When the going gets tough, the tough relax

This is long, so feel free to skip it.

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless–like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee

These are the first words you hear in the Anderson Silva documentary, Like Water, directed by Pablo Croce.  Quick reminder: Silva earns his living as a mixed martial fighter. He’s one of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world. But what makes him unique is his approach to his craft and life. Long story short, he’s widely considered as the modern day Bruce Lee. In the above documentary, Pablo Croce gives us a behind the scenes look at the life of Anderson Silva, and the buildup to one of the most publicized matches in his career, Silva’s fight against Chael Sonnen.

The question is, what can Silva teach us about life and business? If you were to observe Silva as he’s approaching an opponent in a fight (aka Silva’s day at the office), you’d notice that he’s one of the most relaxed human beings you have ever seen. So much so that he looks like he’s not moving—he looks like he’s flowing. Yes, flowing—just like water.

Question: How about you—when you approach an ‘opponent’ (say a new project) in your line of work, are you flowing? Said differently, are you relaxed? Or are you usually tense? If you’re anything like most people, you likely tense up. Quite a bit. Where does this tension spring from? If you’re anything like most people, it springs from fear. With fear as your companion however, you’re at huge disadvantage. In short, here’s how:

First, by allowing yourself to be filled with fear, you simply increase the chance of failure. If you’re anything like most people, the tasks you have to overcome likely call for a degree of creativity. And it’s a well known fact that people are more likely to have a creative breakthrough when they’re relaxed. (Don’t take my word for it, Google it.)

Second, you’ll be creating a fear-filled environment around yourself (aka bad karma). And this almost guarantees that you and everyone else around won’t enjoy the experience. (Even your friends and family might get to feel some residue of your discomfort.) Is that what you really want to happen? As the Buddhists say, pain is inevitablesuffering is optional. Said differently, whether your project ultimately succeeds or fails, do you really need to remember the experience as one you suffered through? Isn’t your deepest desire to have more joy in life?

My 2¢:
I wanted to share the above story with you for two reasons: 1. To remind you that good ideas do not have to be new ideas. Silva did not invent the ‘blueprint’; he has simply embraced it. 2. To remind you that creativity is the best use of the obvious. When the going gets tough, do what the tough do: relax.

P.S. An interesting fact: The world renowned Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of “optimal human experience” have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, during flow people typically experience enjoyment, creativity and a total involvement with life. More importantly, Csikszentmihalyi demonstrated the ways this optimal state can be controlled, not just left to chance. See Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience for more info.

Jan 4, 2013