I’m no expert syndrome – why we won’t try new things

Expert Syndrome Recently I had a physical with my new doctor. A nice young guy with a background in integrative care. I hope you’ll be happy to know that I’m a pretty healthy guy.

During the health history part, he asked me about exercise. I described my workouts and my attempts to do yoga with the kid. He told me that his wife had been trying to get him to do yoga, but that he was resisting because he wasn’t flexible.

I told him that yoga, among other things, builds flexibility. That it was probably the very thing he needed.

I have run into the same thing as a martial arts instructor. I’ve had loads of people tell me, “I’d love to do martial arts, but I have never done it before.” If doing something before was required to try something new, nobody would ever do anything new.

“I’m no expert syndrome” holds back a lot of adults from trying things that might enrich their lives.

What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but held back on?

Perfection paralysis

If you examine it, this paralysis induced by the need to be perfect at something you’ve never done before is illogical. Bruce Lee did not emerge from the womb a martial arts master. Experts in all fields started somewhere.

Here’s the thing that we all know – nobody will ever be perfect.

And here’s the rub – you do not ever have to become an expert or even good at something to enjoy it and receive benefit. I will never be a yoga teacher (I don’t think) or a contortionist. I get great health and emotional benefits from yoga. I’ll never be on American Idol – but I love to sing.

Imagined social judgement

We all know how judgemental people can be. “What will people think of me?” is a question, backed by fear, that can hold us back from being truly us. And that’s a shame.

However, I think this fear of being judged, or laughed at, can be greatly exaggerated in our minds. In my experience, I am my harshest judge. This is probably true for a lot of you.

I can remember trying a tough Taoist Yoga class in Boston many years ago. I was struggling with it, and I felt that old self-doubt creep up on me. But I looked around and realized that nobody cared, not in the least. Everybody was huffing and puffing and sweating – nobody was looking at or even thinking about how much trouble that pose was for me.

The fear and judgement came from me.

Getting over the I’m no expert syndrome

So how do we slay this dragon holding us back from just living free and enjoying our lives? I’m no guru, but I have a few tips that have worked for me:

1. Regularly challenge yourself to do something that scares you. This doesn’t mean something that is unsafe. Start small, say hi to that cute barista if that intimidates you. Sing karaoke if it makes you nervous.

The idea is to push your boundaries experientially. Teach yourself that you’re going to survive. Pick activities that you think you’ll enjoy.

2. Understand that the fear of the thing is often worse than the thing itself. Recently my daugthers had to get blood drawn. When I told them about it – they got all worked up. We did our best to comfort them and say that the pain would be minor. But the fear was there until it was over.

After the blood draw, one of my daughters asked, “that was it? Where’s my sticker? If I do this again can I get two stickers?” We tried to use this as an example of how we often imagine the worst when it’s not necessary.

3. Focus on reward and loss. We have free will, and we can choose what we focus on mentally. We can also just let our unconscious fears choose what we focus on. By focusing on the reward of the new activity, we can stay positive about it. The mind has difficulty holding two opposing thoughts.

There’s research that shows that you can increase motivation by focusing on something you might lose. The way this works is to do something like buying something you want but put it away until you meet your goal. Tell yourself if you don’t meet your aim, you’re going to give it away or return it.

4. Understand what the deal is with other people. Sometimes you are going to have people judge you. I’m sure we all have to deal with discouraging people in our life. When you think about it, though, what kind of service is anybody providing by discouraging others?

I remember years ago a friend wanted to take dance lessons. Her now ex-husband laughed at her and said how she was so clumsy, and she’d probably just make a fool out of herself. What a jerk, right? I don’t think she ever did take dance lessons.

Often discouragement is couched as “looking out” for others. This is nearly 100% horse-manure. Judgement is about insecurity. It’s about that person’s feelings for themselves. They are projecting onto you. Know that this is what it’s about. When dealing with OPP (other people’s problems), you can choose to shut them out – don’t

When dealing with OPP (other people’s problems), you can decide to shut them out – don’t discuss your hopes and dreams with them. You can shut them up – tell them that you don’t appreciate their discouragement. You can shut them down – walk away from toxic relationships.

Set clear boundaries, and don’t let others control you.

other people's problems

So take that dance class, take up sea kayaking, learn to make jewelry. Stretch, grow and be a source of joy in the world.

John Moore

About John Moore

John Moore is a Maine native who overcame congenital physical limitations to achieve a 3rd degree black belt in jujutsu. He holds two master's degrees, and is a nationally certified crime prevention instructor. John teaches martial arts and self defense in the Portland area