While I was hooping in the park this weekend, a number of brave passers-by picked up a hoop for the first time (or the first time since childhood) and gave it a whirl. I say brave because it takes courage to agree to try something new, to move your body in unaccustomed ways in public, and to embrace those awkward moments of being a beginner at anything.
And there were some pretty wonderful moments out there. A woman who at first wanted only to watch the children try the hoops intrepidly took up the hoop herself. She shook her curvy hips and found that she could indeed spin a hoop. Her eyes shone as she told me she’d also recently lost over 100 pounds.
A couple of dads came by (separately) and gave hooping a try with their kids, shocked to find they could really keep it spinning.
It was a young couple whose experience I most want to share, however. The boyfriend picked up the hoop without any self-consciousness and spun with abandon. His girlfriend, however, prefaced her attempt by saying, “I can’t do this.” She gave the hoop a dispirited turn, moved her hips tentatively back and forth and then the hoop dropped at her feet. “See? I can’t do it,” she said.
“You can do it,” I said. “But you have to let go of telling yourself you can’t.”
She looked at me with suspicion and made several more tries. Looking at her companion finally she said, her voice full of both frustration and conviction, “I can do this!” And just like that, she did.
“Yes!” I yelled. And I couldn’t help telling her when she stopped, “You know what was different that time, don’t you?” (This time her look said, this is a trick question). “You said ‘I can'” I could tell she didn’t fully believe me, but I am hopeful that maybe later that day or some years later that moment will come back to her and she’ll remember how in the moment when she said “I can” she indeed, could.
Does the phrase “I can” have the magical power to make a person perform impossible feats? No, of course not. On the other hand, just as the belief “I can’t” is surely a roadblock to success, the belief “I can” is curiously potent. I think of “I can” as opening up a space in the mind and creating mental readiness, freeing the body to perform at its best, and creating a connection between the mind and body to make the skill possible. So go ahead–tell yourself “I can” and let me know what happens!