We humans

Trying to learn a new skill? Here’s how a circus acrobat keeps from getting discouraged

Feb 11, 2019 /

Avi Pryntz-Nadworny knows what it’s like to make a big move, fall flat on his face, and get up and do it all over again — repeatedly. He shares a mental trick that can keep you going.

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community. To see all the posts, go here.

Avi Pryntz-Nadworny can do things that most of us earthbound humans can’t — he can do somersaults, whirl around in a Cyr wheel, and juggle fire, and he’s performed with Cirque du Soleil. You might call him an acrobat or a circus performer, but if you ask him, he’s a “professional practicer.”

After all, Pryntz-Nadworny spends most of his time learning jaw-dropping tricks — and relatively little time executing them. While it takes him seconds to do a backflip, he spent roughly 48 hours figuring out how to do it and then mastering it.

Even with his years of experience, Pryntz-Nadworny still gets discouraged when he’s learning something new — and the life of a circus performer professional practicer means he’s always adding tricks to his repertoire. He says, “Often, when I’m practicing or training [for] something, I’ll feel like I’m starting from square one, from scratch.”

Which is the cue for many of us to go back to doing what we already know. So, how can we get past that square-one feeling?

By recalling when we learned how to type, says Pryntz-Nadworny.

Remember looking at the letters and symbols on the QWERTY keyboard and worrying, “How am I ever going to memorize this?!?” As Pryntz-Nadworny says, “It’s important to remind ourselves that we’ve accomplished so much in our lives so far. Take a moment to marvel at the fact that you can type an email without looking down to find each key before you press it.”

Another everyday activity that many of us take lightly but shouldn’t: Driving. Think back to your student-driver days — of tightly gripping the steering wheel, your hands placed at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. You had to keep reminding yourself which was the gas and which was the brake. You switched on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. You were scared to merge onto the highway. Today you might drive places thinking about everything in the world — everything except for the fact you’re driving a car.

As Pryntz-Nadworny says, These are mind-blowing things that we take for granted on a daily basis.”

And there are so many, many more. Riding a bicycle? The dish you make without looking up the recipe? The software you use without clicking “help”? The diapers you change in seconds flat? Think of everything in your life you could do in your sleep. Once upon a time, you didn’t know how to do these things. And today, you not only know how to do them, you’re great at them.

Now, are you ready to learn something new?

Watch his TEDxRochester talk here: