When I returned from Vietnam some years ago, I re-started my martial arts training. I had already achieved a black belt in Karate, but when I decided to enter Taekwon-Do, it meant starting over from the beginning as an adult. It was difficult. Not only was I recovering from Vietnam injuries, but I kept focusing back to my old karate training.
I really didn’t like to work as hard as was necessary to train in Taekwon-Do. My instructor had a little warm-up pen for those who arrived late to class. Late arrivals had to change into uniform and go into that little pen and stretch until the class was done with their initial exercises, or until he was ready to bring you into the class. I often came late intentionally to avoid the exercise portion altogether.
A young Korean man in the class befriended me. He was roughly my age, but had spent many years training exclusively in Taekwon-Do. I was often in trouble with my instructor for my bad habits and frequent lateness. My young friend asked me why I was having so much difficulty.
“I really don’t like the exercises,” I told him. “I don’t think I ever will like them. But I want to get my black belt.”
“It is going to be very difficult for you to train over a long time period,” he replied, “when you are only focused on the results or on gaining a rank. You need to fall in love with the work. You need to fall in love with the practice. I don’t worry so much about getting better in Taekwon-Do, I just love the practice. I love being in line, doing the kicks and punches, I just love the work.”
It took awhile, but I finally began to understand what he had told me. When I started falling in love with the practice itself, with pushups and stretching, with kicking and doing patterns, I started looking forward to going to class and even the pre-class workout. When I learned to fall in love with the work, the progress took care of itself. When I became caught up in the work, I quit worrying about promotion tests or the next tournament. I wasn’t worried about the results, and so they seemed to come automatically.
Now as I look back on over 40 years of training, I realize it would be impossible for me to still have the same enthusiasm, the same commitment, the same creativity, desire, and enjoyment without falling in love with the work rather than what the work produced.
Work is exponentially harder for people who are only in love with the prize. You see many examples of this in life. If an Olympics competitor is in love with the idea of getting a gold medal, or finishing a particular race, they have nothing left to go on when they have accomplished their goal.
Some athletes, once they have achieved their goal, say “I’m never setting foot in another swimming pool again.” Or “I’m never taking one more lap around the track. I’m done with it.”
A similar example is when a person wants to lose weight or get healthy. If you are in love with the look you want to achieve or a number on the scale— but not the work itself—you will be stressed and burdened by the struggles it takes to achieve your goal. How much weight have I lost today? This week? How do I look in my clothes? Why can’t I do this stretch?
When you’re in love with the work itself, you feel pleasure and joy just from the smell of the studio, the interaction with other people, the sweat running down your face, the feel of your muscles under tension when you’re stretching, you love the heat in the room. The actual process becomes a thrill for you.
Time flies when you are in love with the work. You lose more weight and get stronger and healthier faster. It seems to happen so quickly, because you’re not focused on the prize.
It’s very useful to think and visualize your goal, to imagine how it will feel when you achieve it. When you’re in love with the work, you can still use mountaintop thinking by using your mind to project forward to see what you’ll be like when you reach your goal. But by falling in love with the work, you can also remain in the moment, in the present, in the now.
Falling in love with the work empowers you to continue over a long period and not get burned out. Time flies when you’re not thinking about results, you’re thinking about the process. Instead of staring at the clock, you’ll be amazed to notice that class is already over. It’s very similar to what athletes and artists refer to as a state of flow—when you become so absorbed in the process that time ceases to exist.
Many goals can only be achieved over a long period of time. It’s going to seem to take forever if you don’t fall in love with the work. Without that love, your motivation can falter if the process gets difficult or you stumble over an obstacle.
When I was learning to love the work during my early Taekwon- Do training, I used the same affirmations and self-talk that I use to get better at anything else. I said to myself I love pushups, I love being in this class, I love doing all the things that make me great. It becomes a self-generating process. The quicker and stronger I became, the faster I became quick and powerful.
Many people put off pleasure and love for future whens…. when I get married…when I’ve lost 50 pounds…when I get a raise…everything will be perfect then and I can enjoy myself. But every time we get to one of those little stations in life, we discover it’s not all we thought it would be.
Treasure the journey itself, the day-to-day process of life, and don’t spend time worrying about the destination. If you fall in love with your work, you’ll find not only fewer bumps in the road, but that more good things seem to happen faster in your life. When you reach your goals, you’ll briefly look back and think how did that happen so fast?
Copyright Mack Newton. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.