On Taking the Plunge

I always have considered myself to be rather open to new things. But recently I’ve been doing some thinking and I’ve realized I’m not exactly that. It’s more so, if I must do something, then I do it and I find ways to be happy about it. I would like to become more open to all the possibilities of life, though. And I don’t want to just be ok with things, but I want to WANT to try new things.

I first came to understand this about myself last week when I implemented a new strength training regimen. I’ve always split my workouts into upper body vs. lower body. I think I had this superiority complex about it, like I just strongly believed this was the best way to get enough volume to gain strength/muscle, and I strongly believed there was no better, or even equally effective way for me to do it. So recently I began doing a push vs. pull split for my workouts. I’ve been having a lot of elbow/wrist pain — thankfully it’s all in my muscles, but it’s been really difficult on those upper body days, and even bothersome with squats. So I thought — I’m just going to switch it up so my arm muscles don’t get overly fatigued in one day. I just needed some time to get my forearms to relax, but also give them more consistent but lighter stimulus each workout — instead of smashing them with a workout one day and not doing an upper body day for another 3–4 days.

And not only has it helped my body feel better, but I also LOVE training in a full body split because it’s just more fun for me. I don’t prefer lower or upper body exercises, I love them all. I love knowing the glute activation I get from lower body stuff, and I enjoy looking at my shoulders when I do lateral raises and such…doesn’t everyone? :) Also, it’s been great to focus really hard on my squats, knowing I don’t have to “save” my legs for all the other exercises I’ve got left to do. I suddenly realized a few days ago that I had fought this for so long because I thought I knew something about a workout protocol that I didn’t even try. I just instantly pushed it away because I thought I knew better.

And that is how I lived a lot of my life! I sort of just stuck to exactly what I knew — and I stuck to what I wanted to do, instead of branching out even a little bit. The example I gave above wasn’t any sort of drastic change, but it’s helped me really enjoy working out again and I’m very happy about that. I often wonder how much better I might have been at water polo if I weren’t afraid to ask more questions, try things and fail, and not be so hard on myself. I wonder how much more I could have learned in my junior year with my clinical rotations if I asked more questions, if I didn’t worry about being wrong (not in the sense of causing damage to an athlete, just in a general knowledge sense), and if I actually learned from the mistakes I made.

I still look back from time to time and think, man, how much better could life have been if I just stopped being so stubborn? But I’ve come up with a sort of life motto to remind myself not to get caught up in the past. “Do better the next time”. It’s just a reminder that no matter how great or terrible something felt, do it better the next time. If you fail, yes, it sucks but after you get over the emotions, tell yourself that you just need to do better the next time. And instead of fearing that you still might not do better the next time (I find myself asking “what if-?” all the time), push that thought away and just go for it.

While you might not necessarily be trying something new in how you handle a situation (ex. you forgot to do something you normally do), what’s new might be the mindset you take when you approach it the next time. I’ve found recently that even though your friends and family might go to the ends of the earth to offer you words of advice and comfort — it still might not mean anything or help you change until you personally believe it yourself. You might just have to be the one who tells yourself it’s going to be ok. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask advice (although if you do, you should at least try to listen to even the smallest bit of it) or ask someone to comfort you, but I just mean that your own mind is your most powerful tool. Believe that you can do better next time and life will be so much better.

Trying new things doesn’t just mean trying a new flavor of ice cream, or rock climbing because your arms are apparently optimal length (3 inches more than body height, aka me!). It also includes branching out and not being afraid to try things even if there’s a potential of failure. Because more often than not, something good will come out of trying. I mean, you could fail, but you’ll get to learn a lesson from it. Or you could succeed, and you’d know what works for the future. And either way, you’ll probably keep trying to find new and different ways to do things, and that’s a desire I never want to lose.

I’m really glad I realized this about myself. I’ve been talking a lot about how failure is ok as long as you learn from it, but I forgot that failure could also come from trying new and fairly ambitious things. It’s not just messing up because you didn’t understand how something worked, or failing to do something out of negligence. It’s not necessarily an “excuse” to try a whole ton of crazy new things, but it might just be a bit of motivation for the next time you want to implement something new and you’re scared.



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Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.