Four years ago I wanted a way to relieve stress and improve my body. So I started taking lessons from a former Muay Thai and kickboxing champion. What I learned changed my view on conflict and made me better at facing high-stress situations -- in the ring and in the business world.
People don’t like being hit -- particularly in the face. The first time I took a hard punch to the face in class I was stunned, disoriented, mad and intimidated. I reacted in the worst way possible -- I froze.
That kind of violence is very personal. But after working with my trainer, I learned if you control yourself, keep your head in the game and react accordingly, it can be empowering to take a shot to the face and fight back.
The business world can be as tough as the ring. You often feel like you’re in a fight -- getting beat on by competitors or the economy. Conflicts are common between you and competitors or employees and bosses. How you deal with conflict and those moments when you feel like you’ve been decked can mean the difference between success and failure.
Here are three ways kickboxing helped me in business.
1. Control your emotions -- especially fear. Preparing to fight someone is almost worse than the actual fight. The anticipation of getting hurt and doing the same to someone induces a natural fight-or-flight response. Your heart races, and when it crosses a certain threshold your ability to reason is diminished. You experience tunnel vision and your basic motor skills rapidly deteriorate. Your body protects you from bleeding out by pooling blood in your core, which leaves your extremities cold, pale and clammy. Then adrenaline drops into your system, which gives you a short burst of energy but quickly wears off and leaves you winded.
These are natural instincts to help us survive predators. But in prolonged conflicts or situations where we need to reason at a higher level -- like many of the conflicts we face in business -- they can become major liabilities. Unfortunately, running out of a room or taking a breather in a meeting to recover from your adrenaline drop isn’t practical.
Understanding why this happens helps me cope. Knowing it’s natural lets me deal with the effects. Learning to slow down my breathing by taking long deep breaths helps relax my body and slow my heart rate, which returns my ability for higher reasoning, whether I’m in my office or in the ring.
2. How to fight your fight. Are you fighting a brawler or a technical puncher with a plan? What are your strengths in the ring? What’s your best chance of winning this fight -- come out swinging or wait for your moment to strike?
In kickboxing there are many different ways to fight based on your opponent’s fighting style and how to take advantage of your strengths and weaknesses. If he is a brawler with a wicked right kick or punch, you’re going to want to circle away from that threat. If you have a reach advantage, you want to stay on the outside and use your jab and cross to eat him up. Maybe he is really strong but has no endurance -- you should pick up the pace, pressure him and gas him out so that you can finish him off. In the end, the most important thing to do is stick to your strengths and game plan, and not play into your opponent’s.
The same principles apply to business. The Davids beat Goliaths by fighting to their strengths. More often than not people and companies get in trouble when they underestimate their opponents’ strengths and forget their own.
3. When to walk away. I really enjoy physical combat. Not because I like hurting people, but because it pushes you out of your normal comfort zone -- it forces you to react and make decisions under pressure. The final and most important thing I learned is how to walk away from a fight. Fighting those bloody battles -- both in the ring and in business -- gives you knowledge and seasoning. You learn it’s better to know how to pick your fights than fighting every fight.