My book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work And Life had just come out, and I was on a TV show publicizing it. The host said, “I read your book last night. You say in it that in the martial art called aikido you “harmonize” your movements with your opponent’s movements. Can you demonstrate to me what that means?”
We were sitting about three feet apart, facing each other. I said, “I’ll be happy to.” The host said, “Should we go over there where we have more room?” I said, “This is fine. I won’t have to get up out of this chair. Throw a punch at me as though you are mad at me and want to knock me down. Don’t hold anything back. Really throw a punch.”
The host said, “Are you sure you want me to?” He was a very big, muscular man who was obviously a body-builder. I said, “Go ahead. I’ll be all right.”
The host stood, reared back, and threw a punch; still sitting, I reached out and grabbed his hand that was coming at me and pulled it forcefully. The host went flying to the floor. Lying on the floor, he said, “Wow.”
I helped him up and said, “You see, I harmonized with you by not resisting you but instead by going with you, following your intention, the direction of your movements, pulling your hand rather than blocking it. That is called extending in aikido–that pulling–going further in the direction of the opponent’s momentum and force. That is not the normal Western way to defeat an opponent. In the West we are trained to oppose force with force. You punch me and I punch you. Then the stronger person wins. In aikido the weaker person can win.”
The host laughed: “I certainly know now how effective extending can be in defeating an opponent.”
I said, “You can apply the technique of extending to overcome everyday emotional difficulties like fears and worries that may have been causing you problems that even for a long time have interfered with your living.”
The host said, “That’s interesting. How does that work?” Then he added, “You’re not going to throw me again are you?” I chuckled and said, “That won’t be necessary.”
The fear of public speaking is a major problem for many people. Surveys have shown that some people would rather fall 32,000 feet from an airplane than give a speech in public. (In other words, they would rather die.) The only greater fear among most people is the fear of sharks. I’ve known people to turn down promotions into lucrative executive positions or teaching jobs because giving speeches or lectures would be a necessity of the new job and that they cannot imagine themselves doing.
I know of a PhD candidate who spent eight years researching and writing her dissertation, but after finishing it was so afraid of the interview with department faculty that was required before that degree could be awarded that after all the work was done she quit the program. She had worked hard for a long time and never had the fulfillment of a degree because of the fear she could not cure.
I’ve seen emotional extending used successfully to overcome the fear of an upcoming speech many times. Go into a room by yourself, sit on a chair, and alone, worry and make yourself afraid. Tell yourself things that scare you. Exaggerate. Do this for five or six minutes, or longer, if necessary. After a while you will find the fear disappears. Extending excites emotions that are troubling you, then calms them down. The fear of asking for a promotion or a raise, of having an upcoming job interview or of asking for a date can be dealt with the same way. Whatever the fearful situation is, extending will help.
Excerpted from Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life:
“All your emotions are forms of energy. Each and every one of your emotions is power. Your positive feelings of excitement, pleasure, joy, courage, optimism, confidence, and love can fill your actions with an almost unbelievable power. You know that yourself without even having to think twice about it. When you’re filled with really positive feelings, there’s hardly anything you feel you cannot accomplish. Hardly anything can stop you.
Your negative emotions are also power. But they’re destructive. Your fear, worry, anxiety, depression, anger, nervousness and even stage-fright and all the other of what the samurai called inner ‘dragons’ are power that’s being used in the wrong way. They are energy that’s pointed in the wrong direction. It’s directed inward, against you. It holds you back. It keeps you down.
What I call emotional aikido is a way of transforming negative, inward-directed emotional power into positive power pointed outward. It transforms your harmful emotions into helpful ones, and it does so by going with your harmful emotions, not opposing them.
Neurologist Dr. Viktor Frankl points out that, paradoxically, trying too hard at something often makes it impossible. For example, the person who is afraid of blushing and tries hard not to when he enters a room full of people will actually blush. The person who is afraid of stuttering, and tries hard not to, will stutter. Frankl calls this “hyper” intention. It’s intending too much and too hard. A classic example of too much intending is the man who is so damned intent on impressing his partner with his sexual prowess that he tries too hard and fails miserably.
Frankl realized that hyper-intending could be a very useful way to rid people of emotional impediments: If a person stuttered when he tried very hard not to, wouldn’t he be unable to stutter if he tried very hard to make himself stutter? And that’s exactly what happened. A man with a lifelong severe case of stuttering stopped only when he tried very hard to force himself to stutter. A man who had suffered from writer’s cramp for some years was cured by trying not to write neatly and legibly, but in the worst possible scrawl.
The moment he deliberately tried to scribble, he couldn’t. Using the technique of hyper-intention, Dr. Frankl even cured a healthy man of his terrifying fear of having a heart attack. He had him try to induce one! The man worked at it like the devil. He huffed and puffed trying to make it happen. What happened was that the heart attack didn’t happen, but the man lost his irrational fear of one.
In going into battle against a disturbing inner emotion you have a choice to make. If you’re a direct force-against-force stylist you’ll probably attempt to overcome the emotion directly through willpower. You’ll tell yourself, “I won’t let this thing get the better of me. I will not blush this time . . . will not stammer . . . will not feel nervous, afraid, worried, depressed,” etc., etc., etc.
According to Frankl, that approach only increases the problem: “Pressure precipitates counter-pressure.” But if you use the indirect, extending style of hyper-intention you stand a far better chance. To use it, you (1) take the frontal approach by identifying the emotion that’s disturbing you, and then you (2) go with it and exaggerate it. If you’re feeling afraid of something tell yourself things that will make you even more afraid. Fear your guts out. Fear to beat the band. Do the same thing for any feeling that’s troubling you. All your emotions have a saturation point which when reached will stop the emotion. Emotional extending is over-saturating them.
You can’t ignore the troublesome worries, fears and anxieties that get in your way and interfere with your functioning and feeling well, just as you cannot ignore any opponent without risking defeat. They’re real. They’re blocking you. And to win you have no choice but to deal with them. You can’t will them out of existence by pitting your willpower against their power. But you can extend them out of existence. Don’t attempt to suppress them or beat them down. Do the opposite—exaggerate them, hyper-intend them, over-saturate them, extend them.”
If you choose to use the aikido approach to overcome external and emotional adversaries, be aware that the way to “serve” one’s adversary in the aikido style is to understand what they want, and to give them more of it to get what you want. Remember: the extending technique or process can be an antidote to the emotions of fear, worry, anxiety, the blues, and depression.
Using emotional extending aikido the “intention” of your fear is to make you feel afraid. Give it what it wants. But go further. Make yourself feel more afraid .The fear will grow greater for a while as you think thoughts that induce fear, and then if you persist the fear will disappear. Make yourself be more anxious and the anxiety will grow greater and then as you continue extending, the anxiety fortunately will disappear.
If the PhD candidate who dropped out of the program rather than face her fear of speaking with the department faculty had been familiar with emotional extending it may well be that she would have had a wonderful career she had worked so hard to prepare for.
© 2021 David J. Rogers
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