The Growing Pains of Learning Something New

A friend of mine just started taking a martial arts class, and it’s incredible how many challenges she’s experiencing that mirror my own in learning ballroom. Learning a new activity as an adult, especially a physical one, is SO much fun, but can also be really hard. You’ve gone through school, gotten a job and worked your butt off to get where you are today.  You have a pretty good handle on living your life, and when new challenges come, you can rely on your life experience to get you through them. But then you start something completely new and find yourself back in kindergarten learning your A,B,C’s. And you thought you were done with growing pains!

I thought I would put some encouragement out there to anyone just starting a new activity, whether it’s ballroom, martial arts or something else. Don’t worry if you feel like a dunce now, it will get easier!

First thing you’ll need to do in your new endeavor is check your ego at the door. You may be a master of your own life, but now you’re the student. It will be a weird feeling to start at the bottom again. That’s what happens when you start something new! Embrace your innocence and let the learning begin. I had a little bit of dance experience when I started ballroom, but it was freestyling at clubs. I had to forget what I thought I knew and correct old habits in order to dance ballroom.

Don’t worry if you feel like an idiot. It happens to all of us. You have to think or coordinate body movements in a new way and your brain is like “wait, what?” You may feel like you’re learning how to walk all over again, but you got it the first time, right?  You can get it this time.

If you’re like my friend and find yourself in a class with more advanced pupils, don’t compare! They didn’t start out that good, they’ve just been at it longer. Look at them as a glimpse into your own future; you will get to that level too. It just takes time and work. We all fall into the comparison trap; I’m constantly pulling myself out of it. Remind yourself to check your ego again and take advantage of those advanced students. Watch them, learn from them and don’t be afraid to ask for help! They went through what you’re going through, so chances are they can offer some solid advice.

If you’re learning a new physical activity, your body will feel it! You will wake up with sore muscles you didn’t even know you had. My friend is spending a lot more time on the balls of her feet in her martial arts class and they hurt! When I first started ballroom, my knees would turn red and be killing me from so much movement that required me to keep them bent, like in tango. More recently, my back has been sore as Teacher has been on me to engage my lats more and more. My hips, ankles, feet, neck – ballroom has hit me all over. But the more I practice, the stronger my body gets and the pain eases. Until Teacher focuses on a new body part and the cycle begins again!

Speaking of practice, don’t worry if you finish a practice feeling really good about yourself and then in your next lesson or class, you find out you’ve been doing it all wrong. Been there, done that. It will feel like a complete waste of time when you find out you’ve been practicing something wrong, but it’s not. Mistakes are part of the learning process.

The good thing is the opposite can happen too. I’ve gone to a lesson feeling really frustrated because I practiced the day before and felt like I couldn’t get anything right. But then when I show Teacher what I was doing, I find out I was doing it right, I just needed to make one small adjustment.

Once you do get something right and are ready to move onto something else, don’t be surprised if that first something turns to crap. When I focus on something new, inevitably I forget something old. I try to add new arm styling to my foxtrot and my feet completely forget what they’re doing. Again, it’s part of the learning process. Your brain can only think about so many things at one time. Let me assure though, your muscles will develop their own memory and after awhile, you won’t have to actively think about everything.

I want to emphasize one last thing – at some point, you will come to a place where you feel like no matter how hard you work or how long you practice, you don’t make any progress. Don’t give up! Google “training plateau” and you will find a slew of articles that talk about this phenomenon where your advancement seems to stall. You may need to take a small break or a step back to try a different approach. Or maybe you just need to push yourself a little bit harder because you got comfortable as the beginner skills started to finally click. The plateau is not the end, it’s just another stop on your journey.

What other growing pains have you experienced in your pursuit of something new?

Share in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “The Growing Pains of Learning Something New

  1. Bosch says:

    Yes x100! I knew all of what you wrote, but I needed to see it in print, especially this week. I’m definitely at a plateau with my dancing right now, and it scares me to be feeling this way when I’m so close to a performance/team match. I’m hoping that a little time away from dance will be what I need to get my heart and head back in the game.


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