This article brought to you by Skillshare.
When it comes to how your own brain can sabotage you, there’s basically no limit to how far you can go. We are often our own worst enemies: lazy, fearful, prone to procrastination and excuse making. We often think of our potential only in terms of what we have already done, refusing to consider all of the things we could do with a wider horizon, or just a little more investment. There have been countless times in my life where I stopped just short of much greater potential, when I felt much more comfortable to stay in the lines I’d arbitrarily painted for myself rather than test my capabilities.
While I don’t necessarily regret not having a degree, for example, I know there is so much more I could have gotten out of the education I did get if I had applied myself more in class, and taken more risks with the kind of classes I took. I didn’t take myself particularly seriously at that time, and feared failure more than I desired to grow. Ultimately, looking back, I know that I prevented myself from having the kind of education I wanted to get — even if I still never got an actual degree, I could have learned so much more. I could have become a more profound and nuanced thinker, and explored subjects and activities I feel too closed in by adult life to try now. (Though I guess that could just be my brain sabotaging me again — it’s never actually too late to pick something up.)
Either way, in doing several things over the past few years that I never would have previously considered possible (starting and running a business, going on a national book tour, becoming a YouTuber, working out more days a week than I don’t, etc), I feel more qualified than ever to say that it is almost always our own brains, and our own misplaced sense of limitations, that are keeping us from that thing we really want. This is by no means to say that I’m somehow hitting a perfect record when it comes to trying and succeeding at new things, it just means that I am much more willing to try, and to quiet the little voice in the back of my head that is telling me I can’t do it. And from my own experience — with the help of our good friends at Skillshare — I wanted to share four awesome things you are probably preventing yourself from doing right as we speak. Maybe by looking at them head-on, you’ll realize that they’re not as un-doable as you might think.
1. Making new friends, from scratch, as an adult.
One of the scariest individual activities I ever did as a twenty-something was the time I went on a “friend first date” with a girl I’d met while out at a bar with a couple friends a few days before. Essentially, I’d met her in a bit of a haze, when we were both waiting to order drinks and she told me that she was on a nightmare date which my friends and I ended up crashing, and then saving her from. The night was magical and a little bit difficult to remember completely, so when we met each other later that week in a quiet lounge in the much more dignified early-evening, it quickly settled over us that we were on a platonic first date. We had to learn about each other, ask fumbling initial questions, laugh at slightly awkward jokes, and generally take one another’s temperature.
At the beginning of the evening — just like on a date — it was very unclear if we’d ever see each other again (spoiler: we’re still good friends, six years later). But it was that very risk, that unknown, that potential level of awkwardness and embarrassment with no potential romantic connection that felt so intimidating. If we hadn’t met in such a funny and serendipitous way, I don’t know if I would have ever gone on that friend date, or in doing so gotten over my fear of starting friendships from total zero. Now, I’ve met several friends that way — experiencing a friend-connection and swapping numbers to follow up — and I’m so glad it’s a part of my social life. But it’s not an easy thing, and often your mind will block off “risk of awkwardness” with “only worth it if there is a possibility of a magical first kiss when the night is over.” But leaving your friend options only open to the people you are already in contact with constantly means that, as an adult, they basically come from two sources: work, or your partner’s friends. Aside from the inherent limitation there, it’s also just pretty unhealthy to constantly be dipping from the same few pools. Branch out, take some risks, and slide into some more platonic DMs.
2. Learning a new skill (especially an “extra” one).
Not long ago, I was at a friend’s birthday party, making small talk with one of her coworkers. When I asked the typical “What have you been up to?” question, he responded with “Learning to code.” It was an unexpected answer (this guy usually responds in a way that involves brunch or his Moviepass), and one that made me want to dig deeper. His job has nothing to do with computers, really, in any technical sense, and he was pretty busy with work as it was. I asked him why he wanted to learn to code if it was pretty removed from his job, and his reasoning made so much sense I wanted to slap him (or myself, for not thinking in these terms). He told me, basically, that the world was moving towards a place where everyone could benefit from being pretty tech-literate, and he wanted to expand not just his own job options but his way of thinking about problems and — I kid you not — that “coding makes you think in more elegant ways.” Like, damn. I don’t know about coding, but that was a pretty damn elegant conversation to be having over mojitos in any case.
Anyway, the point is, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t often think in those terms. I don’t think about the skills I can be adding (whether at work or outside of it), or even just things I can learn which will change the way my brain works. But as TFD has been working closely with Skillshare over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of not just remembering frequently how much I can learn for so little money, but how accessible and adaptable I can make the act of learning to my life. If I wanted to code (or generally become more tech-savvy), they have tons of classes on just that. And I can start them whenever I want, and pause them when I need to. I can brush up on productivity tips (yikes) on the train, or learn the basics of data science (extreme yikes) while lying in bed. The point is, the more continuously and fluidly I think about learning and adding skills, and the more I adapt what I want to improve to the life I’m already living, the less excuses I will find to put off doing that one thing I’ve been meaning to do. If you want to try out some Skillshare classes, you can use this link to get a special offer just for The Financial Diet readers. I promise you, you’ll never regret learning something new.
3. Working out in a way that doesn’t make you want to die.
I wrote an entire article on this subject recently, but in the past few months, I’ve gone from “person who is defensively cynical about working out because any form of sustained exercise makes her feel like a soggy mattress” to “person who works out about five days a week and could do more, and genuinely loves/looks forward to every minute of it.” How, you ask? Well, it’s a bit complicated. I think the fact that I am hurtling towards 30 and did not want to enter that decade as incredibly weak as I started was a big factor. But ultimately, it came down to being brutally honest with myself, and forcing myself to get over the first week of “this absolutely sucks” so that my brain started to become mildly addicted to the feeling of me taking care of my body. The honesty came in the form of “even though you are a ‘healthy’ BMI for your height and walk quite a lot as a result of living in New York City, you have the general upper body strength and endurance of Stick Stickly.” I wasn’t really taking care of myself, and if I was honest, I didn’t feel very good on any given day. Once I actually (literally) looked myself in the mirror and confronted my physical shortcomings, I set to finding something I would actually stick to.
And here is where your brain might be preventing you from progressing most insidiously: if you think you “hate” working out, what you absolutely mean is “at some point, I did this or that kind of ‘working out’ that I really didn’t like, and that wasn’t adapted to my body/needs/goals, and it turned me off the whole affair as a result.” If you give yourself the flexibility to try several different things with the idea that you are not going to settle on any one activity right away, you can settle on something that doesn’t make your whole body cringe with dread as your workout time approaches. (For me, that thing was Pilates. For you, it might be something totally different.) But ultimately, you have to be extremely honest with yourself about what your body can handle, what can work with your schedule (including following up at home), and what will be just bearable enough to get you over the initial hump into the period where you genuinely want to go. If I can do it, you can do it. But you have to shut your brain up for long enough to start.
4. Having control over your personal style.
Now this one may seem more controversial, and I’m sure on some level, you’re like “Chelsea. Come on. How hard is it to buy clothes.” And bear with me, because I know it’s not hard to buy clothes (or even makeup, even if half of the products are snake oil). But I’m not just talking about buying enough items to dress yourself in a way that is reasonably acceptable for work and going to the grocery store. I’m talking about cultivating yourself, deciding what you actually feel best in and what you want your outward image to project about your inner self, and curating that actively. Now, there are a lot of ways you can go about doing that — I find that inspiration boards, beauty boxes that let you test and experiment with products, and clothing swaps with friends are all very inexpensive ways to get the ball rolling — but you have to start with your own perception. You have to rid yourself of the idea that fashion or beauty or self-presentation in general are inherently frivolous or (gasp!) girly pursuits. You have to accept that no one is exempt from the reality that how we present ourselves is in many ways how we will be perceived, and it’s up to us how much we use that to our advantage (whether that’s to angle for a new career we want, or simply to be more comfortable in our own skin).
Once you have stopped your brain from telling you it’s either too complicated or too vapid to think about, you can start thinking about the body you live in in a much more active way than just these obligatory fleshy sandbags weighing down your mind. You can curate the image you want to see in the mirror every morning, and as a result, only ever spend on the clothing/apparel/style category in ways that are actually meaningful and valuable to you. You can change how you are perceived, and feel infinitely more confident walking down the street. It’s easy to make these kinds of changes in our own lives, really. The hard part is reminding ourselves that we deserve to, that we have the power to, and that moving ourselves closer to the image we have in our heads is almost always worth the effort. (Even if it’s a little scary at first.)
Image via Unsplash.