Sometimes the Battle Picks You

The Taoist wisdom of my five year old son who is discovering and exploring opposites… “Papa, the opposite of forward – is backward… The opposite of fast is slow… The opposite of outside is inside…”

He said these things to me out of the blue as he and I drove to the urgent care facility tonight. We have severe colds we would normally just ride out. But we’re about to get courses of antibiotics. We’ll also be getting flu shots because even though that sauce is pretty weak this year, it’s better than nothing. And this year I’ll be looking for every edge I can find. Every. Single. Edge.

He can’t possibly understand how relevant those words are in our lives right now… Can he? He knows a few things but doesn’t understand their implications yet… Does he?

He knows his 11 month old baby sister Danika is his favorite little girl in the world. And he knows, because we’ve started talking about it, that he’s not going to be able to give her hugs for a while if he has anything that feels like a cold. He knows he’ll have to move a little slower with her before he jumps in close for a hug-n-a-smooch, just to be safe. Because we can’t risk an infection right now.

He knows Danika has a problem inside her tummy that’s going to have to be removed to the outside. He knows that it might look like she’s becoming tired or getting sicker before she gets better in a few months. Or maybe a year. He knows that’s almost how long his sister has been alive so far.

Maybe he gets it. Maybe more than we do?

He doesn’t understand chemo therapy. He might understand what a surgery is; he’s heard some stories about some of mine.

He has no idea what a Wilms Tumor is. Or what it’s like to have two of them – one growing from each kidney. And I’m not sure he has a concept for what cancer is, exactly. Or what Stage 5 means.

But he knows his baby sister has it. He knows we’re going to go backward in order to move forward for a while. We’re going to slow way down and think, move smoothly, before we can move faster again. He knows that in a couple of months, Danika is going to have a surgery so that the problem inside can be brought to the outside. And he knows we’ll keep working the puzzle until it’s really complete, which is going to be years after it’s started. He understands that we keep working the puzzle. He doesn’t really understand what five years feels like.

Then, again… He is five, after all. Maybe he does understand what it means to spend a lifetime working a puzzle.

It’s what we do here. Danika knows it, too. And she’s about to be immersed in these lessons fully.

Your first war, littlest one. Sometimes the battle picks you and avoiding it is not an option. Your soul will be made stronger in this fire. We’ll be with you every step of the way. And we’ll all be made stronger for it.

Today, we prepare. We attack at dawn. We fight… Here.

On Learning Styles

While teaching a new student in a Tai Chi class recently, I noticed that he followed the movements of his hands with his eyes, especially when his hands were in a new or unusual position. While he was learning the movements we were working on, he almost HAD TO track his hands with his eyes. This is interesting and important given that the nature of Tai Chi and qigong breathing exercises is to pay attention to the internal aspects of the movements – the feeling of the movements, themselves – more than the appearance of the movements.

Natural Learning Style vs Developmental Goals of Training

What was happening for him was that his natural and preferred learning style was engaging, and that has to be recognized along the way. In the long run, in the practice of Tai Chi and qigong, the student is going to have to adjust away from looking at the positioning of the hands and move in the direction of feeling the overall position of the body, which is ultimately a key purpose of this kind of training. It’s a simple change – but not an easy one.

Others have different learning styles. Students with an auditory learning style may prefer to hear descriptions of the movements we’re doing in the class so they can process through what they hear and follow those verbal/auditory cues. Others may feel compelled to talk through the movements and describe what they’re doing. These two styles are similar, but they work in different directions. One prefers to hear what they’re supposed to do while the other is compelled to speak and express their understanding of what they’re supposed to do.

Variations

There are variations on these styles that can be based on other skills or talents a student may possess. A visual learner who has a strong background in drawing or sketching might benefit from drawing pictures of the movements or postures they’re learning. A verbal processor may benefit from writing in a journal about what is being taught. Some who feel compelled to verbally express what they’re doing need to also hear where they are accurate or inaccurate in what they have expressed; they need feedback. Another variation of the verbal processing style is that the student isn’t really interested in hearing where they’re on track or off; the point for this student is that they just need to talk while they move.

Some learn best while doing movements in coordination with others. This is a collaborative learning style. Others don’t need that as much and prefer to learn something (through whatever their learning style may be) and then work off to the side on their own without further collaboration.

There is also a kinesthetic learning style that simply prefers to move and be physically involved in learning. Not surprisingly, this style lends itself very well to learning martial arts, dance, and other sports. Any movement oriented activity is likely to land well with this individual. This learning style is an advantage at first, and it is a very natural style in a quiet practice like training in any type of kung fu, but all the learning styles can be put to good use over time.

Introversion vs Extroversion

But then there is still another aspect of how a person prefers to learn. It’s the orientation of whether the student’s preferred focus is internal or external. To put it in the language used by personality typing systems, it’s the question of whether the student is introverted or extroverted.

The introverted student is more likely to stay in his or her own mind and body while also using whichever learning style works best for him or her. The extroverted learner is likely to talk more or watch and/or interact with others more. To confuse this even further, there are some students who are what I would call social introverts, meaning that while they do prefer to focus inwardly, they also thrive on having some time to talk things through with other people. Learning styles are not always simple.

The Essential Nature of Tai Chi and Qigong

As it turns out, Tai Chi and Qigong are internal kinesthetic practices. That suggests that the introvert who is also kinesthetic in his or her learning style is most likely to go immediately into the aspects of the practice that are naturally emphasized. But all of the learning styles can be used along the way and it is very common for students to engage their preferred learning style when working with something new, but then go deeper into the internal practice as they become physically and mentally comfortable with what they’re doing. Once the movements have been memorized, it becomes easier for the visual learner, for example, to stop watching his or her own hands moving in the air. Then they can engage their physical senses to find the feeling of where they are in space. At that point, the practice is becoming more internal and less external, which is one of the main goals of the practice.

All of the learning styles are valid, especially in processing new information. The farther a student goes in this form of training, the more they are likely to develop a sense of connection with their bodies. But their original learning style is unlikely to change. The person doesn’t necessarily change. But they do develop a new ability to quickly sense where they are in space and understand what they’re doing physically.

In the long run, what matters most is the practice itself and how that triggers the evolution of the individual over time.

Phases of Training and When to Engage Different Learning Styles

All of this knowledge about learning styles suggests that there are some distinctions that need to be made in the various phases of training:

  1. Learning: absorbing NEW knowledge, movements, skills, techniques, etc. Of course, all of these phases involve “learning” but in the discussion of learning styles in the context of practicing something that inherently funnels a student into a practice mode that is different from his or her preferred learning style, it’s important to point out the differences and the right time to change methods. Consider making allowances for the student’s preferred learning style when teaching content that is new to the student.
  2. Practice: the ongoing repetition of something that has been “learned” in the past. The movements may not be new, but they have not been fully absorbed or internalized. Nor should a student ever assume the mindset or belief that they are done learning, regardless of experience level. During the practice phase, the student should attempt to emulate the internal method of focusing attention in an introverted manner and paying close attention to the kinesthetic feeling of the movements being performed. This will develop new brain wiring more effectively and help the student gain insights into the movements at the same time.
  3. Study: the student who is trying to deepen his or her understanding of a movement or combination of movements may isolate those movements and perform a large number of repetitions in order to focus on just those movements for a period of time. This might be done during a single practice session or over the course of a series of sessions to leverage the effect of that focus. The student’s preferred learning style should be employed during this phase when possible. For example, even though the practice of Tai Chi is generally carried out in silence to enable the internal focus, a collaborative learner with a preference for verbal learning would benefit from working with a partner or small group to repeat the movements while talking or take frequent breaks to discuss what is being practiced. The challenge in this idea is keeping a balance between moving and talking. It is easy for the talking to take over and the movement to take a backseat, which is not fully constructive, either. Balance is the key. It may also be very difficult for students with polar opposite learning styles to work together in this regard unless one or both of them is willing and able to flex into a different style for a period of time.
  4. Teaching: using discernment to determine which method to allow or encourage at any given time, depending on the students involved.

These concepts relating to learning styles are all being addressed in the context of studying Tai Chi and Qigong. But most of this material would transfer into other activities, as well, with the main differences being found in the essential nature of whatever the other activity might be.

What are you learning? And what’s your preferred style?

On Showing Up

I consider myself a craftsman. Most people think of crafts like building, sculpting, painting, engraving, etc. The work that I do as an executive coach and as a kung fu teacher is all designed to build stronger people and stronger organizations. That’s the nature of my craft.

I’m writing this after finishing one of my kung fu classes. In an unusual turn of events, there was only one student who showed up for a group class. This happened to be one of the students who has been training with me the longest. I opened my kung fu school in 2010 and this is a student who has been training with me longer than five years. Not coincidentally, he has progressed to a level that has him preparing for his test for the black sash rank.

When others are “too busy” or “too tired,” the one who shows up is the one who is going to continue to advance.

This is true no matter what pursuit or craft we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building a financial services practice, running any kind of business, or trying to improve in a martial art or a sport of some kind. We all have to identify the fundamentals of whatever game we’re playing in the world and be about the business of showing up and doing those things. Some days it’s fun. Some days it’s not. Some days it feels good. Some days it’s tiring and painful. Other than to avoid damage or recover from injury, none of that really matters.

If you want to improve; if you want to advance; if you want to learn more, be more, or get more – you have to show up.

My hat is off to those who continue to show up for whatever it is they do, day in, day out. There is a certain kind of flow that comes from consistent effort and only those who show up every day to put in the effort will ever find it.

Radical self care for the busy season

There is a certain hour during the day when you just want to be done. Sometimes it hits predictably in the mid-afternoon, other times it sneaks up on you as personalities clash in the office, a client makes yet another last-minute request, or the gas tank light goes on while you are stuck in the evening traffic.

That feeling is not about the busy season, or a tough Monday. It is about reserves. All too often, we find ourselves running on just barely enough – gas, time, space, money, energy, opportunity. Our reserve tanks are empty, so when unexpected demands arise, we are hard pressed to deal with them gracefully because we are running on fumes. The tough reality is that the patience to deal with an irritated client, the mind-space to thoughtfully review a tax return, and the creativity needed to think your way out of a difficult problem don’t just appear out of the blue. They must be provided for preemptively. That is why reserves are so important. Continue reading

Multitasking, and other lies about productivity

As the holidays recede in the rear-view mirror, many CPAs begin to observe a worrisome trend. The stack of paperwork on the corner of the desk, the number of e-mails in the inbox, and the items on the to-do list begin to expand as if by magic. It is a sign that the busy season is upon us, yet again.

There is another early sign of the busy season, and that is a resurgence of productivity myths. They tend to raise their ugly head (or five) right around this time, preying on unsuspecting CPAs who just want to do better for their clients and families. Here are the five heads of the dragon, slayed one by one.   Continue reading

Busy season CPAs: 5 steps to recovery

By Natalia Autenrieth

Busy season… Say it to a room full of CPAs and you get a round of all-knowing nods in return. “Busy season” is like a secret code: to those in-the-know, it stands for long hours at the office, mad dash to the deadline, poor team morale, and missed family gatherings. Many CPAs have resigned themself to trudging through 5 months out of the year, and feel there is not a lot they can do to change their predicament. After all, the common agreement seems to be that you have surrendered quality of life at the door in exchange for that CPA license to hang on your office wall. Continue reading

Injury

It is occurring to me that I’m handling the injury to my ankle (skydiving accident 1/16/2011) really well. No animosity or anger of any substance in response to the injury. Not a huge amount of fear about the outcome. I know it will heal and I know what to expect from surgery. Having been this way before on my hand (first surgery and very scary) and again on my knee, twice (also scary, but provided huge relief and a second chance at mobility) is fueling a positive outlook.  It is helpful for me to “know” what these things are like.

The thing that is also occurring to me is that there is much of life that we can only go through once or that we go through so seldom that we don’t generate enough tangible experience to have the sense that we “know” it will turn out to be ok in the long run.  Can I replace that sense of “not knowing” that results from having never been this way before (the entirety of this lifetime) with the sense of knowing it will turn out to be just fine? Can I live in the logic that as it is in the micro, so it is in the macro? If I can know that other injuries have turned out to yield great rewards, can I apply that feeling to a life that is often frustrating and disappointing in order to know that all of it will turn out perfectly well?

I think that’s possible. More training. Let’s give this a try.