"I'm not afraid of storms,
for I'm learning to sail my ship."
-Louisa May Alcott
Think of it as stress as a vaccine.
A fantastic article in the New York Times over the weekend looks at the science behind something Dojo parents and instructors have long known: that stress in appropriate doses helps us learn how to cope with anxiety-producing challenges in a way that makes us more successful in life. In contrast, children who are always shielded by their parents from stress and anxiety grow up far less suited to navigating life's challenges later on.
From a logic standpoint, that makes sense. From a DNA standpoint, it's a little tough--we're hard-wired to want to protect our children from anything scary or stressful. In instances of anxious students, I often think it's harder for the parent sitting on their hands watching than it is for the student struggling with fear and doubt on the mat. But this effort pays off, with young people whose minds learn to cut through the noise of doubt and get to the job at hand, and bodies that learn to work at their best -- not shut down -- when stress hormones are introduced into their systems.
The secret, of course, is creating what the Times article refers to as the "Sweet Spot." It's something we work very hard at creating in the Dojo: drills that are intense but safe, goals that are difficult but achievable, challenges that are daunting but not terrifying and comfort zones that are constantly being expanded without being shattered. By operating in this "Sweet Spot", our students--young and old--learn to navigate some very rough seas. Once they do, there is no place they can't go.