Dr. John Douillard, in his audio-tape program Invincible Athletics, explains the efficacy of using a non-stressful approach to training as opposed to indulging in chronic cycles of tear down fatigue followed by recovery.
Inner athletes take an easy, relaxed, and naturally progressive approach while working at the top of, but within, their comfort zone. In this way, they make training a pleasure, achieving a kind of "runner's high" not just in rare peak moments, but every time they train. They avoid the internal resistance or burnout that accompanies a stressful approach to training
If you want a child to follow you, for example take her or him lovingly by the hand and pull very smoothly, very gently. The child will flow along. If you give a sudden tug, the child will pull the other way. Our subconscious minds work the same way. And since our subconscious gives us our vital energy, it seems best, in the long run, to motivate ourselves with the carrot rather than the stick.
If you play golf, don't try to hit the ball, just let the club swing. If you're a gymnast, form the intent, then let the body pirouette. If you play basketball, let the ball go through the hoop. In life, form clear goals, prepare, then let things happen naturally, in their own good time.
Every bamboo shoot "knows" how to bend with the wind, but inner athletes have the insight to put up windmills. Understanding the spirit of nonresistance, you create a partnership with nature. You take the first step on the path of the inner athlete.
Principle 2: Accommodation
Life was never meant to be a struggle;
just a gentle progression from one point to another,
much like walking through a valley on a sunny day.
Let's take a look at some key points in the process of learning:
- Athletics, like life, develops what it demands. Development IS precisely commensurate with the demand. With no demand, there is no development; with small demand, small development; with improper demand, improper development.
- Demand requires motive. Without internal motivation to energize a demand, there can be no persistent response.
- Motivation requires meaning. The motivating factor corresponds to your values in life; it must offer an improvement or benefit that you want.
- Demand takes the form of progressive overload. By repeatedly and consistently asking of yourself a little more than you're comfortable with, a little more than you are capable of, you improve.
- Progressive overload takes place in small increments within your own comfort zone. You need to stretch your comfort zone but not ignore it. Most athletes constantly work outside that zone, and they experience extremes of fatigue, strain, and even pain. By staying within (but near the top of) one's own comfort zone, inner athletes take a little longer to improve, but they improve longer.
- Development (through overload) requires a tolerance for failure. Development inevitably entails a constant stream of "little failures" along the way to your ultimate goals.
- Tolerance for failure comes from an intuitive grasp of the natural process of learning. Unrealistic expectations mean a frustrated athlete; realism breeds patience. By understanding natural laws, you develop a realistic, light-hearted approach to temporary failures and come to see them as steppingstones to your inevitable progress.
Training develops you step by step through gradually increasing demand. If realistic and gradual demands are made on the body, the body will develop. If equally progressive demands are made on the mind and emotions, they develop in appropriate ways as well.
Within its natural capacity, the human organism will adapt to demands made upon it. This process of accommodation reflects a law that has allowed human beings to evolve and survive through time.
Even rocks are subject to the law of accommodation. If you grind a rock with a tool, it will gradually change its shape. But if you grind it too quickly, the rock may break. Gradual demand for change, within current capacity for change, gets the surest results. Climbing a mountain is best done in small steps. If you try to do it in huge leaps, the result may be counterproductive.
Words I've repeated to many athletes and people from all walks of life are: "Trust the process of your training; trust the process of your life." In the larger picture, there are no mistakes, only lessons. Let's learn from every challenge, every success, every failure.
Accommodation: Psychophysical Application
Many of us are so goal-oriented that we forget to enjoy the journey. I'm reminded of an ancient Chinese curse: "May you achieve all your goals." The paradox is that if we enjoy the process of striving for our goals we are more likely to reach them and to discover for ourselves that getting there is more than half the fun.
Accommodation is a law, as certain as the law of gravity. Yet most of us don't trust the law because of self-doubt or confusion. We may wonder, "Can I really become good at this?" "Will I be able to accomplish my goal?" "Will I find success?" Such questions only create tension and weaken motivation.
Instead, be resolute. Realize progress is mechanical: If you practice something over time with attention and commitment to improve, you will. Some people may have a unique combination of psychological, emotional, and genetic qualities to become world-class, but anyone who practices over time can become competent, even expert, in any chosen endeavor.
Proof of the Pudding
Here's a simple way to see how the law of accommodation works: Choose a physical action that is presently a little beyond your reach. It may be a push-up, a sit-up, a one-arm push-up, a handstand push-up, sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and touching your toes, running in place for five minutes without becoming tired.
Once you've chosen your feat, attempt to perform it several times in the morning and again in the evening. Do this every day. With each attempt, you're asking your body to change. Ask politely— don't overdo it. But be consistent.
Set no goals of accomplishment, no time limits, no specific number of repetitions you must do each day. (Some days you may feel like doing a little more; other days, less.)
Continue this for a month, and see what happens. Without really trying, you'll find your body complying with your "polite request."
Apply the same approach to any change you'd like to make in your life. Reaching your goal just takes a little time and persistence. The body will adapt. Trust the process; ask and it shall be given.
Applying the law of accommodation generates new levels of confidence, responsibility, and commitment; we know full well that our success depends upon the demands we are willing to make on ourselves. We also achieve a sense of clarity and inner security, because we know that if we decide to do something that is within our capacity, we will succeed. We don't wonder whether a rock will fall toward the ground if we drop it, so why should we doubt our eventual success?
Principle 3: Balance
Every athlete recognizes the need for balance. Yet balance is far more than a sense of equilibrium; it is a Great Principle informing every aspect of our bodies, our minds, our training and our lives. I call this the Goldilocks principle: "Neither too much nor too little."
Inner athletes, oriented naturally toward balance, move neither too fast nor too slow, neither too far to one side nor to the other, neither too active nor too passive, too high nor too low.
Balance determines the correct pace, timing, and accuracy that athletes depend upon. The human body itself depends upon a delicate balance of blood chemistry and body temperature; it must breathe neither too fast nor too slowly; it must develop into a unit neither too fat nor too lean, neither too muscular nor too emaciated. Even our intake of water and essential nutrients must be balanced. Everywhere we look, we can see the law of balance at work.
The law of balance is the recognition of natural limitations. It is possible, of course, to go beyond the boundaries dictated by this law, just as we can temporarily resist the other natural laws, but in the long haul we pay an inevitable price: the principle of action-reaction eventually takes over; the odds are "with the house."
Applying this principle to our training, when we are in balance we become immune to impatience and frustration because we recognize that for every "up" cycle there will naturally be a "down" cycle—and vice versa. It would be wholly unrealistic to expect only "ups." ("Having it all together" is like trying to eat once and for all.)
Our progress in life tends to consist of two steps forward, then one step back. Some days are high energy days and others are not. We win some and lose some. Seeing this, even when training has its ups and downs, our mind and emotions stay in balance and our spirits remain high, buoyed by higher wisdom of the law of balance.
Balance: Psychophysical Applications
As it becomes more clear that the world—and our training—necessarily involves body, mind, and emotions, balance takes on even more profound significance, because we begin to see that physical problems are symptoms of imbalanced mental and emotional patterns. When we feel physically off, we ask, "What's going on in my mind and emotions?"
The word "centered" is a useful one to describe a state of inner as well as outer balance to a state of simultaneous physical, mental, and emotional equanimity. In fact, the three centers are so intimately connected that an imbalance in one will affect the others. The martial artist knows that if a person is mentally distracted or emotionally upset, he or she can be pushed over very easily.
Experience the following tests in order to discover for yourself the uses and abuses—of balance.
Your Mind/Body Balance
Test 1. Assuming that you're relatively calm and happy right now, stand up and balance yourself on one leg. (If that's very easy for you, do it with your eyes closed.) Make a mental note of the relative ease of this act.
Wait until the next time you feel upset—angry, sorrowful, fearful, or distracted—or you are thinking about a current difficulty in your life; then give yourself this same balance test. You'll notice that one of two things will happen: If you are "meditating on your upset," you'll lose your balance easily. If you are "meditating on your balance," you'll lose your upset. Physical balance and emotional upset are like fire and water; they don't mix well.
Test 2. We can also gain control of an imbalance in body, mind, or emotions by deliberately doing something out of balance, in order to see the imbalance dearly and to control it.
To illustrate: The next time you practice any game, spend a few minutes deliberately off-balance, then back on balance, then off balance, then on. You will see your game begin to improve afterward.
If you're too prone to act in one way, see if you can play at acting too much the other way. If, for example, you're too timid in your play, try being too aggressive. If your tennis serves veer too far to the right, make an effort to send them too far to the left.
This practice is going to feel awkward, like wearing a suit two sizes too small; nevertheless, it will do you a world of good, because when you play with both sides, you can find the middle and regain your balance. In Chapter 7 I go into more detail about this invaluable method of attaining balance.
Principle 4: Natural Order
Natural order accounts for progressive development through time. In nature, one season follows another without haste in the proper sequence. A tree grows from a seedling as an adult grows from an infant. Progressive development doesn't work backward, nor can the process be rushed; it's all clocked into the natural order of things.
Only the human being is in a hurry. Our minds race faster than life. Ignoring the law of natural order, we set time goals for ourselves, then rush to reach these arbitrary goals. It's true that we must have some goals; they're essential for movement in life. Without them, we wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. Yet we should not attempt to make rigid goals in time. Time goals are unrealistic, because we cannot foresee the future. The longer-range our goals are, the less realistic they will be. We can foresee the direction of our progress, but we cannot foresee the pace. Life holds too many surprising twists and turns, and it contains too many changes for us to second guess the natural order of things.