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To Grow Emotionally, Learn Something New

As a senior, I often hear and read how learning something new improves cognition and memory. Even if you have yet to reach the age where you need to shore up your mental facilities, there are still excellent reasons to take part in learning because of the emotional skills you develop in overcoming frustration, shame, envy, internal conflicts about success and failure, and understanding the concept of baby steps.

I’ve been learning about learning through resuming tap lessons after a hiatus of some 20 years. I studied tap seriously as a child, then dabbled with it over the decades, making so little progress that I never got beyond the level of advanced beginner. After taking lessons for more than a year now, I’m finally a lower intermediate!

But back to how new learning—what tap still feels like to me—promotes new emotional skills. First, I had to get over entering a class which had already begun. Having missed the first two lessons, I was clueless about what I was doing and stumbled through the routine. So I had to deal with feeling shame by reminding myself that no one cared how good or bad I was; they were worrying about how they looked. I had to deal with frustration that I couldn’t learn any faster than I was managing to do, which I did by making myself focus on what I did right, not on what I did wrong.

Honestly, after each class I thought about giving up, but then I’d remind myself that I love tap and would improve if I stuck with it. I thought about why I was taking it: not to become another Ginger Rogers, but to have fun, so that my goal was measured not in how well I did in class but how much I enjoyed it. That took off a lot of pressure and increased my pleasure. When I joined the class, I thought the women were a bit cliquish and made a point of telling myself that I would get to know people in time and would have to tolerate feeling like an outsider for a while until I, too, became an insider. By the way, now with my veteran insider status, when new people join the class, I always introduce myself and welcome them immediately.

Do you want to learn something new, but talk yourself out of it fearing that you won’t be good at it right away. Hello. That’s what learning means: going from not knowing to knowing. That’s the whole point of it, to get your brain absorbing new practices. You’re not supposed to excel at the start because then you wouldn’t need to learn. Try something new and I bet you’ll go through the feelings I describe above. Rejoice in the experience because it will expand you emotionally and make you a more self-confident, resourceful, and healthy person. Don’t think of what you’re doing as learning; just think of it as fun, growth, and adventure.