On Traction and Confidence (Find Your Flippers)

Sometimes we just need a little bit of traction to realize that we can accomplish anything.

Making progress on something that is difficult is one of the greatest feelings in the world. There is great satisfaction to be found in overcoming a personal struggle. Just how we go about doing this is a subject of much debate and varying opinions. All too often, we hear people say that hard work alone is the path to success, but simply trying harder or doing more is not a viable strategy if the thing we are doing is not working. Doing more of what is not working never leads to success.

Take swimming for example. Before we know how to swim, if we are thrown in the water and simply told to try hard or put forth a lot of effort, we will still sink. In fact, if we begin flailing around and expending lots of energy, we will most likely get exhausted and sink more quickly than if we were relaxed and had some real, clear instructions that told us exactly what we should be trying to do in order to stay afloat.

The first goal of swimming, after all, is not sinking, but telling someone not to sink is not the same as teaching them how to swim, or giving them the tools to do so. We need clear instructions that tell us exactly what to do and how to do it, but we also need traction. Especially in the beginning of a new activity, we need to feel as if the effort we put forth propels us forward.

For this reason, the best kids’ swim instructor I’ve ever seen starts kids with flippers on their feet. Flippers provide more traction in the water than tiny, bare preschooler feet do. By giving the kids traction, simple, clear instructions, and a big push in the right direction, they begin to swim very quickly. Traction gives us confidence. Once confidence is developed, new layers of difficulty and skill are added.

This is a formula for success in any endeavor. Find your (or your students’) flippers.

Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body, Severna Park’s Holistic Chamber of Commerce, and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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