Monday, May 07, 2007

Developing Personal Qualities - Part I: Resilience

Personal Development is a a fairly fuzzy concept. As a notion, I like it. Develop yourself in deep ways. But what does it mean?

We can make the concept more substantial by formulating a list of desirable qualities, and then look at how these can be developed in concrete ways. In doing so I will explore how the martial arts can act as a vehicle of personal development, not just in physical skills, but in mental, emotional, social, and -- I have to be careful here! -- spiritual dimensions.
The key idea is that the physical and social aspects of martial arts training lead in to the other dimensions.
Training physically, observing etiquette, and working with others act together to develop the individual as a whole.

Desirable qualities

If -- like me -- you are a parent of young children an easy way to come up with your own list of desirable list is to think about what qualities you would like your children to develop. [Be sure to include ones you would like to develop or further in yourself to avoid an exercise in narcissism.]

Other approaches are to think about the qualities that you admire in others, especially friends and your own role models. You can even make a game of it: What are your the top three admirable qualities?

You may wish to construct your own list independently at this point, before reading mine. Leave a comment if I have missed a quality that you hold in high esteem.

Here is my working list, ordered mostly according to whim:
  1. Resilience
  2. Perceptiveness
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Patience
  5. Humility
  6. Perspective
  7. Compassion
  8. Loyalty
  9. Honesty
  10. Reflection
  11. Scepticism
  12. Love of learning
  13. Sense of humor
This is my number one quality. Resilience, especially the dimension of mental toughness, is what gets you through when external circumstances conspire and you are hit with more than you you can handle. You may have all the qualities and skills in the world, but sometimes you just cannot hold your ground or get out of the way, and you get knocked down. In the words of the old and much-covered song Pick Yourself Up:
Now nothing's impossible,
I've found for when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
Life, with its slings and arrows, is kind of a school for resilience. Just wait for disaster to strike, and see how you cope. It will happen! "What does not kill you makes you stronger."

But can resilience be learned in a less chancy fashion? Organizations such as Outward Bound have quite a good recipe: Put people into new circumstances and give them challenges outside their comfort zones, but within their capability, and do it in a social group with competent leadership.

This description also applies to martial arts training:
  • The initially unfamiliar setting is the traditional training hall
  • The challenges are the physical techniques
  • The social group are the other beginners
  • The competent leadership is the instructor
Additionally, there is a physical metaphor for resilience in learning to fall correctly (an essential skill in martial arts that use throwing techniques). Each time that you are thrown to the mat you literally -- and repeatedly -- need to pick yourself up and start all over again. This is a metaphor, model and practice opportunity all rolled into one!

And there are many other benefits to learning correct falling technique.

* * *

I will look at how the other qualities listed are developed through martial arts training in future installments. Which reminds me of one more:

14. Persistence


Daniel Prager said...

Immediately after I posted this article I thought of other qualities such as judgement, adaptability, imagination which could well make the list.

My nearest and dearest complained that I was missing other important qualities such as kindness and empathy. I admitted that these were fine qualities, but the list is already getting long, and isn't there some overlap?

So making these lists is an interesting exercise, especially without an organizing principle.

Let's just see how the topic develops!

One thing I plan to do is make something of a distinction between personal and social qualities.

dailyStrats said...

Strangely, I would have reversed the order of the qualities - and start with humor.

Liked the post!

Daniel Prager said...

dailystrats has a blog that may be of interest to readers: Strategies for everyday conflicts that tries to directly apply martial arts concepts to the challenges of daily living.

And as for dailystrat's comment: Yes, you've got to love a sense of humor.

Maybe I should not have numbered my list, since I don't mean anything by the order!