Embracing the new

… and welcoming the pain that comes with it because it’s good for you!

Doing something new for the first time can be tricky. For some it can bring out a cold sweat. It can cause frustration. It can make you want to give up. It can give your inner voice plenty of reason to start shouting “YOU CAN’T DO THIS!”.

 

Oh, but you can. You’ve been embracing new things since the day you were born and succeeded.

Remember when you were struggling to tie your shoes laces as a child or learning Spanish for the first time at school or getting to grips with your organisations new online meeting room system? Everyone said to you “it’s bound to be difficult the first time round, but you’ll get there”, as they sat calmly on the other side of the fence having got there much faster than you (or so you believe) and no longer experienced any of the same stresses. But they were right!

 

As you grow and mature, handling new experiences can sometimes take more work

I know there are many that have a very different reaction to change. The kind, at an extreme, that shout “BRING IT ON!” whilst thumping their chests like King Kong! However, my experience of ‘experiencing something new’ over the Christmas holidays really stopped me in my tracks. I laugh about it now, but at the time I felt physically sick and was worried my husband was about to implode, and all because of a game called Villainous. Have you played it?

We were trying to find ways of creating lots of little new experiences, to help us through the monotony of lockdown. So I thought I’d buy a new game for Christmas. Villainous arrived. Everyone rolled their eyes at the thought of another board game and I confidently said, “It’ll be fun, and it’s for 12yrs plus so it won’t be hard”. Famous last words. The instructions should have read “it won’t be hard, unless you’re an adult in their late forties, with no willingness to just play and see what happens, without understanding what the dickens is going on!!!”

Needless to say the kids were off, loving it, without any trouble what’s so ever. They enjoyed experimenting with the different pieces and the thousands of instructions on various piles of cards across the table, written in a Marvel language I could NOT compute. They were even making each other laugh with Marvel related jokes or impressions. What the…?!

They were, however, getting increasingly frustrated with their incompetent parents. I could see things weren’t going very well on the other side of the table, as my normally very laid-back husband started to become visibly agitated and slowly changed colour. I too was feeling sick. I didn’t understand what I had to do and wanted to stop. NOW. I instantly regretted buying this stupid game.

But here’s the thing. The game isn’t stupid. It’s actually rather good! I persevered, followed my son’s lead, and kept practising. The game came out almost every day for a week, and by the end I’d had my first win. Whoop whoop! It’s now one of my favourite games. Funny that 😉

 

So what does this simple example tell us about embracing the new?

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it can be painful. But it’s possible. And you can do it.

There is plenty of scientific evidence behind this trivial story. As a coach I’m really coaching the brain, the neuroscience of coaching. The brain is incredibly sophisticated, but suffice to say that everything you experience, from listening to a new song to starting to new job, changes the activity in your brain. The more enriched your life, the more able you are to adapt to a change and, in the context of Villainous, reduce your reactivity to stress! If you can do that, you can think more clearly, rationally explore your options and find the solutions. We call this neuroplasticity. As we get older, however, the brain has had plenty of time to store many more experiences or memories from which it ‘makes sense’ of the world around us, informing our thinking and our responses to change.

Memories Storing memories in your mind is like creating a film reel from which you can recall all your experiences

So, when we try to introduce something new, the brain needs to unlearn what we no longer need. This takes effort and requires a degree of perseverance. But you can re-train your brain, build new synapses and new memories, so increasing your brain’s flexibility. I’d never seen a board game like Villainous before. It didn’t have a board in the middle for a start!! An enriched life with lots of experiences helps our brain to learn that ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’ or ‘can’t’, but ‘it’s possible’ and even ‘fun’!

 

What does this mean for our everyday lives?

I apologise to all the neuroscientists, for simplifying this so crudely, but if we were to see change and new experiences as an opportunity to learn and build new memories, rather than a reason to upset the apple cart, what more could you achieve, what else might you be able to enjoy, what areas of your life could you improve? Just think about it for a minute.

 

My top 3 tips for embracing the new

  1. Start small – don’t send your amygdala (fight or flight response) into a panic by taking on the world!
  2. Stick at it – your brain must lay down new habits to change behaviour, so allow it to practise.
  3. Share the load – find someone to support you along the way. It’s much more fun!

 

If you’re finding it difficult to manage a change in your life, please get in touch and I’ll help you to share the load 😉

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