The Thing You’ve Never Done

new year

Berlin just after the stroke of midnight

So it’s taken me nearly two thirds of January to get around to writing this. There is a tradition around this time of year to come up with “New Year Resolutions”. For this reason, January is generally a terrible month to visit the gym, because it’s packed with idiots who will be gone by mid-February if not sooner.

In the past, I’ve made similar attempts at resolutions. Since being overweight and unfit generally aren’t pressing concerns in my world, my resolutions are of a very different kind. Unfortunately, they tend to suffer the same fate as those well-intentioned couch potatoes who frequent the gym in January. Why does this happen? Because change is hard. Real change – the kind that lasts – is difficult because most of your habitual behaviours don’t originate out of thin air (in the way that these resolutions do). They are a product of you, they are a culmination of everything you have been up until now, they are a continuation of the “you” story.

The “you” story has a lot of momentum. Changing its direction significantly is therefore very difficult. I have been fortunate in that I have been able to significantly change things in my life several times. It’s not easy. Seeing as I generally use this website to dispense advice to people who do not ask for it, I feel like it might be a good idea to use my experience in successfully changing myself to help others do the same.

Get uncomfortable. This sounds very cliché, but you need to get out of your comfort zone to change. It should come as no surprise that some of my most significant changes occurred when I moved countries. Moving presents a massive displacement not only physically (obviously) but also mentally. Many things which we rely on without realizing it – routines, familiar places, familiar faces, food, social networks, jobs, and so on are changed in a very complete way when you move countries. Without any of the strings which normally tie you to “life”, it becomes much easier to reinvent yourself, and to change things about yourself. It lifts away many mental boundaries. Think about it – often if you want to make a big change in your life, you don’t just need to change things about yourself, but you have to move other things around in your life. When you find yourself in a completely new environment, and context, you don’t have any of that baggage to weigh you down.

I suppose that in this sense I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve moved countries four times which is not something that many people get the opportunity to do. An example of a way that I changed significantly is in the kind of student that I am. Those who knew me at Melbourne University know that I was an infrequent attendee at many of my classes, that I did almost none of the required reading, and that my academic record is outstanding for all the wrong reasons because of that. I made a concerted effort during my honours year to become more studious, to do more reading, to do all of the assigned homework, and I was mostly successful, but it was very difficult, and I very often fell back on old habits. I was just very fortunate to have some exceptionally smart friends who helped me through the year. However, when I went to Columbia University in New York, I reinvented myself. I became that nerdy guy in class who did all the reading (and there was a LOT of reading to do), who did all the homework, and who prepared meticulously for class presentations (I solved a Rubik’s cube without looking at it while introducing the first few slides of a talk on the economic thinking behind the “Washington Consensus” in one class presentation). Anyone who knew me from Melbourne Uni would not have recognized me at Columbia, but they weren’t there to call me out on the act – and THAT is the point. You get to be whoever you want to be.

There are limits though. You may be able to cram for a history exam the night before, but you can’t “cram” for a speed skating race in the same way. Some things take time, and often those things require a lot of effort too. My shyness is something I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life. I do a pretty good job of hiding it these days, but on the inside I’m still a very shy person. In the past I’ve often had thoughts that “if I do _____” then that will give me confidence. Of course, that is a false supposition. It is a result of my mind looking for something on the outside to change something that is fundamentally on the inside. (I’m always looking for my deus ex machina). I’ve organized huge amnesty comedy nights, done a LOT of travel, nearly died a few times, tried to go to the Olympics as an athlete (and now as a coach), and have a bunch of quite decent university degrees from some very decent universities. Surely all of that should give you confidence… but it doesn’t. Only YOU can give yourself confidence, and it seems that this cannot be done overnight.

In the recent past, I’ve focused my quest for more confidence on specifics, in particular girls. Just having the courage to go up to one and start a conversation would be nice, but I find the very thought of it terrifying. I am, however, determined to be able to do it, and if my life experience and achievements are anything to go by, when I am determined to do something, I generally make some significant progress towards it. A more general approach is needed, to build that confidence and that courage.

So THAT is my new year’s resolution. To do things that I’ve never done. To try new things. To take myself out of my comfort zone. To put myself in a position where I can fail. To reach out further than I think I can go. To bite off more than I think I can chew. To really challenge myself emotionally. Because life is short, and I don’t want to get to the end of it with a long list of “what if”s. I want to change the world, and the first thing I need to learn about doing that is how to change myself. I need to do the things that I’ve never done, so that I can be who I want to be, which is evidently still a little bit further than who I currently am.


1 Comment on The Thing You’ve Never Done

  1. Oh I find all this so similar to myself!!

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