For all of you old dogs like me out there, and all the rest of you too, I ask “What new trick are you learning today?” Learning skills of any kind stimulates our brains to create new neural pathways and coordinate with our bodies to develop new motor skills / patterns.
Whether an artist, musician, or athlete, we recognize that learning a new skill requires time and patience. As we get older, there may be a tendency to be less open to trying something new and to be less patient with ourselves when we do. We may get to a certain stage in life where we’ve mastered so many skills that we’re easily frustrated and discouraged when we don’t get something right the first time. And some people as they grow older become close minded, finding comfort (however small) in living a narrow, unchallenged life. Change it up and challenge yourself and you’ll reap the rewards.
As a beginner triathlete, my biggest “opportunity for improvement” was swimming. Despite surprising myself with 3rd place in my first triathlon, I was the last one out of the water in my age group. (Wearing my heavy surf wetsuit didn’t help me much, but neither did my “muscling the water” style.) I really disliked swimming then, but realized if I wanted to pursue triathlons, I’d have to get with the program. After 6 lessons with a pro coach and lots of practice sessions, I was 5th in my age group out of the water in my next triathlon. Great, right? Yes, improved, but still plenty of room for improvement.
And now, nearly two decades later, I love swimming and am still working on my technique. Yikes, you may say, but this doesn’t discourage me. It excites me that I still have the capacity to improve. (If you’re a swimmer, you know it’s all about technique.) I swim regularly with a Masters Swim Group and get tips on my stroke whenever I can.
What I haven’t mentioned is that despite all these years of Masters Swimming, I never learned how to flip turn. I rationalized that triathlons are races in open water so flip turns don’t apply to me. Truth be told, I thought I wouldn’t like it or be coordinated enough to pull them off. I think the translation is FEAR of FAILURE.
“Giving up [or not trying in the first place] is the only sure way to fail.”
– Gena Showalter
While my swimming technique improvements have made me faster, flip turners gain a whole body length on me at ever turn – very annoying. So this annoyance had to grow bigger than my fear of failure in order for me to do something about it.
Fortunately, my boyfriend, who taught himself flip turns years ago encouraged me and patiently gave me 3 lessons. The first lesson lasted 45 miserable minutes. I got water up my nose and was so nauseous after so many failed attempts that I was dry heaving by the side of the pool. Anyway, I hated it right away and felt like giving up. We had 2 more fifteen minute sessions where I got a couple partially right. Next, I started practicing on my own – throwing them into the swim workout here and there and actually “nailing” one or two of them. Today, I threw a bunch of flip turns into the workout. At one point, I noticed a much faster gal swimming parallel in the lane next me. (She’s my athletic benchmark across the board.) The only thing is, she doesn’t do flip turns either. She is known for her quick open turns though… So I did my flip and didn’t see her anywhere next to me. For a moment, I wondered if she’d somehow managed to get in front of me. But no, there she was coming up from behind. I’d gained a whole body length! Now she might have been fixing her goggles or her suit for all I know, but I’m counting this as a flip turn victory and proof that any old dog can learn new tricks.
When it comes to keeping our minds and bodies nimble and quick, learning new tricks is our virtual fountain of youth. We are so fortunate to have so many opportunities in this life to learn, adapt, improve and grow. I’m so grateful for that and for my boyfriend’s patience with me – certainly more than I had for myself.
So tell me, what new skill will you try today?