When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style. – Bruce Lee
Throughout our lives, we develop skills and habits. We can say some skills result from the conditioning of our environment and others are conscious choices. Habits on the other hand, are a result of repeating those choices (conscious or unconscious). There is a reason why so many have a hard time eliminating bad habits. Every wonder why there are so many styles of painting, writing and performance (sports, acting, etc)? Well, the answer isn’t simple. The world is not black and white and it isn’t as simple as “right” and “wrong”. One thing to remember is that information is not a skill. Using information to change habits and skills is a skill itself.
Let’s say an awesome young guy who is an aggressive driver goes to the airport to meet his mother-in-law for the first time. He has to pick her up and drive her home. He wants to make a great first impression, so he’s obviously not going to want to scare her with his driving. Instead, he makes a conscious effort to impress her by driving the speed limit, making sure he always signals, etc. Now this may seem like a good thing, right? The problem is he is forcing himself out of his comfort zone. When someone is out of their element, they feel awkward and often times confused. Even if in theory, following the rules of the road should make for better driving, that isn’t what he’s use to. He may find himself in a situation on the road that he never found himself in. He may hesitate more and even become paralyzed in thought.
Another example I can give is from experience. Unfortunately, not a good experience. Last week, I was at the gym doing deadlifts. I had taken a break from the gym for a while due to work, but I’ve been back for about two weeks now. I started out light, but was feeling very frustrated, I wasn’t up to my prime. I loaded up the deadlift to 285lbs. I managed to get about 5 reps in before my grip failed. That really pissed me off. I wanted to at least get 8 reps if I couldn’t get to 10! So I switched to an alternate grip (over-under hand grip). This was a big mistake. I never use that grip, but it’s supposed to stabilize the bar so it wont roll out of your hand. It felt awkward and unnatural to me. So I sacrificed my form with a heavy weight for more lifts and sure enough, on the very next lift, I pulled my back.
There are times when it doesn’t make sense to break a habit or go out of your comfort zone. Let’s say there’s a boxer who never puts his hands up, is very aggressive. and takes a lot of risks,. He has never lost a match. Most people will say stuff like “he would be an even better fighter if he had his hands up” or “his defense is weak!”. Unfortunately, people are too stuck in theory scenarios. The fact of the matter is that he’s winning. If there was a fighter who kept losing because his opponents have been exploiting the same mistake over and over, then an argument can be made that he has a weakness. At that point, the fighter has to come to a conscious effort to adjust his habit. This can be rough on anyone because it’s like going back to the drawing board. It’s a major setback and it feels like the entire sport has to be relearned.
Let’s look at this from another angle. Let’s say a vegetarian dislikes everything about meat. The taste, the smell, the look of it, even the texture. The next day they go to the doctor and find out they’re B-12 deficient and are borderline anemic. Now they have to make a conscious choice to eat meat. It will be uncomfortable and it may take long to acquire the taste for it, but this is a case where they are consciously making an effort for change. Let’s look at a student who doesn’t like to take notes in school. This student likes to draw pictures to help her remember. One day the teacher comes by and sees her doodling. The teacher tells her that’s unacceptable and the best way to learn is to take notes. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. This student has developed visually. She has a strong sense of visual association and lacks in literature, simply because it isn’t what she’s use to. She tries to take notes but begins to fail her exams and is now worse off than she ever was. Being out of her comfort zone, taking away the system she developed for herself (that works) and replacing it with a new, unnatural, awkward system made things worse.
When we are taken out of our comfort zone unnecessarily, there is more room for error. Sometimes there are people who develop their own system and it turns out ineffective, but they settle for it simply because it sort of works. There are others who try to copy someone else’s system and it ends up not working for them. Trial and error is the key. Being afraid of making mistakes is a big problem. Sometimes opening that window a little more can close it altogether in the long run.