New things are hard. Many times we either live in a perpetual state of not doing them, or we start them and then gradually stop. We are not these failures who can’t hack it. We are not making things harder than they need to be. Everyone else is not out there, going around being better at doing new things than you are. This epic struggle is a universal, being a human thing. But why?!?! <Insert whiny tone.>
Well, our brains CRAVE the familiar. They are basically obsessed with it. It’s an energy conservation issue. We are wired for survival, and to survive we need to conserve our energy as much as possible. New things require a ton of work from our brains, which uses up resources. SO, our brains are like this super picky, cautious, snobby manager that rejects requests for action that it deems threatening to our energy stores. It nay says even things that we really strongly desire, in the spirit of rigidly defending ourselves from becoming depleted. This is super important-imagine if our brains were hyper, easily influenced, non-discerning managers who approved every request or thought that was suggested.
You have an idea to run across the street in the middle of the afternoon during yet another boring, ineffective meeting. A notion enters your mind to buy a tropical vacation package in the middle of the night when you are feeling tired and cold. When scrolling through Instagram, you notice an urge to contact your high school boyfriend to see if he regrets how he treated you. Thank your brain for choosing to not follow through on those ideas!
Where this feature of our brain becomes irritating is when we are SERIOUS about wanting to do a thing and DEEPLY DESIRE to follow through on it. We wish we weren’t dissuaded by uncomfortable feelings: doubts and fears about what could happen; limitations on our schedules; other demands on our time…but it’s sooooo easy to. That’s why it is INCREDIBLY helpful to have a plan. To be specific: a 5 step plan that was conceived by the amazing Dr. Brené Brown.
Do you know Brené? Let me introduce you, if you are not familiar. She is a ROCK STAR of psychological research. She gained widespread recognition after giving a phenomenal TED Talk about vulnerability, and then one about shame. (If you have not seen these yet, you must stop everything and go watch.) Do it. This blog will be here – thank you for your desire to finish reading it – but you know you are going to forget if you don’t do it now. I’ll wait.
Welcome back! Brené researches, lectures, and writes about courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. What stands out to me about her brand is the strength of research methods combined with the ability to explain and market her findings in ways which everyone (not just fellow academics) can understand and apply to their own lives. In her first ever podcast episode, she described her strategy for “staying in tough first times versus tapping out and shutting down.” As always-she got it so right. Highly recommend you listen to that episode, and the rest of her podcast Unlocking Us. This is not sponsored, I just really love me some Brené. She observes that being new at things is a completely vulnerable experience. Her nickname for new things are F*cking First Times: FFTs. When we are vulnerable, we also tend to feel afraid, uncomfortable, awkward. And when we feel those feelings-we shut down. In our culture, observing something as weird or awkward has become a shorthand for: stop, you shouldn’t be doing that, that’s not ok, what are you thinking you idiot. BUT, when we stop doing things that make us uncomfortable-we also intensely limit our capacity for feeling energized, excited, engaged, motivated. When we feel challenged, we feel alive!
When in the new thing and feeling vulnerable, a life of ease, sipping mai tais on the beach sounds EXACTLY like what we need. But-seriously: if we play the tape of this plan all the way through, we would probably see a life that isn’t actually appealing.
Imagine sitting on a beach, sipping mai tais (or whatever the equivalent relaxation fantasy is for you). Imagine doing that for an hour. An afternoon. A day. Four days. A week. Two weeks. Two months. Two years. Two decades. Somewhere in there, I begin to get bored and unfulfilled. I feel frustrated by not having a challenge to use my mind towards. Things become, just, highly uninteresting.
SO, it is in our best interest to do new things AND we are actually capable of doing new things: even when it doesn’t feel that way. I know, I don’t know you and what your new thing is. But I promise-I know people. And the research. While we absolutely are not capable of doing ANYTHING that we want to, I’ll tell you what-we are capable of doing a lot more than we think we are. I don’t know that you will be successful at the thing you want to do, but I do know that you are capable of trying. That said, I don’t know about you, but when things are hard, I thrive with a plan. Brené’s FFT plan (with an extra step that my clients and I came up with) is:
- Name it.
- Connect to your “why.”
- Get perspective.
- Reality check expectations.
- Name the experience.
I’m going to go into more detail on each of these steps, but I think we are all ready to be done reading for now, am I right? For the conclusion of this suspenseful thriller, check out Part II of this post (you know, when you are ready)!
If you want to step up your game and get serious about doing more of what you want and less of what you don’t-you may need to be in Self-Care Class. We talk about all this stuff in greater depth, answer questions about how to apply it, and help you work through all the barriers life and your mind are throwing at you!