I was lying on my back on the ground, a stranger on top of me, pressing me down into the floor. He was bigger and stronger than me, and for one horrible moment everything became clear – this could really happen to me. This could happen to my sister, my mom, my nieces. This happens to women every single day.
And from that moment forward, the rest of my first-ever Brazilian Ju Jitsu (BJJ) class took on a whole different meaning – I recognized that it went much further than a chance to try something new; this class, like all of my efforts to remain fit and healthy, could quite literally save my life.
Let me be very clear: The start of the BJJ class was anything but “comfortable.” I was the only woman, and the entire class took place on the mats, quite literally straddling and being straddled by strange men. I could have opted out. I could have decided that trying the class wasn’t worth the discomfort, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Not only did I enjoy the class more than I thought possible, but it was empowering. Empowering to realize that with the right skills, I could absolutely protect myself against an attacker. Empowering to realize that while the class looked kinda sexual, it didn’t feel sexual at all. Empowering to embrace the strength and mental awareness the sport requires. And empowering simply to try something new.
The danger of the comfort zone
Don’t get me wrong – I like comfort as much as the next person. Give me a warm summer day, a comfy chair and a view of the ocean, and I’ll be happy indefinitely. But too much comfort can be a bad thing – it doesn’t stimulate change or growth. It doesn’t push your boundaries or encourage you to see what you’re really made of.
10 Benefits of trying something new
There are many benefits of trying new things:
- Overcoming fear. The first time I moved cross-country, I was terrified. I had three weeks to pack everything up and move to a new city, site-unseen, for a job I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready for. I was talking to my dad about the opportunity, and he asked, “Why wouldn’t you take it?” and my answer was, “I’m scared. I’ve never lived out of state before. I don’t even know how to rent a U-Haul.” His answer? “If fear’s the only thing stopping you, then you have to take the job.” I took the job. I moved cross country. And since then, I’ve moved cross country three more times. The unknown can be scary, but it’s not a reason to slow or stop your potential.
- Learning what you’re capable of. Do you know how many ambassadors’ stories I’ve read that go something like this? “I was out of shape, tired, and unhappy, and knew I needed to make a change. I signed up for a race, and even though I wasn’t sure I could do it, I kept working at it. When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t believe how far I’d come and what I could accomplish! I’ve since competed in half marathons, marathons, and even Tough Mudders!” You never know what you can accomplish if you don’t put yourself out there and try.
- Developing likes and dislikes. I’ve long said, “I’ll try anything (healthy) once.” I know I hate mussels and love kefir. I don’t enjoy road racing, but love running on trails. I like stand up paddleboarding, but am not a fan of SUP yoga. The only way I’ve made these discoveries is through trying.
- Learning what you’re good at. Five years ago I quit a fitness management career cold turkey, and decided I was going to pursue online freelance fitness writing instead. It was terrifying. I’d never freelanced anything and had little reason to believe I would find success. And yet, five years later, I’m still making a living online. I discovered I was good enough to get paid for my work, and to continue a career in a field I’d had no training in. Granted, it was risky, and I’m not suggesting everyone quit their jobs and start a brand new career without research or foresight, but it does show how trying new things can uncover and put a shine on otherwise untapped talents.
- Inspiring others. People are always watching, even when you don’t think they are. Your family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances notice when you start posting pictures of race medals or start cooking new meals. There’s evidence that the choices of an individual can be “contagious” (particularly the negative choices), so the positive choices and new experiences you pursue can lead to positive ripples throughout your circle of friends. Don’t underestimate your ability to impact others through the decisions you make.
- Improving confidence. There’s nothing like overcoming a fear and learning what you’re capable of to give you a boost of confidence. When I was 26 years old I took a job where my role was to more-or-less build a giant, 140,000 square foot fitness center from the ground up. Granted, I wasn’t actually building the gym, but I had to build my department of 140 people, train the staff, market the facility, and so, so much more… and I had 9 months to do it. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of work that went into that job, or the intensity of the fear I might fail. But at the end of the 9 months, when the facility was up and running, the staff were trained, the equipment in place, and the customers enjoying the amenities, I was able to look around and say, “Wow. I never could have imagined doing all of this, but I did, and it’s good.” It was an incredible confidence-booster.
- Stimulating creativity. When you try something new, your brain makes new connections and starts interweaving old experiences with the new ones. This is a powerful creativity-booster. As a basic example, when I try something new, I store that information and experience away, and I can draw on it later when writing a post. Or if I try a new fitness class, I may be inspired to create a new move based on something I learned in the class.
- Meeting new people. It seems obvious, right? When you break away from your old habits to try something new, you’re bound to meet people who are already doing the new thing you’re trying. Get out there and meet people!
- Challenging your beliefs. New experiences and new relationships can help open your mind to new new ways of thinking. Until I worked in an organization deeply committed to serving low income families and the homeless, I never truly understood the cycle of poverty and why it’s so challenging for low income families to overcome the cycle. The experience of working with this organization changed my perspective – it made me more tolerant, less judgmental, and more empathetic. It also made me adamant that while it is hard, it’s also possible… but that it takes a community to help initiate change. New experiences – positive or negative – have the power to change you at your core.
- Writing a new self-story. Everyone has a self-story – an inner self description composed of likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. This story ranges from the obvious (“I’m a tall, brown-haired woman.”) to the more subtle (“I always take everything in, but rarely offer unsolicited comments.”) to the proud (“I’m fit and healthy.”) to the defeating (“I rarely finish anything I start.”). When you try new things and discover new capabilities, your self story starts to change. Once upon a time, I thought of myself as a fitness center manager – much of my self-story was wrapped up in that role. When I started writing for a living, I very gradually changed my story to reflect, “I’m a writer and editor,” and now my self story reflects, “I’m an online fitness community leader.” As you grow, develop and learn from the experience of new things, you have the chance to change how you view yourself and project your new story to the world.
How fitness plays a part
Fitness, for me, is a tool. It’s a tool that enables me to better my whole life. It’s the tool I turn to to push me past my comfort zones, to try new things, to challenge me mentally, physically and emotionally, and to stimulate creativity.
One of the reasons I chose the fitness industry as my professional field was because I found so much personal reward from the experience of being fit. And the reward wasn’t just “being fit;” rather, being fit translated into so many wonderful life experiences. It is through fitness that I’ve developed confidence, found my way out of depression, met with God, and created a positive self-identity. It’s through fitness that I seek out new experiences and meet new people. Fitness is the tool, and the life it helps create is a beauty.
Helping students push their boundaries & try new things
If you’re interested in helping a group of low-income university students travel abroad and try new things, check out this online silent auction that’s being hosted by Psyched2Run. Lots of awesome fitness gear is up for grabs, and all funds go toward a good cause.