“Why do some people have fun in certain situations that I myself don’t enjoy?”
This was the biggest (and in retrospect, best) question I had while I was growing up.
“Who wants to demonstrate the new dance?” my hula teacher would ask our seated class. “ME!!” a blonde head jumped up and immediately began dancing, mostly incorrectly, without even waiting for the music prompt. Heather. Always Heather, while the rest of us would shift uncomfortably.
“Who wants to dance with Heather? Anyone else?” the teacher’s eyes would be scanning for the most timid of us. I tried to blend in with the floor, praying to not be called upon. “I do!” a little voice piped up from across the room, and I exhaled with gratitude and sat upon my clammy hands.
I watched them dance while having the time of their lives (or at least Heather was), and I wondered was so different.
We were all 8 years old. We all had the same lessons. We all were fine dancing as a group.
Why was I suffering in cold sweat at the prospect of being singled out, while Heather was having so much fun, and her partner didn’t mind either way?
She must be thinking something different… I realized. She must be thinking that performing is fun, or that she’s a great dancer….
While I also liked performing and believed I knew the moves well enough, I realized that I had different thoughts: Making a mistake in front of everyone is bad. They will be judging me. I’ll look stupid. I’m not good enough.
So maybe… it’s not only that she’s thinking different things, but she’s also NOT thinking certain things.
This gave me the hope that if I could just ‘borrow’ some of her thinking, I could have a better experience. It made me hypothesize that it wasn’t that something was wrong with me, it was just the way I was thinking about the situation.
In other areas of my life when I was less than happy, I would observe the kids who were still having a good time. Then if I was in the right state of mind, I would start to pretend I was more like the person who was having fun. Sometimes I needed to imagine myself as them in order to come up with the thoughts I presumed they were thinking. I would practice thinking them for myself, and I would notice subtle yet immediate changes in my attitude.
It wasn’t cure-all magic, and of course it didn’t always work the way I wanted, but it was very eye-opening for me.
I applied this “trick” throughout my youth, and it did help! It helped calm my nerves and work myself up to genuine excitement when going on huge roller-coasters for the first time during a class trip. It helped me with basketball. It helped me come out of my shell socially. It helped me bounce back from mistakes and not get too down when things weren’t working so well. It helped me understand and connect better with other people, and gave me insight as to why we can seemingly be so different in different situations.
It also gave me the guts to end up in some crazy situations and make some big mistakes.
In short, it spiced up my life, my self-growth, and the way that I experienced everything.
The scary thing is that I noticed it is harder to practice new thoughts the older I get. As a kid, it seemed like I could do it so quickly — just suspend my disbelief and try on some new thinking! But the good news is that the more I practice, the more adaptive my brain will be. Neuroplasticity!
So what this all means for me is that there’s always hope. If there’s someone else in my current situation who is having a better experience than I am, then there must be a different way to think and feel. And if I don’t physically have anyone to inspire me, I can imagine that someone somewhere in the 7 billion of us, would be in my situation and be enthralled.
What would she be thinking?
How could I think more like her?