Keeping Muscle with Intense Visualization – The Mind/Body Link

Josh Waitzkin, in his book The Art of Learning, relates a story that demonstrates the power of the mind/body link, and how everything is connected. After breaking his hand 7 weeks before a major martial arts tournament, his doctor told him he would never be able to compete. His arm would atrophy in the cast.

Instead of accepting that fate, he kept training. And whenever he did strength conditioning on his good arm, he would then visualize and imagine the workout passing to the muscles on his immobilized arm.

When his doctor took off the cast 4 days before the tournament, his arm had hardly atrophied at all, and he was cleared to complete. The doctor couldn’t believe it.

This lines up with other research into visualization and practice, though that body of work focuses on final performance metrics, and not actual physical changes (or lack thereof) in the body. At least that I know of.

More related might be the work pioneered by Dr. Ramachandran in his treatment of people with phantom limb pain. Even though the nerves no longer exists, sensation and pain can still exist. But when using a mirror apparatus that provided the patient with the illusion that they were moving the limb that no longer existed, the pain would gradually go away.

The mind/body (and soul?) link is endlessly fascinating. We’ve only barely scratched the surface of the potential repercussions.

Prepare to Look Foolish

Most martial arts studios tout that “increased self-confidence” is one of the benefits of learning from them. But properly learning a martial art is one of the most humbling things you can undertake. It takes a while to get to any sort of “confidence.” Beware places that just want to stroke your ego and make you look good in your own mind.

This can be extrapolated to most endeavors and skills. Learning something properly, as a true beginner, requires that you be prepared to look completely foolish.

But Knowing is Hard Work

I came across this quote by Caterina Fake:

“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.”

I agree. But figuring out the right thing to work on is hard work. It requires intentional focus. That’s why a lot of people don’t work on the right things, and revert to simpler tasks that are easier to measure, like clearing out their inbox. Or posting on social media.

No Surprise

If a man’s children visit him at work, they should not be surprised when people show their father respect. It should be familiar. As common as peanut butter sandwiches. For at home, they have seen their mother offer a similar respect to their father over and over, and it is simply the way things are.