Have you ever purchased an item of clothing for yourself without trying it on? Were you happy with what you bought? Or were you disappointed in how it fit? In which case you either returned the item or gifted it to one of your family members. In the same light, have you ever placed judgment on something before giving yourself the opportunity to try it out or to take experience of it? Do you still hold the same judgment on it now? Or have you subsequently changed your mind after trying it out?
The Scientist Approach
Scientists go about their work without worrying about success or failure. Typically, there is an idea or hypothesis that they start out with, and throughout the process of their work, they experiment with variables, try on new conditions and eventually come away with an end result or conclusion.
In the same manner, at any given point in our lives, we are well aware of what experiences are available to us. In order to transform those experiences into life experiences, we must do our own experiments. Perhaps we may use certain variables for the experiment, but at the end, we come away with a definite conclusion along with the life experience.
A few years ago, I got interested in Improvisational (Improv) Comedy. My hypothesis was: Improv would be an awesome experiment for me to push my own limits for presentations and using body language for communicating my thoughts. At that time, I started sneaking in episodes of “Whose Line is it Anyway”, to better understand the art form. I found Wayne Brady and Ryan Stiles to be the most brilliant artists on the show. They carried a remarkable presence and were truly magicians with the unknown. Nevertheless, by merely watching the show, I was getting better at observing Improv, but it really didn’t help me in pushing the limits that I had set for myself. Similarly, watching a cooking show doesn't make us better cooks!
I thought to myself; let me modify the variables a bit. Watching TV is one thing, but why not get firsthand experience with Improv? Within a short time, I signed up for classes and was blown away by the experience. I learned more in my first class of doing Improv (though I was atrocious at it) than all the shows that I watched combined. I spent the entire summer that year immersing myself in those classes and came away with an unbelievable growth experience. I enjoyed it so much that even many years later, I still put some of those techniques into practice in my daily life.
Try Before You Buy
The one mindset I’ve kept throughout my life is that of “Try Before You Buy”. When I say this, I’m not merely referring to clothes or material goods, but rather creating unique experiences in my life. The rationale behind this mindset is that in the short time that we have on this planet, there are an infinite number of experiences that we can have. We might not be able to have every single experience that is out there, but at the very least we can explore as many as possible. Brain research suggests that the more we stretch ourselves, the more connections are created amidst our neural network. It makes us incredibly smarter!
In doing this exploration, of course we’ll have our fair share of not so pleasant encounters, but we’ll also run into some amazing events. However, in getting to those unbelievable life moments, one must take the first step and try on distinct experiences for size, similar to my Improv experience.
Thinking back to some of my personal unpleasant moments, as a teenager, I enjoyed playing recreational volleyball games at parks during picnics or at the beach. The passion for the sport led me to try out for my High School Volleyball team during my junior year. I went through two practices and afterwards I noticed that my forearms were thoroughly beaten to a pulp by ‘digging’ the ball a million times. I looked like I had huge black & blue tattoos stamped on my forearms. It got so bad, that I couldn’t even pick up anything with my hands for a few days. Most importantly, by the third practice I recognized that I was not having fun. Therefore, I decided to take myself off the team and stick to the pick-up games. Hence, I filed that experience in my memory under the “This is not joyful enough for me” category.
Keep an Open Mind
When you’re faced with an opportunity to dive into a new experience, realize that it could potentially be a great learning process. Most people don’t see it this way. As a whole, we’re socially conditioned to be close-minded towards the unknown.
Take Yoga for instance. Most men are averse to Yoga simply because of the media portrayal of it as a feminine activity. It is viewed as a gentle activity which helps women during their pregnancies as well as an exercise for stretching and putting oneself in compromising positions. In other words, it’s considered not masculine at all. Despite there being some truth with what is portrayed, this aspect of Yoga only makes up a small percentage of the classes that are out there. There are so many disciplines within yoga, that if a man wanted to take an asana class to build strength, endurance and keep him fit, he can surely find something that suits his taste.
Yet due to the conditioning we receive from external forces, there are many things in our lives that we don’t even give a thought to simply because of our pre-conceived notions. Meanwhile, we are allowing ourselves to miss out on amazing learning experiences.
By engaging in new experiences, there also is an element of fear. Of what will happen if I actually go through with an activity. However, a better perspective to take is to view it as an opportunity to overcome a fear within you. After all, the more we develop the courage to conquer the things that scare us, the more enjoyable life becomes as we’re not hiding behind a facade of fears.
A friend of mine, Jay, once told me an interesting experience he went through to overcome one of his greatest fears. Jay had the fear of heights and was absolutely terrified of anything that required looking down from a great distance above the ground. While in college, his buddies were well aware of his dislike for high elevations. One year, when Jay’s birthday came around, his pals woke him up early in the morning and instructed him that they were going to take him to an undisclosed location to celebrate his birthday. Jay nervously complied and went along with the surprise. As it was early in the morning, and being tired from the night before, Jay dozed off in the car. The moment the car stopped, Jay woke up and noticed that he was at the entrance of an Air Force base. At this point, he was still composed, and went along with the situation. This was until he was informed that he would be going Sky-Diving!! At which point Jay flipped out.
Jay had the perfectly valid choice of hiding behind his fears, or he could choose to conquer his fears once and for all. Jay chose the courageous route (is it even possible to say ‘no’ to an Air Force Sgt?). In addition, he had a spectacular sky-diving session and squashed whatever fear he had of heights.
Our opportunities may not be as dramatic as Jay's, but it’s good to question ourselves on whether we can take part in new experiences to overcome our own fears and insecurities. Are we willing to do so?
Take Lessons From Those Who Have Tread the Path Already
By now, I’m sure you are all ready to go and experiment with anything and everything. However, there is an important caveat to what I mentioned earlier. There are times where experimentation is simply not the best choice. In these cases, taking lessons from those who have tread the path already is crucial. For instance, if we suddenly thought, “Hmm, I’ve never gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel… I wonder what that would feel like?” Based on the experiences of those who have tried it already along with common sense, we can see that experimenting by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is probably not a smart thing to do. The chances are slim for survival, as many people have died doing so.
The better option is to seek out the 'survivors' of the experience you are wanting. For some, the temptation may be to experiment with certain things, such as immersing oneself with drugs or illegal acts punishable by law. If you truly have the desire to experience something you’ve never done before, then by all means go ahead and do so as you are the only one who is responsible for your life. However, take heed of those who have been there and done that. Ask them about their experiences and reflect on whether you want to have the same experiences.
Most importantly, put everything in perspective. If you trust your own inner scientist and follow the experiences that lead you to the greatest growth and strength of character, then you will never go wrong!
Photo Credit: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/bbimages/clo/images/wedo/themes/theme_research_valley.jpg