Many people I know allow the fear of looking awkward or silly prevent them from trying something new. It could be anything from karaoke to going to their first yoga class. Just the thought of failing or looking like they have no clue what they are doing is enough to prevent them from ever trying things they have dreamt about doing.
Remember when you first learned to walk or ride a bike? You probably don’t because it’s quite natural to you now, but if you see any old videos of yourself you would see how unbalanced you were and how many times you fell, but never gave up. That’s what it is like trying something new. We can’t let the fear of looking stupid, like we don’t know what we are doing or even failing, rob us of the joy mastering (or at least being competent) in that area will bring.
Recently I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the hardest things I have done so far was to walk through that door and start my first class. I had so much anxiety about it and most of my anxieties revolved around how silly I would look attempting to perform exercises and maneuvers I had never performed In my life.
I was worried about my conditioning because while I consider myself to be in somewhat decent shape, I knew I was not in the type of shape I thought I needed to be in for Jiu Jitsu. I was mostly worried about my conditioning (or lack thereof). I go to the gym often and lift weights, but I rarely do aerobic activity. I also knew that I could find a thousand excuses to keep putting off starting the class if I didn’t push myself to go despite those anxieties.
During my first few classes, I was really self-conscious and compared myself to the rest of the class. Most of the other guys were in better shape, quicker and more coordinated. I did feel like an awkward gorilla when we did many of the warm up exercises that required flexibility I didn’t have and left me sucking in air before the class even really begun. All of that started pushing doubt and excuses in my mind. “You’re too out of shape”, my inner critic said, “You’re too old, too tired, too busy” it added.
I live in my head, which isn’t always a good thing if you can’t master it. I had to quickly get out of my head. I did this by reminding myself that I was a beginner and it was okay to look and feel like a beginner.
I had to tell myself that it was okay if I looked and felt awkward during the exercises, if I couldn’t perform some moves right, if at all. I told myself that it was okay if I got gassed during class and had to take a break. I was a beginner, and if there is ever a time to look awkward while trying your best, it’s when you’re a beginner.
Instead of being worried about being a beginner take advantage of it, embrace it.
When I started focusing more on myself and not on the other people in class things became easier. I had taken the pressure off of myself to be better than I reasonably could be. I pushed myself of course, but took breaks when I needed to and learned to be unapologetic about it (by the way, no one ever made me feel bad about having to take a breather). I modified moves I couldn’t do until I could do them instead of getting upset, hurting myself or giving up out of frustration.
I worked on not caring about other people’s opinions.
So what if other guys in the class made fun of me or snickered about how this middle aged, muscular but uncoordinated guy flopped around class like a fish out of water. They weren’t paying for my classes, I was. They weren’t in my shoes. We all have different lives and different goals. While some guys were there to someday compete for medals, I was there to get in shape and learn a martial art I had been curious about for over a decade. While some guys live to train, I have a full-time, stressful job, commute 144 miles to and from work each day and have a family to divide my time with. Our goals and drives are completely different, and that’s okay.
Once I got out of my own head, allowed myself to be a beginner and stopped being concerned about what other people may think about me, things became fun! It helps that most people who train Jiu Jitsu seem to be non-judgmental and encouraging. You’ll hear them say, “We all started at the same point, don’t give up, just keep showing up”.
I don’t think anyone ever looked at me and thought about how awkward I looked or how much my conditioning sucked. It was all in my head. Once I got out of my head and really focused on being mindful and present in the moment, I quickly realized I very rarely even thought about my weight, my clumsiness or my fitness level that much. As a matter of fact, Jiu Jitsu class became one of the few places I didn’t think too much about those things or other life problems at all. It became a stress reliever.
I’m still extremely new in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and in every class I am learning something new and attempting to perform it for the first time. I am still a beginner and I allow myself to be a beginner, unapologetic ally.