You know that classic nightmare where you give a public speech naked to bellowing laughter? Well, trying new fitness activities can make us feel almost as exposed. There’s nothing like a new experience to make us feel self-conscious. Falling short of a full blown Freudian analysis, let’s strip down this process and pluck a couple of tips for making it feel a little less… drafty?
1) Follow your curiosity
I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of loyally active people. Let me tell you that they’ve never regretted trying something they’re curious about, even if they didn’t like it. So if there’s something you’re daydreaming about trying, that’s the thing you should test. Let that percolating desire for self-discovery be stronger than the fear of looking dopey. Besides, if you don’t enjoy it, you’ve learned something. And if you do? Who knows where that will lead you.
2) Take a small bite
I once went trampolining with my pre-schooler. It was a blast. I bounced for over an hour without a care in the world. Yes, I loved it, but who knew how hard it is on all those tiny muscles in your feet and ankles? I’d still do it again, but it’s fair to say my feet were traumatized. Don’t be me.
All fitness activities require some degree of effort whether that’s tennis or Taekwondo. But treat your first time like an appetizer, not an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you go too hard, you’ll not only run the risk of injury, you’ll make it too intense to tell whether you actually like it. On top of that, it can be excruciatingly embarrassing to ask a co-worker to carry you up the stairs the next day. Those super sore muscles might make you regret the attempt.
“If you’re going to be awful at it, be awful with a friend.”
3) Bring a friend
As a dad, I get to try a lot of odd things and just pretend I’m there for my kid. My daughter gives me a free pass to do things no reasonable adult would get up and do (see #2). The point is, there can anxiety when trying something new. It’s a vulnerable process. Will I look out of place? Am I fit enough? What the heck do I wear?
It’s much easier to walk through the woods at night when with a pack, so bring a friend and dilute the stress. If you’re awful at it, you can be awful together. And as the joke goes, if you ever actually encounter a bear on the trails, you don’t have to outrun the bear, just your pal.
4) Humor helps
Here, self-deprecation can be an ally. Chances are you’re going to feel clumsy and out of sorts. You may even look a little ridiculous (welcome to hot yoga!). Don’t take it too seriously… no one looks that cool when the exercise anyway. So embrace the disgrace you believe you’re bringing to your name and bring a lighthearted attitude to the ordeal.
5) Show up without expectations
If you add up tips 1-4, it leads to this… park any expectations at the door. Give yourself permission to look weird. Give yourself permission to be bad at it. You’re there to collect data. You can’t get a feel for something if you don’t touch it. You’re doing some important self-research. Going back to the same old comfortable activities you’ve never really liked won’t put you on the path you’re searching for.
Dr. Kelly Doell is a mental performance consultant specializing in sustainable fitness. He’s the author of Feel Like It: Makeover Your Motivation to Move and hosts a weekly podcast on the mental side of active living called Happily Ever Active.