Don’t be afraid to try new things

Maybe hula-hooping isn’t up your alley, but keep an open mind —trying out a new activity can be invigorating!

Special to The TribuneSeptember 28, 2012 

I’ve recently started hula-hooping. I was 5 years old when hula hoops first hit the scene. But like most boomers, I haven’t touched one in decades. Now I practice nearly every day and have mastered a few simple tricks.

Whenever I mention hula-hooping to friends, they respond in a surprisingly similar way: “I did that when I was young. But I can’t do it anymore.” If I say, “Sure you can. You’re just out of practice,” they reply, “Oh, no. I’ve tried it. I can’t do it.”

I’m surprised by this resistance. Seems many of us are loath to try something new, especially if we think we’ll appear silly or incompetent.

The fact is, nearly everyone can hula-hoop. There’s nothing magical about the skill. It’s a cheap, portable hobby, and it’s great for your back and core.

Still, our inner critics cast the ultimate vote. They’re petrified of failing. They seek to protect us from being laughed at, so they keep us on a short leash.

This same fear crops up in a variety of settings. We want to take up painting but worry we don’t have talent. Or we’d like to join a gym but are intimidated by the hard bodies we see in our spin class.

Some of us are so failure-phobic that it severely interferes with our lives. Certain mental disorders, such as social phobia, generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, list exaggerated fear and worry among their diagnostic criteria.

It’s easy to see how it develops. High achieving parents can set unrealistic expectations for their offspring. School kids can be insensitive and laugh at their less successful peers. Older siblings can mercilessly taunt their younger brothers and sisters.

Those painful memories get stored on our psychic hard drives. They become an integral part of who we are.

Even when we’re long past the original danger and have gained ample power and esteem, we secretly fret about not passing muster, about being laughed at once again.

Ironically, most of us are impressed by others’ efforts. Rather than scoffing or being critical, we’re inspired by their newest endeavors. We’re spurred on to expand our own horizons, and we secretly thank them for paving the way.

Of course, some activities will never be appealing. Sky diving won’t cut it for me. Still, I’m eager to take on new challenges, even if Ilook foolish in the process.

EAGER TO TACKLE SOMETHING NEW? TRY THESE TIPS:

• Find a mentor. Take a class or get a personal trainer. You’ll get the expertise you need to get started. Their input and encouragement will keep you motivated.

• Avoid judging your performance. Stop using words such as “good” or “bad.” Never tell yourself “I can’t do this.” Simply observe what you’re doing and make changes where you can.

• Accept where you are. You are a beginner. That’s OK. You may improve or remain at your current level. Wherever you are is good enough.

• Don’t get too serious. Chances are you’ll never be a professional. So don’t freak out about how you do. Back away and take some deep breaths if you do get too worked up. That’ll help keep things in perspective.

• Enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the endpoint. Instead, savor every step along the way. The activity will maintain its freshness, and you’ll avert needless stress.

• Don’t overdo. It’s easy to get too excited in the beginning. You have a tendency to set unreachable goals and burn out if they’re not met. Instead, go slow. Be patient. Steer clear of longterm commitments. You don’t have to accomplish everything right off. There’s plenty of time to enjoy it.

• Practice for short periods of time. Brief, frequent practice sessions are more effective than hours of training. You’re guaranteed to improve if you stick with it. Too much practice increases the likelihood of injury and fatigue.

• Have fun. The bottom line is enjoyment. Only you can ensure that you do. Laugh often. Be lighthearted. Allow the delight you experience in your activity to resonate in every aspect of your life.

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