Finding the courage to try new things

When I recently invited my colleague, Linda Ross – Practice and Development Coordinator for Mediate BC Society – to provide a post for this blog, I had absolutely no idea what she might say.  So, when her post arrived in my inbox a few days ago, and I saw the title and photo, I have to admit I was more than a little curious as to where her thoughts had led her… and what type of surprise was waiting for me.

Well, here is Linda’s post.  I hope you’ll agree with me that it is the best type of surprise – and that the lens she uses to look at distance mediation is both intriguing and inspiring!

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For me, trying new things isn’t about just enjoying a new activity or food, for example. I really am content enjoying all the things I already enjoy. But straying into foreign lands, both metaphorically and literally, has always forced me to challenge my beliefs. And as painful as that is, nothing, I believe, contributes to our happiness more than shattering the delusions to which we cling, unable as we often are to distinguish between beliefs that are true and beliefs that are false (especially beliefs about ourselves). And for better or worse, we simply seem unable, most of the time, to identify a belief as delusional unless some experience shows us.

In the end then, I find the spirit to try new things synonymous with the spirit of self-improvement. And while I can’t honestly say I’m intrinsically interested in the former (and sometimes need a gentle reminder to do it from people around me), the latter is a large part of the reason I’m here.  (From “Happiness in the World: Reflections of a Buddhist Physician” by Alex Lickerman, MD)

This message from Dr. Alex Lickerman’s article, published in Psychology Today (April 1, 2010), and his views expressed in his blog inspired me to write about one of my own life challenges, dealing with the escalating pace of change. I am of that “certain age” where I can remember the beginning of many new movements – the liberation movements of the 1960’s; the environmental movement of the 1980’s, leading to the current “green” explosion; and, more recently, the IT or technological revolution.  

I fell into computer use in the late 1970’s, of necessity, for work. I remember my first laptop – a 1990 Toshiba “heart stopper.” At 10+ pounds the unit was considered portable; it only required a small wagon to pull it along behind you! At that time, today’s iPhone and tablet revolution was inconceivable. In fact, the Internet had not been born yet – we are talking less than 20 years ago. I was very tolerant of new technology – at first. The changes started slowly, but by the mid-1990’s, technological change started to move at Mach speed (the speed of an object when it is traveling close to or above the speed of sound).

I read somewhere that 9 in 10 Americans (read North Americans), and 70 percent of people worldwide, use mobile phones to text, swap pictures or video, and interact via social networks more often than they do to talk to one another. I recently came across a quote in a news article that children in the United States are now more likely to possess a mobile phone than they are to own a book – horrifying if this statement is true.

I imagine that when families consider mediation as a means to resolving a family issue, online dispute resolution may seem like a strange alternative, not as trustworthy perhaps as having the mediator in the room with them. When it comes to using any kind of technology in people-oriented processes such as mediation, there may be hesitation as people think about the natural barriers that have been well addressed by other posts on this Distance Mediation blog.

Opening our minds to trying something new or being willing to think of something in a new way is often frightening because it’s unfamiliar. Unfamiliar things often make us anxious and we do not feel safe. However, there is some truth to the old adage “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” If you think about it, most of the things we fear don’t actually come to pass. What’s more, we’re often unable to anticipate the good things that do occur as a result of our trying something new.

Dr. Lickerman reminds us that trying something new or experiencing the unfamiliar lets us know we are still alive and growing. These are a few of the many beneficial outcomes of facing our fear of trying new things and embracing new experiences:

  • Summoning and strengthening courage to face the unknown.
  • Trying something new opens up the possibility for us to experience and enjoy something new.
  • Trying something new keeps us from stagnation and boredom. Most of us become bored, if we are not challenged in some way. And it’s not the new challenges we’re eager to take on that represent the greatest opportunities for growth – it’s the ones we’re not.
  • Trying something new forces us to grow. We don’t ever grow from taking action we’ve always taken (the growth that enabled us to be able to take it has already occurred). Growth seems to require we take new action first, whether it’s adopting a new attitude or a new way of thinking, or literally taking new action.

I can acknowledge that facing change and embracing growth are good things but why do I still fear some new situations? What causes my brain to react – instinct or something else? Is this inborn in us as humans? When we see the tree stump in the forest at twilight that really looks like a bear, for a split second we can feel the bear’s jaws against our skulls.

We all have that same choice – to obey the “fight or flight” response that prepares us to “face the worst” or override the primal response and accept that the only real constant in life is change. As the great doctor, psychiatrist and writer Gerald Jampolsky says “feel the fear and do it anyway!”

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Photo credit:  “DSC_1671” by greghugespdx (CC license)

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