I’m often writing blog articles about how you should step out of your comfort zone and try new things, especially as it relates to English. But recently I started feeling like a hypocrite—in other words, someone who says one thing but does something else. My actions and my words weren’t in sync. How often was I really stepping outside of my comfort zone? It’s easy for me to tell my readers what they should do, but what about me? Do I take my own advice?
I live a pleasant life in suburban Houston. I’m surrounded by convenience and comfort, so when was the last time I tried something new, something that made me nervous?
In fact, when my client recently suggested that I attend a Zumba Master class, I said no. I’d never tried Zumba before, and I definitely wasn’t a master! But her invitation made me think. What if I signed up for a Zumba class at my local yoga studio? I had noticed that there was a weekly class there.
So, that’s what I did! Last week, I attended my very first Zumba class. Now, you might be thinking: What does this have to do with learning English or any language? I promise that I’ll make the connection, but let me set the scene first.
If you don’t know what Zumba is, it’s a dance class that uses Latin American-inspired music and dance moves. There isn’t a lot of talking—just dancing. I felt awkward in the beginning, like I didn’t fit in with the other participants who clearly were regular attendees.
But then the music started.
I wasn’t good, and I wasn’t bad. I just was dancing. Nobody else in the class seemed to care if I made a mistake or not. For the full hour, I just stared at the instructor and imitated her moves. Sometimes I was in my head thinking about the next step, but sometimes I was just dancing without thinking.
Those moments when I wasn't thinking and I was simply enjoying the process are called "flow." Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi defines flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Yes, for brief moments in Zumba class, I actually felt this way. I wasn't thinking about me; I was just dancing in harmony with the others participants. Everyone should have an opportunity to feel this way.
I think learning a language is like a Zumba class.
At the beginning, we feel uncomfortable, and it’s easy to compare ourselves to others. Over time, we learn the importance of imitation and repetition. They are both our friends when learning a new skill. And, sometimes we feel great about our performance, like we "are in the flow." But sometimes we feel foolish, like our moves are all wrong.
But, no one is grading us. I think this is the most important similarity. If I learned one thing in my Zumba class, it's that everyone is concentrating on their own dance. There's no time or space for judgment. So, all I need to do is enjoy the rhythm of the music!
When I walked out of the Zumba class, I felt more confident. I was no longer the person who was sitting back and watching others. I was taking part in what life had to offer, and that felt good.
And, I don't know if it is just a coincidence, but after my Zumba experience, I started learning a new language on Duolingo this week. I figure that if I am trying new things, I should try a new language, too!
So, what do you think? Would you like to try Zumba with me? Or, maybe a new language?