Being tough versus looking tough

I’m working hard these days in Aikido to be confident, to be loud, to take a more assertive stance, to look and sound like I’m ready for combat.

Now I’m naturally a quiet sort. I smile a lot and I speak softly so this isn’t easy for  me. The advice I get from my seniors in Aikido is to “fake it.”

As a philosopher I find this interesting. The distinction between acting a certain way and being a certain way isn’t clear cut, of course. Aristotle famously makes that point about virtue. Act virtuous until you become virtuous.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

“We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.”

Psychologists have known for years that smiling more often works to cheer people up.

I have one very striking experience in the opposite direction. I have a cornea disease and from time to time (usually allergy season) my eyes start to sting and water. I can feel my eyes welling up with tears as I wait on bike my bike at red lights, for instance. If this catches me by surprise sometimes I start to wonder why I’m crying. I actually feel sad. I cast about the events in my life and inevitably hit upon things that are making me sad. And then I feel sad for real. Sometimes realizing it was just my cornea problem doesn’t even help at this point.

The slogan is “fake it til you make it” and at that point, for better or worse, I’ve succeeded.

So I’m trying this out at Aikido: thinking big movements, standing tall, and being loud.

This article just appeared in my Facebook newsfeed and it’s along these same lines, reporting on research in psychology about self confidence, Good to Know: You Can Fake it Till You Make it.

“But can we also do this ourselves? According to psychologist Amy Cuddy this is very simple: just pose as a confident person. Don’t make yourself small by crossing your legs or arms or touching your neck, instead put your feet on the desk or stand upright.

She demonstrated the effect with subjects that had to pose in different ways. After just two minutes they acted very differently. People that took powerful poses were better able to deal with risks and their levels of testosterone and cortisol changed significantly. They also presented themselves better at stressful job interviews.”

Here’s Amy Cudd talking and “power poses” and self-confidence: [ted id=1569 width=560 height=315]

An objection I hear to martial arts self-defense training for women is that it gives women a false sense of confidence because after a few classes they won’t be able to actually execute any of the techniques against an aggressor. But walking tall, looking strong, making eye contact, and being loud are all behaviors that make it less likely one will be a victim in the first place. I’m not sure I’d be able to pin a big, strong, drunk guy on the street but I’m confident I could yell loudly and respond without panicking. That’s good enough for me.

Other Aikido posts:

Six Things I Love about Aikido and Six Things I Struggle With

Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle

Why is it so hard to kiai?

This is how I feel sometimes about Aikido

Aikido and Training to Test

5 thoughts on “Being tough versus looking tough

  1. Behaviouism ain’t all wrong. It is also effective when confronting your own negative tendencies. Example: I am jealous, but I will not under any circumstances act upon my jealousy today. Soon enough, I am not really all that jealous anymore. I starved the jealousy to death; the fuel it needed to survive was the energy I had formerly fed it. It might always try to make a comeback, but that’s just why I need to be vigilant.

  2. I *loved* that Amy Cuddy talk. She’s fabulous and the message is simple and effective. Reminds me of my PhD supervisor telling me to act confident when I went for my job interviews (even if I didn’t feel prepared). Made a huge difference.

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