This week, I want to focus on experiences. Our experiences with and in leisure and sport have a significant influence on whether we will participate again or how we feel about participating (e.g., eager, apprehensive). Sometimes, we participate in activities in our free time that are negative experiences and we do that over and over and over. Maybe you go to a favorite restaurant and consistently get bad service. Maybe you started going to a cooking class with friends, but the instructor isn’t your cup of tea and the class isn’t as hands on as you hoped. These hardly feel like “leisure” experiences when they do not elicit positive feelings like enjoyment or excitement. And yet, our precious free time, our leisure time is taken up.
If you’re feeling like your leisure is not satisfying or not as satisfying as it could be, another factor (in addition to your needs, your knowledge, and your skills) to consider is your experiences. It is important to understand the impact of the experiences we have and develop an clear vision of the type of experience you want and how you might best go about getting it.
The Importance of First Experiences
My niece, just a few weeks ago, had her first swim lesson (okay, she did have some parent and baby pool time when she was in diapers, but this was her first “beginner” class experience with an instructor leading). She was invited to jump in the water with the instructor poised to catch her. The instructor does catch her, but lets her head go under. She’s shocked. Upset. As my sister reports the tale to me, we discuss how this probably isn’t the best way to orient a “beginner” to the water. We were both swim instructors back in our high school/early university days. We would never have done this. Why? Because there was a pretty good chance those kids wouldn’t come back. And, if they did, they would return with anxiety and fear, not excitement and eager anticipation. But aside from reminiscing about how we did things “back in the day,” I couldn’t help but reflect on the idea of “first experiences.”
Having a good first experience makes it easy to go back. My first hot yoga class was an excellent experience and I looked forward to going to the next. The instructor was warm and friendly. She was clearly knowledgeable. I learned new things each week. I felt great afterward.
Negative first experiences present more challenges. These experiences require processing – why was it a negative experience? Is this something you can change or is was the negative experience tied to something about the nature of the activity or event? Some people don’t have the time or energy to process negative experiences. They simply do not go back to the event, activity, or program. And sadly, sometimes negative experiences in one context (e.g., a negative swim experience as a child) spills over into how we anticipate we will experience the activity in other contexts (e.g., swimming at the beach). So the negative experience can have a wide spread impact.
Spending time thinking about what will provide you with a good first experience can be beneficial. If you can think about times when you’ve had good first experiences and first experiences that left you wanting to quit, you can gain some valuable insight. One of the reasons my Zumba class was a disaster for me for two reasons. First, there was no “first class”. The facility ran beginner Zumba classes regularly for its membership so there was never a real “first day” where there would be a collection of new folks. The instructor did recognize I was new and kept an eye on me, but she did do a lot of explaining. I had to figure things out as we went along. Second, I decided to try a 10:00 a.m. class. It fit well into my flexible work schedule. Out of a class of 20, I was one of two people under the age of 60. The class wasn’t labelled as a senior’s class, but it was clearly structured as one. I hadn’t done my research. I blame that bad first experience on myself and know that it wasn’t the activity itself that was the problem. I need to find a class that is a beginner level that has a clear start day and is targeted at people like myself (e.g., reasonable fit; 41 years old).
Unfortunately, each leisure activity or experience will have its unique factors that may shape your first experience into something you perceive as positive or negative. This means there is no single checklist that I can provide to help you ensure your first experience is great. However, I can prompt you to think about how you might work to improve your chances that your first experience will be great. Here are three common factors that could influence your experience.
- The instructor/leader/facilitator (e.g., their level of experience, enthusiasm, their ability and willingness to adapt to the needs of the participants, openness to feedback and to making changes based on feedback). If possible, learn what you can about the individuals who may be leading an experience you’re interested in. This knowledge will help you make a decision about whether you anticipate your first experience will be a good one.
- Timing. Timing can be considered in a couple of ways. Are you participating at a time that fits in your schedule well? Having to rush into an activity or event or rush off afterwards may not leave you with the best experience. Are you participating at a time that will offer you the best experience (e.g., crowds, wait times)? In Canada, we are in Apple Picking season. I noticed one U-Pick posted the “busy” times on their website (12-3 p.m. each day). If you want an experience that doesn’t involve crowds, this information helped you make choices that could provide you a better experience. If a positive beach experience for you involves swimming, it may be important to know when jellyfish season is and avoid planning your beach vacation then.
- Quality of the service/activity. You’ve familiar with the old saying, “You get what you pay for”. Sometimes we do not invest enough money in our leisure activities and therefore, end up with a lower quality experience which may not be positive. To ensure a good, first experience, do your homework. A summer swim pass at the outdoor pool may be cheaper, but if you hate cold water or swimming when it’s raining, you may want to reconsider. Depending on the nature of the activity you’re interested in, you may want to check out the quality of the equipment (e.g., at a gym facility) or the amenities available at a facility or event (e.g., locker rooms, showers, towel service, parking, food services).
Sometimes we do not think about how to set ourselves up to have the best experience. It may be worth taking some time to think about what will make an experience “good” or “positive” for you and then work on locating those opportunities that will most likely provide that experience.
Overcoming Bad Experiences
Sometimes first experiences are not positive. As I mentioned above, negative experiences can turn someone away from an activity. If you have avoided an activity you are interested in because of a negative experience, it is important to understand what factors made an experience negative and consider whether changing those factors could contribute to a better experience. Some factors could include:
- skill/readiness – you didn’t have the skill needed to participate at the expected level or the skill to enjoy the activity as delivered
- instructor – it may not have been the right “fit”
- program/event delivery format – a running “club” format where runners gather and head out for a run may not be for you, but perhaps a “learn to run” may be a better match; you may not like the unpredictable weather factor that comes with attending outdoor concerts, but attending a concert at an indoor venue is perfect
- size of the group (e.g., small group versus large group experiences) – you may find you do not enjoy leisure learning experiences in a larger group
- group dynamic – you may not have felt there was a good fit between you and the other participants; the dynamic may not have appealed to you
- activity – it was not for you
Once you understand what may have contributed to your negative experience, you are in a better position to make decisions about giving an activity/event/experience another try. If the activity or experience (e.g., the ballet) did not appeal, it may be best to move on and look for something that captures your interest and brings enjoyment. If your negative experience is linked to modifiable factors (e.g., size of group), learn from that experience and look for opportunities that offer the activity in a format or group size, for example, that may be a better fit and, therefore, better experience for you.
Ditch Activities that Consistently Produce Negative Experiences
Finally, do not let yourself get into a rut where you accept poor experiences as status quo. If it isn’t fun; if it isn’t meeting your needs; if you don’t feel comfortable – don’t settle. Very few people have enough time to participate in things that are not offering wonderful experiences. Stop. Take time to figure out what is contributing to the ongoing negative experience. If nothing can be done on your end to improve the experience, move on. If you feel you can offer feedback or suggestions that could change the nature of the experience, great. Take action. But if nothing changes, move on.
Next week – constraints to leisure. What constraints are most common and how do you negotiate them so that you can access leisure experiences you want to have?