When our parenting editor Meghan Walbert wrote a few weeks ago that she was determined to learn to like running, several of the comments on that piece (and its sequel) argued against the very idea of trying to like something you hate. I would like to propose an alternative viewpoint: that trying things you expect to hate is a fantastic way to find things you’ll actually love.
In fact, it’s how I’ve found many of the things I now love. Here’s one: I used to hate coffee, even avoiding coffee-flavored desserts. But one day I said, okay, let me try some mild-flavored coffee, and if I can finish a whole cup maybe I’ll be less of a baby about the bitterness. My intuition was right: After a week or two, coffee was a thing I could tolerate, and soon after, it became a thing I enjoy. I love it now. I drink it black.
I asked the Lifehacker staff if they could relate, and got a resounding yes. Here’s personal finance writer Mike Winters:
Cooking! In my twenties I couldn’t fry an egg properly (the heat was too high for over a decade), but I also knew that I had no idea what I was doing, which fed into a negative feedback loop of discouragement which made cooking seem like a chore.
In my thirties I got more serious and used a handful of remedial-level recipes for things like chilli or salmon cooked with leeks, but it wasn’t until I got into subscription food boxes that cooking became less intimidating. I’m still no cordon bleu, but at least I can improvise a proper meal if I had to.
As Mike’s story illustrates, sometimes we don’t like a thing because we aren’t good at it yet. Get better at the thing, and it suddenly becomes more enjoyable.
Here’s more, from editor-in-chief Jordan Calhoun, for whom three things came to mind when I asked:
I hated working out in the mornings; it was really hard for me at first. And it would’ve been easy to quit and just work out later in the day, but I’m glad I stuck it out for a little while longer. Now I enjoy it, which basically opens up my busy schedule for a lot more flexibility: Depending on crammed my week is, I can move my workout around to whatever schedule works for me and still have the motivation to go.
Also, reading. There’s a remarkable decline in reading that happens in kids—particularly young boys—when reading becomes less interesting compared to other passtimes, and I definitely fell victim to that. I hated reading. Fiction felt too slow compared to the cartoons I could watch, and non-fiction felt like school. Obviously, though, reading can be a great pastime once you learn to sit quietly with a book, and I’m glad I did.
Also, learning to appreciate alternative sports—”alternative” for me being anything other than the two sports I was raised to watch, which were basketball and football. Other sports felt boring because I didn’t know how to watch them…I didn’t know when to get excited, or how the game was paced, or whether a particular feat was spectacular or commonplace. Learning to appreciate a new game meant feeling pretty bored and stupid in the beginning, but I’m glad I stuck it out because eventually sports like soccer and volleyball became ones that I understood better and learned to enjoy watching. Even games like poker or chess (especially games like poker and chess) felt absolutely boring when I didn’t know what I was looking at, but getting over that hurdle turned them into some good entertainment with skillsets that I admire. I’m glad I stuck them out and endured the learning curve instead of writing them off as too “boring” to endure.
Sometimes it’s not until you try something that you understand what it’s even like. Is it fair to say you dislike chess if you’ve never learned how the game works? Can you really say you don’t like working out in the mornings if you’ve never given it a chance?
I asked on Twitter as well, and the trend continued. Sushi, roller coasters, hot yoga, ice swimming, zip lines, reality TV, opera, brussels sprouts, mezcal, and more. Here’s a story from a diehard fan of K-pop icons BTS:
I always had a certain snobbishness about pop music and thought BTS would be a novelty to mock. But I was immediately hit by their sincerity and work ethic which reminded me more of opera singers and ballerinas than “pop acts.” After a few music videos and interviews, I was in.
Reflecting on my own experiences, it turns out I’ve found almost everything I love by taking a chance on something I didn’t expect to like. It’s why I’m so open to new experiences: so many of them have worked out well for me. I hated sports and gym class growing up; now I work out every day and compete in multiple strength sports. My mission to train myself to like coffee was so successful I did it for other bitter flavors as well, and I’m now a huge fan of beer, seltzer, and even black licorice, all of which I absolutely could not stand at first.
Sometimes hate takes time to turn to love; other times, it happens in an instant. The first time I bent a nail (one of those old-timey strongman stunts), I did it purely out of spite. It seemed like such a pointless thing to do, but I’d met several people who were addicted to bending nails. I remember the exact moment a switch flipped in my brain: I had wrapped a thin steel bar in cloth and was pushing into it with all my might. It wasn’t bending, and I had the thought “Oh great, this isn’t just stupid, it’s stupid and impossible.” Suddenly the steel gave way, which was immensely gratifying, and my very next thought was: “What else can I bend?”
The truth is, you can’t know if you like something until you find out why people like it, and give yourself the chance to experience that. Sometimes the fun part isn’t available to beginners—as in Lindy hop, a dance where the fundamental move is also the hardest one to learn—so you have to invest time and energy before figuring out whether or not it’s for you.
This is easier to understand in some contexts than others. We all know that you need to taste a food to find out whether you like it, and that if you had a bad experience with, say, spinach, that you might still like a spinach dish if it’s prepared differently. We’ve all seen those memes about the dad who doesn’t want a dog, and then ends up ordering a custom t-shirt with the dog’s face on it.
So do yourself a favor and try something you always thought you would hate. Seek out the part of the experience that people like, and give yourself a chance to like it too. You just might find yourself falling in love.