My neighbor and knitting friend Theresa is approaching a milestone birthday and plans to take a 3-day course driving a team of draught horses. Draught horses are the big ones: Percherons and Clydesdales, and Theresa’s favorites: American Cream. www.landisvalley.org
She described her plans to our knitting group, said she’s very comfortable around horses and this is something she has always wanted to do. One person said, “Oh, it’s on your bucket list.” Someone else commented on her decade birthday. I thought how courageous she is to try something so different.
I certainly have had decade goals: one was a trip to Ireland in 2002, my second, that my brother David generously underwrote 2/3s of, the second, a trip to the Grand Tetons with my youngest brother Eric and his family was postponed, but not forgotten.
We all have personal hesitance and fears that aren’t about setting goals or making bucket lists but are about confronting our self-perceived limitations.
Breakout Strategies, an article in Prevention Magazine, April 2003, crystallized for me the rationale and methods for pushing the boundaries of comfort zones. I combined a milestone birthday goal with a personal “fear” challenge: I took singing lessons in 2008!
I love to sing but from middle school on was told that I am tone deaf; tell a child something enough times and she believes it. I got really good at mouthing the words and whisper singing. You know – that sort of under your breath singing. I really, really wanted to feel comfortable singing out loud: Happy Birthday, or a hymn at church, or any time other people are singing. A music teacher at the church/academy where I work gave singing lessons just down the hall from my office. I asked her if she’d work with me and for a very small amount of money we spent a half-hour a week together. I can’t read music and it takes me a few tries to get the right note, but I discovered that I can sing in tune!
It is exhilarating to accomplish what I was embarrassed about (singing) or adamantly resisted (physical activities). I learned to down hill ski several years ago (kudos to my brother David, an A-level ski instructor, for his patience and for not swearing at me). At the end of the day I was exhausted but excited that I had gotten off the baby slope and onto a beginner slope. I mastered the machines at my local gym (thank you Pete, my personal trainer). It was so cool to stroll into the gym and know how to set the weights and many reps to do! just certified for the second time as a tax volunteer (thank you Debra for cajoling and encouraging me to try). I froze when I had to do the first real return and took twice as long as anyone else. All were a challenge either to my sluggish, sedentary physicalness and self-consciousness or to my math-anxiety brain; all l were way outside my comfort zone. And note, I’m back for the second year doing taxes!
Research is continuing to demonstrate the positive effects of challenging our brains, that developing new synapses sustains good physical as well as mental health as we age. Some suggest just switching from crosswords to Sudoku is enough to develop new brain patterns. I much prefer crossword puzzles but maybe jig saw puzzles since my spatial concepts are questionable. I am putting a lot of thought into what is next. I have another milestone birthday on the horizon. There are goals to set, comfort zones to challenge. I’ll keep you posted.
“Whatever scares you, do it. Now. “ Kenn Budd, AARP Magazine June/July 2012 and author of The Voluntourist.