What are you having a knee-jerk reaction to?

By Ali
Category: Personal | Date: Fri 14 Nov, 2008

University is a great time to challenge your preconceptions, try out new things, and step outside your comfort zone. Unfortunately, some of these opportunities that come you way will get a knee-jerk reaction from you along the lines of “That’s really not me.”

If there’s anything you’ve rejected out of hand because of that sort of knee-jerk reaction, remember, you can’t say “knee-jerk” without the word “jerk”…

My experience – Springboard

When I was in my first year as an undergrad, I saw a free course called “Springboard” advertised. It was a “women’s self-development programme”.

“Not me,” I thought. “Self-development – that’s all a bit new agey. And the women’s bit makes it sound like they’ll all be dungarees-wearing lesbians…”

So I didn’t bother to find out anything more about Springboard. Next year, same thing. Third year – perhaps with a sense of impending doom about the “real world” that lay just a few months away – I took the plunge. Even so, I was half-convinced I was going to hate it.

That course probably changed my life. It certainly gave me a huge boost to my self-confidence, helped me meet some new people, and introduced me to the vast world of “self-development” – which I found was mostly not “new agey” at all, but eminently practical.

That knee-jerk reaction back in my first year? I’m still kicking myself for not ignoring it…

Avoid assumptions

What I learnt from that was to avoid making assumptions. If something new sounded a bit wacky or outside my experience, that was probably a good reason to give it a go – rather than to run in the opposite direction. (I tried out Live Action Roleplaying a year later, and whilst it was as undeniably geeky as I’d expected, I really enjoyed the experience.)

In life in general, it’s best not to make assumptions; I’ve found that mine generally arise from being ill-informed or biased about something. Try to remain open-minded: maybe crocheting hats for drinks bottles sounds like something grannies do down at the bingo club, but you might just have found yourself a new hobby…

Ask someone who’s done it

If you’re still not sure whether you’ll hate a particular activity, why not find someone who’s already had a go at it, and ask about their experiences? They may confirm your suspicion that it’s not for you (“And the best part was the five am cross-country running!”) or they may surprise you. Either way, you don’t lose anything by aksing.

If you can’t find anyone who’s done it, then try reading up on the activity. I could’ve taken some time to read about Springboard online and read quotes from people who’d been on the course – but my knee-jerk reaction had blinded me to the possibility that I might find it worthwhile.

Adopt an “anything once” attitude

Now, whilst there are some cases where “I’ll try anything once” is a bad idea (avoid stuff which is illegal and/or immoral), it’s often a good rule of thumb to live by. If there’s something that intrigues you but sounds weird/scary/new/different, then why not try it out once? Most clubs and societies will let you attend a session for free.

If you’re thinking of giving yoga a go, you could try one session before committing to a whole course of classes. If you’re not sure whether rowing is really for you, why not ask to sit in on a couple of sessions before signing up?

Over to You

What’re you having a knee-jerk reaction to? Why not find out a bit more about it – ideally by giving it a go!


  1. Hi Ali — thanks for this post. My knee-jerk reaction is to be a contrarian and not do what others are doing. Some of this comes up in the context of my writing. For a long time I was determined never to write a blog post with a title like “5 Things You Can Do Today To [Insert Goal Here].” I finally pushed through that discomfort and did it with a post about being grateful for difficult people, just to expand what I thought was possible for me. Still on the fence about whether I’m going to do it again. 🙂

  2. Hey Chris,

    What a great point… I’d forgotten about that one, but I used to be a “contrarian” (fab word!) in my teens. I refused to like Leonardo DiCaprio just because *everyone* else did… I refused to listen to pop music… I even stayed overweight for several years because I felt that dieting would be bowing to social pressure. It’s easy to rule things out because they’re too mainstream, but some stuff is popular for a reason! Well done on doing the post. I agree that blogging can become a bit samey, but sometimes it’s fun to break the mould even if you do that by conforming to the crowd. 😉

  3. Hi Ali,

    Wow. great article. I think more people need to hear this. Thanks for submitting this to the carnival of personal development. 😉


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