We all have things that we know would be good for us to do that we avoid doing. Each of us lives within a restrictive set of rules, often which we're unaware of. When we live within these rules we feel safe. When we violate these rules we experience anxiety, discomfort, and uncertainty. However, growing and changing involves challenging our usual ways of behaving and taking risks to behave differently.
One thing that I really like to do is folkdance. I used to belong to a club that danced once a week, and periodically I would invite a friend to try it. A number of times I would get a response something like, "I'd like to, but I don't dance." What's striking to me is the volition and permanence with which such statements are made. As if on that person's berth certificate it was stamped "DOESN'T DANCE." Now admittedly, everyone isn't a Fed Astaire or Ginger Rogers, but I would like to suggest that the reasons people avoid new and different things are psychological and have little to do with ability.
Let me try to demonstrate how avoiding occurs and is maintained. One of the most common fears in our society is public speaking. Most people are petrified by the thought of getting up in front of a group of people to speak. The individual's thinking usually goes something like this. "If I get up in front of the group to speak, I'll forget what I'm supposed to say or I'll say something stupid or they'll laugh at me or I'll sweat or..." The person thinks of all the horrible things that could happen.
Not wanting all the horrible things that are imagined to happen, the person avoids speaking in front of the group. The really terrible thing is that it works. That is, all the horrible things that were imagined doesn't happen. And, the person feels better and believes erroneously that the avoidance was the thing to do. The avoiding is learned and maintained.
However, if you take the risk to do something that you're afraid of, but that you know is in your own best interests, a valuable lesson occurs. First, the horrible things that you imagine probably won’t happen anyway. Second, if they do, they’re much less horrible than you imagined. Third, that you’re not so fragile
and won’t melt if things don’t go just so. You can handle things. Fourth, that your participation
in life is expanded. Fifth, that there is joy in doing new things. And sixth, that you feel better
about yourself when fears are faced.
Why am I telling you this? Because to grow and change we must take risks to step outside
the boxes that we live in. Risk involves challenging the very rules by which we live our lives
and finding the courage to behave differently. When people do this, they’re usually amazed
that it’s far less difficult than they imagined.
What I’m encouraging you to do is take risk to do things that you know are in your own
best interests. Not things that are physically dangerous, but things that are emotionally
challenging. Things in the interests of your own growth. So take the class you’ve always
wanted to, or try fixing your car yourself, or go to a dance, or initiate a conversation, or dress
a little differently, or ask someone out, or say what you don’t like, or send that steak back, or
go to a movie by yourself, or… Do this out of a sense of self caring and worth. Trust yourself.