We missed it. Completely. Not one kick off. Not one Hail Mary pass. Not one plowed run through hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of pounds of muscle might. Not one Belicheck tantrum. Not one funny commercial. Not one second of half-time show fireworks and music. The Super Bowl came and went this year, as we were awakened by the call to prayer on our first full day in Bangladesh for the wedding of my husband’s nephew.
Though I had no emotional attachment to either team this year, I enjoy watching the game, the halftime show, and, of course, the commercials. As I lamented missing this annual touchstone of American culture, I remembered how my yoga teacher once likened life to a football game. I started to observe the “first downs” in my life and discovered something powerful.
It's a simple formula for boosting your confidence, and it starts with doing something new. You see, as you step into new experiences, your courage and appreciation have the opportunity to expand.
Some of you might be thinking, "Duh, Tami." But consider, how often do you try something novel in your day-to-day life other than refreshing your FaceBook feed or checking your e-mail? We can get pretty stuck in our routines. For me, travel helps me to really feel the difference new experiences, or first downs, can make.
During this trip to Bangladesh, many of my first downs involved transportation. Of all my previous journeys to South Asia, I only this time experimented with local, non-car modes of getting around. Because my in-laws are usually very protective of my husband and me, I was a bit hesitant to go anywhere other than in a car. Yet with the wind blowing through my hair and nothing to shelter me from the sights, sounds, and smells of Dhaka, I took the short ride from my brother-in-law’s house to my sister-in-law’s house on a rickshaw, basically a grown up’s tricycle with a beautiful canopied passenger seat in the back. I have such profound awe for all of the rickshaw drivers, who risk life and limb to move in and out of the smallest spaces among cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, taxis, and pedestrians, all of whom are moving like water rushing into crevices, based on some unspoken, or at least unapparent, traffic guidelines.
Squeezing into the smallest spaces sounds kind of like what a running back does, right?
Another first down adventure happened while we were in the hilly, coastal city of Chittagong. There, I rode in a CNG, or taxi, which kind of resembles a small, three-wheeled, enclosed motorcycle, run on compressed natural gas, with a windshield, canvas roof, and caged side windows. If you’ve ever been to this part of the world or have seen the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (definitely worth the watch), you have a sense of how harrowing traffic can be. As we darted through the bumpy streets, I felt like I was on a Disneyland ride akin to the Indiana Jones Adventure! It was exhilarating to speed through the streets and watch as the driver slowed down only when he had to move within inches of other vehicles (or buildings, people, and animals) in order to pass, just like a wide receiver rolling off his coverage and maneuvering through the holes and boundary lines after catching the ball on the way to the end zone.
To get to Chittagong in the first place, the majority of the family took a five-hour train ride early in the morning the day after the wedding. My mother and father-in-law live there, and we were slated for several wedding-related events and rituals. My first trip to Bangladesh happened during a religious holiday, and I saw a train with hundreds of people riding on top and hanging out of the windows. I also had been warned about the crowded platforms, so I was a little nervous about riding the train, even though I knew we would be in first class, not on the roof like these guys.
As we rode by in our uncrowded, air-conditioned rail car with tea and coffee appearing as often as we wanted, I saw people bathing and doing laundry in small natural pools, pedestrians carrying cargo on the tops of their heads, farmers wading ankle deep in rice paddies, livestock roaming freely in fields (and cities!), lush forests, calm and clear lakes, a wide array of housing from shacks to palaces, cargo ships floating on the Bay of Bengal, and a shipping graveyard. Seeing these varied scenes, I understood better the vast and diverse ways that people live their lives in this world. My perspective of my own worries changed. I started to see how your confidence, contentment, and appreciation of the world, including your place in it, grow when you see different places and experience new things.
By far the most eye-opening of my “first downs,” though, was the newfound understanding of my role as a married woman in Bengali culture and the rite of passage that comes with it. Weddings are a big deal in this part of the world, and even though my husband and I got married in Bangladesh, we did a scaled-back version. It was such a whirlwind, that I did not fully recognize all the work that went into even our reduced variation until I saw all that a full Hindu wedding entailed.
Because we traveled so far and because I am not native to the culture, my in-laws insisted that I rest instead of helping with the incredible amount of preparation and cooking for our nephew’s wedding events. However, they kindly and graciously made sure I was there for every ritual and participated in a way that did not require me to do too much work. I felt like the backup football player who had the joy of stepping in from the bench when needed, only more clumsy, since many of these rituals were new to me.
On the night before the wedding alone, the married women of the family engaged in several rituals to protect and prepare the groom. Together we lit the ceremonial fire for cooking the groom’s feast. We “bathed” the groom by rubbing turmeric on his face and splashing a little water on his head, as my mother-in-law is doing in this picture. We sanctified the groom’s room with fire, rice, and potatoes. We fed the groom. We blessed him during a protection ceremony.
On the day of the wedding—and many other times during the week—we blessed the groom, and then later the bride, with grass that never dies to symbolize longevity, and rice to represent prosperity and fertility. We escorted the groom into the wedding hall to the festive sounds of a band playing. I hid the groom’s shoes in my purse so that the bride’s family could not steal them and prevent him from leaving with the bride.
When the bride arrives at her in-laws’ home, she steps in a red liquid when she walks through the door for the first time. She then leaves red footprints on a cloth, a symbol of the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. As part of this ritual, all the married women painted their feet red, a sign of having completed the same ritual that the new bride was about to undergo. Weeks later my feet still had little spots of red on them, and I smiled every time I saw them.
Many other rituals took place during the week, and something special happened for me as I experienced them. Despite the insecurity I might have felt about not knowing what I was doing, by participating, I discovered a new layer of belonging in my husband’s family. Even though I did not grow up in their culture, my sweet in-laws always treat me with such warmth and acceptance because I am willing to engage in these activities, to make those first downs. Each time I do so, it builds their trust in me and my confidence in my place in the family. Each time you make a first down, it energizes you for the next one. Gradually over time, your first downs add up to touchdowns.
Without getting into all the scientific details, suffice it to say that neuroscience supports this concept. New experiences involve dopamine and other brain functions, which help motivate us and are involved in learning new skills.
When I looked back on these first downs from my trip, I discovered they had something in common besides their novelty. They pushed me out of my comfort zone. They all made me a little nervous. I found that if you add in just a little bit of discomfort or fear, magic can happen. My theory is that when you face fear through a new experience, you build your courage. We all have a different tolerance to risk, based on your personal dopamine system. If you get addicted to new experiences and risk, you have to start doing scarier and riskier things to feel the pay off of the dopamine. As long you do not abuse novelty, become addicted to it, use it as a quick fix, employ it as a way to avoid whatever real personal development you need to do, or start engaging in unhealthy risk-taking, facing fear through new experiences can help you learn to be more confident and appreciate what you have.
Imagine what could happen if you lend that courage and acknowledgement to your purpose in life!
So, my simple formula for building courage is:
Novelty + Discomfort = Courage and Appreciation
Now you might be thinking, “Well, Tami, good for you. I cannot go half way around the world right now, just to try to build my confidence." You do not have to travel far to find the courage and appreciation a new experience brings. You could:
Take a day trip just outside your city.
Sit in a different space in yoga class.
Try out a new cuisine that sounds exotic and a little iffy.
Ask your teacher for help with a yoga pose you thought you could never do.
Take a different route home from work through an unknown neighborhood.
Climb a tree (my fabulous coach, Kevin Snorf, actually gave this exercise to me as an assignment once--it works).
Give your leftovers to a homeless person.
Volunteer in a nursing home.
Talk to a disabled veteran about their experiences.
Tell someone younger than you how important they are.
Pass on a ritual or tradition.
Mentor a junior employee at work.
Now some of you might be thinking that these things and my first downs from my trip are no big deal. For you, traveling around the world and taking a rickshaw is just another day. Or maybe facing the thousands of pounds of a defensive line is a walk in the park. For you, it might be scarier to:
Say “no” when you know it will upset someone.
Share your feelings with someone (or anyone!).
Apologize and take full responsibility for how your actions hurt someone.
Sit alone with your thoughts and meditate for five minutes.
If, at some level, conscious or not, you feel...
“Oh, what if I don’t like it?”
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“Is it safe?”
“What if I upset someone else?”
“What if it smells bad?"
"What if I feel squeemish around him because of his condition?"
"What if that offensive line pummels me?"
Or "Heck no!"
...you're probably on the right track.
Here's a meditation to kick start your novelty seeking fear conquering.
When you feel that uneasiness and still act, you move through the discomfort and allow the magic of confidence building, courage-making, and appreciation-taking to arise. Like a football player facing the defensive line at the line of scrimmage and moving through the fear of getting pummeled, the player ends up stronger. Each time the player faces the line, the situation is new. The formation is different, energy levels vary, muscle fatigue changes, and the field evolves. All those new experiences help you march down the field of life, replete with its challenges, injuries, penalties, sacks, and tackles. When you put the new with the discomfort again and again, you build resilience, courage to live your purpose, and appreciation for all that you have and are.
speak your truth
How do you feel about new experiences?
What new experiences are scary to you?
How do you build confidence, courage, and appreciation?
Let me know below in the comments!