RECENTLY I WENT TO MY BOSS’S OFFICE for a regular meeting. Annoyed by some quality issues I found while reviewing other people’s work, I asked him, “Can I leave early and go to the dojo? I feel like throwing some people around.” I was joking, of course, but it expressed both the frustration I felt and my anticipation of Aikido class that evening, where I knew I would feel better afterward.
Contrast that with the “Dammit Doll,” a supposed stress reliever which I found out about in the book I’ve been reading, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). You buy the doll that best suits your target of frustration, then beat the living you-know-what out of it, while screaming “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!!” There are even poems about the doll that you can recite while acting out. It may be better than actual violence, but will it actually relieve your stress, or improve your mental health? Maybe not. The authors say that in actual studies, using aggressive behavior to work out feelings of aggression turn out to have the opposite of the intended effect; blood pressure rises further, and feelings of anger increase rather than decrease.
I wondered why an Aikido class works so well for me in relieving stress, and the difference quickly came to mind. Unlike the D-Doll approach, where negative feelings are expressed, I’m expected to bring positive energy to class, to be used to perform harmonious techniques. As Sensei said at the start of my Kenshu training, “When you come to the dojo, leave your ego at the door. It will be there waiting for you after class.” This approach allows me to set everything else aside and focus only on training and being a good partner. And at the end of class, the negative feelings and stresses are either much smaller or have vanished entirely.
These days I really look forward to evening workouts to relieve the stresses of the day. A group run, bike ride, or Aikido class works out the nervous energy and gives me time to gain perspective. And being around other positive people fired up to train is a great boost too.
P.S. I highly recommend the book mentioned above. It does a great job of explaining why people won’t admit to the mistakes they make or how they justify actions that seem ridiculous to the rest of us. You’ll learn what “cognitive dissonance” is and how you can recognize it in yourself and deal with your mistakes in a more appropriate way.