengthened their willpower in diet, exercise, studying, and even spending – tasks that had nothing to do with sitting up straight!
The studies were repeated with the same strategy but with different techniques. Instead of focusing on posture, people tried using a different hand for regular tasks or they tried changing their speech habits by using formal words in place of informal ones (“yes” and “no” instead of “yeah” or “nope”). All in all, the results were the same, willpower stamina and self-control improved in tasks that had nothing to do with the exercises.
If we relate this to our lives, we can see precisely WHY hard training improves willpower and self-control. Practicing forms, single-step movements, kicks, sparring, and holding stances all require us to exercise self-control. This builds our “willpower” muscle in everything. But beware, just doing the movement is not sufficient. Studies have shown that if you don’t push yourself, there is no benefit to your willpower. In other words, “No strain, no gain.” So hold stances lower, kick higher and faster, press yourself and watch your willpower and self-control improve in everything you do. Having a problem? Just train.
Dr. Gershfeld is in private practice in Yorba Linda, CA specializing in chiropractic and health promotion. His approach emphasizes addressing the underlying causes of disease or discomfort and coming up with a strategy for prevention, treatment, and reversal. He can be reached at (714) 986-9767 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org