The Warrior Mindset Part 2: Transform Challenges Into Opportunities
Shawn Rhodes, founder of Shoshin Consulting, is a traveler, teacher and above all, a lifelong student. After growing up in the mountains training in martial arts and eastern philosophy, he followed his own warrior’s calling and joined the U.S. Marines. There, he accompanied infantry Marines through two combat tours in Iraq, documenting their trials and victories for international news outlets like CNN and TIME. While living and fighting alongside this tribe of modern-day warriors, he discovered the link between the warrior’s path and mastery in life. He returned to the U.S. with the passion to share a vision of what humans are capable of when they embrace their own inner warrior and return to a mindset where all paths are possible.
This is the second in a three-part series on The Warrior’s Path. Each installment will explore the evolution of the warrior mindset. Rooted in ancient methods warriors followed for thousands of years, adopting this mindset can help anyone to regain balance, direction, and control of their health, success, and life.
In the first part of this series, readers learned how to use the ancient mindset of the warrior to see life in a new way. Instead of viewing the world as a place that acts upon our lives, we learned everyone has the ability to choose how to process situations. Seeing each problem in life as a challenge to shift our mindset is the first stage of warriorhood.
In the second installment of this series, we will learn the next stage in the evolution of the warrior mindset is turning those challenges into opportunities, and why it’s the supreme form of power.
Unfortunately, many people – especially young men – get stuck in the first stage of a warrior’s development. They’ve learned to see the problems in their lives as challenges, but they make a key mistake that freezes their development: they see each challenge as a threat and a test of their strength. We’ve all seen the chest-puffing and rooster dance from two guys at the bar or on the schoolyard.
The Need to Prove
I’m convinced, after seeing firsthand people spend months trying to kill each other in modern war, that much of the violence in this world comes from people feeling threatened and wanting to protect what they see as ‘theirs‘: their life, their property, their ideologies.
These folks aren’t operating from the mindset of mature warriors; they are approaching their lives like a guard defending a castle, afraid of the walls crumbling at any moment. Without their bravado and one-upmanship, others might discover just how fragile their self-image really is. People frozen in this stage may be extremely skilled fighters, but they rush blindly into battles without examining the playing field for the best – and easiest – ways to win.
In one of the most famous texts outlining the warrior mindset – The Hagakure – its author Yamamoto Tsunemoto likens a skilled warrior on the battlefield to a hawk taking down a single bird in a flock. Experienced warriors focus their minds on a task – or an opponent – and are unconcerned with the opinions of others in the flock or social circle. Instead, they are more concerned with performance than they are with proving their competence. This makes them extremely effective at whatever they set their minds to, whether it’s being a fighter or an artist.
If you are young and still exploring your relationship to your world by comparing your strength against others, the sooner you move past needing to prove yourself, the sooner you can embrace a deeper kind of power.
Moving Past Threat to Opportunity
It is easy to see a challenge as a threat to our confidence, independence, and competence. Warriors learn the very act of ‘being threatened’ puts them into a rigid mode of ‘me against them.’
It’s crucial to remember that choosing to ‘be threatened,’ like all life’s outlooks, is a choice we make for ourselves. When a cat hisses at a mouse, the mouse craps its furry pants. However, when a cat hisses at a grizzly bear, there’s no threat. Instead, the grizzly’s dinner is on the table. Same action, but the subjects’ outlooks are worlds apart. The cat’s confidence shifts, while the grizzly remains steadfast.
I’ve had the opportunity to know many traditional and non-traditional warriors well into their middle and old age. Their younger days were often spent brawling and fighting (sometimes just for the fun of it), but eventually their bodies wore out or they grew tired of the lifestyle. When they were finally ready to move on to the next stage of the warrior mindset, they used their past experiences as the foundation for confidence. They’d met the challenges life brought them head-on and no longer felt the need to prove their own strength, especially to themselves.
A wonderful thing happens to the way you see the world when you give up the need to prove yourself all the time – it’s the second stage of the warrior’s evolution. When you’re ready, you can begin seeing your challenges not as threats but as opportunities for internal growth.
Instead of testing your strength, you can transcend it.
Ancient warriors described this using the analogy of a great, rigid pine tree being uprooted in the storm while the small blades of grass simply bent with the wind. When someone shifts from ‘threat’ mode into ‘opportunity’ mode, they become supple and able to respond (aka, to take response-ability for their lives, as explained in part 1).
In martial arts, we learn to flow with the force of our attacker instead of standing rigid and receiving the attack head-on. As we learned in Part I of the Warrior Mindset, we are free to choose how we see the events in our life. Seeing every situation as an opportunity moves us from a mindset of retreating within safe borders to expanding into the world.
A Change of Perspective Leads to a Change of Ability
By seeing the world through the lens of opportunity, we look for new ways to succeed and every path becomes a possibility. The Japanese called it Shoshin – Beginner’s Mind.
Humans evolved to be opportunists in order to take advantage of any available food and to inhabit a wide variety of environments. This Beginner’s Mind is our evolutionary birthright, and just as we can achieve glowing health by eating and moving as we were meant to, so too can we achieve our greatest potential by cultivating a mindset in tune with our ancestral heritage, and seeking out opportunities. The warrior’s path offers opportunities for growth, connection and transcendence – whereas modern society encourages us to give that up by offering a life devoid of decisions and challenges.
Instead, choose to move into the golden space of the mature warrior mindset. See each new situation as an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. If you can practice this in your everyday life, previously boring activities take on a new glow as you look for innovative ways to accomplish them.
When you stop seeing conflict – with yourself or others – as a contest and begin seeing it as a dance, a path opens for you to stretch your own previously rigid opinions and flow with an ever-changing life.
Find and observe an old warrior who still has a love for life. They move with fluidity and openness. They embrace the mindset of opportunity and no longer feel the need to prove themselves to anyone. Turning challenges into opportunities brings with it a deep well of power and grace.
It’s a power that brings with a great responsibility, and it is the final stage of the warrior’s evolution.
More articles and resources for training your warrior mindset and living a truly remarkable life are available at www.shoshinconsulting.com
Photo credit: U.S. Army on Flickr