|Original picture: http://www.howtoteachadults.com/graphics/comfort_details_1/|
Greco-Roman wrestling is tough. Especially for a 31-year-old jiujitsu practitioner with knowledge of approximately three single-leg based takedowns and one throw. Going through the gruelling warm-up-conditioning routine to get to be thrown around is very discomforting. And at the same time it's extremely fascinating.
It takes time to master jiujitsu that combines techniques from several martial arts. There are countless ways of doing jiujitsu, getting better at it and progressing in the belt system. When I got my purple belt I decided that it was time to start working on my weakness, the guard game. I started every sparring round on my back and kept drilling positions, sweeps and submissions until I was fed up with them. And then I drilled some more. It was frustrating but seeing your progress made it motivating. What made it possible to go through the frustrating and even boring phase of turning your weakness into something else was the people around me. Training environment that allows practitioners to try new things and encourages them if they fail is essential. See: martial arts are mentally tough. If you fail, you tap. If you tap you admit that the other person was so much better than you that you were forced to ask them to "show mercy on you". It sounds dramatic but basically that's how it is. It's a challenge to your ego. It is mentally painful. It makes you angry and it makes you sad. And when done right, it makes you come back to the gym the next day and keep on grinding. Exposing yourself to such a thing and giving that much power to your training partners takes a lot of trust. You trust that everyone is playing by the same rules. You trust that they respect your wellbeing and want the best for you. You trust that you are allowed to try, fail and succeed without being made fun of or treated differently.
Back to the Greco-Roman wrestling. At the beginning I felt clumsy and totally lost. I haven't been training throws and even the conditioning took time to get accustomed to. It's a very vulnerable state. Seven years of jiujitsu has given me a certain confidence. I know that I can survive even when put to a bad position. Doing something new strips you off that confidence and thereby makes you vulnerable. That's really scary. But the great thing about combat sports is that the people doing those are pretty damn great. They are people who have gone through the same process that you are just beginning and they know what it takes. You go to your discomfort zone all vulnerable and trusting and you get greeted with encouragement and empowerment. It's an awesome feeling pushing yourself to you limits and beyond when you are surrounded by people supporting you. That makes being at the discomfort zone rewarding and worth all the fear and struggling. And then you learn.
I've been wondering why I've been so deeply exhausted lately. I'm interested in microbiology and immunology we are studying right now but somehow I don't seem to get myself to study as much as I should. It feels like I'm giving it the minimum effort even though I'm trying to push myself as much as possible. Looking back to my last year and a half I realized that my life has been one big Discomfort Zone. Or more likely the thin line between the Discomfort Zone and Alarm Zone. I realized that I haven't really relaxed during my time here in Sweden. The language, the new country, the new people and the medical school build a big pile of stress. I've written about the struggles with language and the med school but I haven't really seen how constant my state of stress has been. It's no wonder that 1,5 years of stress lead to exhaustion.
I his essay The Burden of Being Burden-Free Sapolsky describes "Type A" individuals:
"Type A individuals are immensely competitive, overachieving, time-pressured, impatient, and hostile. - - Give a Type A individual an unsolvable puzzle, make them role-play an interpersonal conflict, expose them without their knowledge to a research confederate who (unbeknownst to them...) deliberately botches a job...and the Type A individual boils. They view every frustration as an intentional, personal, malevolent affront...and their bloodstream fills with stress hormones and their blood pressure soars"
I read it and found myself in those lines. I'm that type of person who experiences stress very forcefully and I tend to see stress and struggles even in places and encounters where it doesn't exist. So if the everyday life at the comfort zone (Finland + friends + PhD studies) may have been causing me some stress imagine what the discomfort zone (Sweden + new people + med school) does to the stress levels.
Moving to Sweden pulled me out of the comfort of being surrounded by my friends and training partners I have been spending my life with for several years. It threw me in the middle of total strangers. And it stripped away my strongest weapon: language. Like I said: in jiujitsu I know that I will survive even when I'm in a bad position, because I "speak the language of jiujitsu". It's the language I've been training and speaking for several years. It's the same thing with social situations in Finnish. Even though I'm extremely shy and thus feel vulnerable, I know that I will survive because I have my shield, the Finnish language. I know that I can defend myself if needed, I know that I can have small talk with total strangers, I know that I can give a presentation when needed and I know that I can react to what ever it is that's been said to me. Then I come to Sweden and I'm left with nothing but my vulnerability. And trust.
In the civilized society we have a built-in trust to people. We trust that they play by the same rules as we do, respect us and wan't the best for everyone. Coming to a new country with very limited language skills and minimal social connections is extremely intimidating but yet we keep moving and putting ourselves into that discomforting position. We do it because that build-in trust exists. If it didn't we would be landing to a Alarm Zone instead of Discomfort Zone and there is not too many people who are willing to expose themselves that much.
So what has happened to me: a thirty-something immigrant just learning the language and striving to become a medical doctor? My vulnerability has been greeted with kindness, helpfulness and sincerity. The build-in trust has proven to be well-earned. Yet still I feel extremely stressed, somewhat threatened and really tired. I tend to avoid certain social situations just in case I'm not going to be able to be witty and smart or I might miss something said to me. I'm afraid of showing my lingual vulnerability that comes with a social vulnerability. I still don't trust people or myself enough to just push myself to those situations. I still experience frustrations personally and greet them with anger. I have put myself to a Discomfort Zone but I myself have made it into an Alarm Zone and thereby faced stress level I have never faced before.
Stress is supposed to be a survival mechanism that helps you to escape a lion or to save your family from a burning building. Stress is not planned to be a constant state of mind. Our bodies and minds are not planned to live under a constant stress. Yet we have built a society that keeps stressing us every day, all year around, 24 hours a day. When you put a Type A person to this stressful environment, she/he can push herself/himself to a constant state of an Alarm Zone. There is no learning there, there is no trust, there is just the survival. I can't stop living in this society but I can for sure try to make it less of an Alarm Zone and more of a Discomfort Zone for me. And hopefully someday I'll live my life on the verge of the Comfort Zone and the Discomfort Zone.
You often hear that the World is full of douchebags and it is true. The World is just even more full of good people. Negative experiences are easier to remember that the positive ones and that's why one douchebag can make us forget the fact that there is more good people than bad people. If someone is douchy and making fun of you when you are being vulnerable that's their shame. What I have encountered is that for every douche there is at least 50 awesome people. When these awesome people see you struggling and being weak they will cheer you and help you. And this is something we just have to trust in whether it is jiujitsu, life, med school, Finland, Sweden or Greko-Roman wrestling.