This episode is releasing at the beginning of a new year. A lot of people are in goal setting mode during this season. I do like to plan ahead at the beginning of the year. I feel like it’s a time of symbolic opportunity. But, really, any time is a great time to plan and set goals. I do have a prior podcast episode, episode 30: So why not… try something NEW with your New Year’s Resolutions? with some different takes on New Year’s resolutions and goal setting if you’re interested in more specific goal setting for this time of year. There may be something you haven’t considered before.
This past year I turned 35 and at the beginning of the year I made a list of 35 things to do before turning 35. I’ll also link a recap of that endeavor that I detailed in a prior episode. Spoiler alert: I did not complete the list. Looking back at the things that I did accomplish, though, I noticed that the things I enjoyed most and the things that I gave a priority to completing had a common theme. They were new experiences; things that I had never done before.
And so that theme has carried over into my list of goals I have made for the year ahead. For the coming year I made a list of 12 new things that I want to do. I will go through my own list at the end of the episode but first I want to highlight the reasons behind why trying new things is so important and beneficial.
Think about it like this: a lot of the school of thought around New Year’s resolutions are to resolve or decide to start a certain habit or routine. Maybe something for a health benefit like joining a gym. Or starting a habit of drinking a certain amount of water every day. Or maybe getting in the routine of writing in a journal every day. Or a routine to finally floss every day. I set that goal in particular often and it doesn’t last for very long. If you’ve watched Ted Lasso, one of my favorite lines (of which there are many) is when Ted is talking about his collection of yellow and blue “Believe” signs that he posts all over the place and he says “It’s the first thing I see every morning, and it’s the last thing I see at night when I rationalize being too tired to floss.” That’s me. I often rationalize being too tired to floss.
Anyway, back to the point. I think that habits and routines can be very beneficial. Being consistent can bring progress over time. They’re dependable. And reliable. But doing the same thing over and over can also become monotonous. It can even lead to burnout in the right circumstances. So why not… shake things up? So why not… intentionally seek out new experiences?
How do you feel when you think about trying something new? Is it thrilling and exciting? Or is it scary and fearful? Or maybe even some of both.
There’s a really interesting article in The Atlantic written by Arthur C. Brooks called “Don’t Approach Life Like a Picky Eater.” I think this is a really clear example to serve as a reminder when faced with an opportunity for trying something new. When you consider a new experience, there are polar extremes for how one tolerates them. On one end is the picky eater type: those with “neophobia” or fear of new things. These types of people do not embrace change or new experiences. In fact, they’re often repulsed by something new. Thinking of this specific example of picky eaters, which is very common in toddlers and young children, they are limited by the familiar. Picky eaters are afraid of trying something new. What if they hate it? What if it makes them sick? What if it tastes bad? They are fearful of the unknown.
At the other polar extreme of how one can embrace a new experience are those with “neophilia” or a love of new things. Neophilia is also known as openness and is ultimately closely tied to happiness. In other words, openness to a wide variety of experiences can result in happiness. As stated in the article: “…neophilia also causes happiness because it is an engine of interest, which, according to the research psychologist Carroll Izard, is one of the two basic positive emotions (the other being joy). It is highly pleasurable to have your interest piqued, which naturally happens when you’re exposed to new things; neophiliacs thus stimulate this positive emotion more frequently and intensely than neophobes.”
Just as an extreme neophobe is problematic, so, too is an extreme neophile. A high degree of neophilia can lead to overt risk-taking behavior or even addiction. “Undisciplined neophiliacs are often restless wanderers, jumping between projects, quitting jobs, and moving frequently.”
Finding a healthy dose of neophilia is the key. The article suggests a list of endeavors to achieve this balance.
First is to experiment and regularly assess our tastes and preferences. Our tastes are not necessarily set in stone and it’s important to determine whether or not we still like the things we used to and at the same time, trying out new tastes, experiences, and activities to see if we might like something new.
Second is to choose curiosity over comfort. The author suggests to branch out of your normal routines.
Third is to avoid the trap of newness for its own sake. Neophiles are easily enticed by mindless consumerism. Consider not buying new things for a period of time and focus on other pursuits or interests.
A final recommendation from the author is that if neophilia may lead to impulsiveness, to consider adding time to decision making. Take time to consider a big picture impact of the decision. Sleep on it. Take a few days to mull over pros and cons and see how you feel.
So if you’re considering trying new things, what is holding you back? Why haven’t you just done it already?
The number one reason that we don’t try new things: FEAR. Fear of what others might think, fear of failure, fear of investing money into something new that may not see a return on investment, fear of what could go wrong, fear of rejection. The list goes on and on. It’s really easy to talk your self out of something before you even begin because you can’t see a clear outcome of the experience, because, circling back again, you’ve never done it before.
I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book “The Light We Carry” right now (which is very good) and she discusses this rate limiting step of fear. In the book she says, “Newness, in general, almost always requires an extra degree of caution. But here’s the thing: We also sometimes over-accommodate our fears. It’s easy to misinterpret a jolt of fear or a wash of anxiety as a cue to step back, stay put, and avoid experiencing something new.”
Mrs. Obama relates a story of one of the most terrifying times in her life: when her husband, former President Barack Obama, considered a presidential run. The ball was in her court. He wanted her to be on board but wouldn’t do it if she thought it was too risky or problematic for their family. She was initially ready to shut it down immediately but she felt that she owed it to her husband to, at the very least, consider it. It felt scary to Mrs. Obama to open their family up to so much instability and unpredictability of a campaign itself and to open their private life to so much judgment. It would have been so much easier to say “no” and continue to comfortably live in their house and with the same jobs and school for their children than to potentially uproot everything.
She says: “And there it was, finally laid bare, the thing my fear was trying to excuse: I didn’t want change. I didn’t want discomfort, or uncertainty, or loss of control. I didn’t want my husband to run for president because there was no predicting—no imagining, really—what lay on the other side of the experience. I had legitimate worries, of course, but what was it I was actually afraid of? It was the newness.”
Pause right there for a second. How many times have you said “no” to something new because you didn’t want to be uncomfortable? Because it seemed like too much of a hassle? Because you might have to break up your routine? Think about that for a moment. I know I have.
Mrs. Obama continues: “It’s strange to think that I could have altered the course of history with my fear.
But I didn’t. I said yes.
More than anything, I didn’t want to live with the alternative version of that story. I didn’t want to be a family that sat around the dinner table, talking about the paths not taken or what might have been. I didn’t want to someday have to tell my daughters that there had been a time when their dad might have become president—that he’d had the faith of a lot of people and the courage to try to do something enormous, but that I’d jettisoned the possibility, pretending it was for everyone’s good when, really, I was protecting my own comfort with how things were, my interest in staying put.”
The outcome of your or my decisions likely won’t often have the same enormous impact of shaping the literal course of history like this specific example from Michelle Obama but I think it does a wondrous job of highlighting the ripple effect of how we live our lives, even if not to the same scale. We can impact our own life and the lives of others by the decisions we make. But if we’re always in the same routine day in and day out, letting fear dictate our decisions, we will never know what could have been.
So, if you can make it past the fear stage and decide that you really do want to try new things, what might be some of the benefits?
Well, there are a lot of good things that could come your way actually.
One is that by doing new things, you’re creating memories. Are you going to remember some humdrum Monday on autopilot of running errands and cleaning your house? No. Those tasks are necessary. And can lead to achieving a certain level of happiness by having order and structure in your life. But would you remember the time you traveled to a new vacation spot? Those odds are a lot better.
Another benefit of trying new things can be that you can practice problem solving skills and creativity. Especially if you’re learning a new skill or practicing a new hobby, you’ll be able to flex different “muscles” so to speak in your mind by figuring out how to effect complex solutions to new problems you’ve never faced.
Along this same line, trying new things can help make you more resilient. Just as I have to often remind my child with big perfectionist tendencies, you’re not going to be good at everything you try the first time. You will fail. You will come up short. But experiencing those times of less than perfect can help you develop skills to bounce back to see that your time wasn’t wasted and that you can keep trying and improving over time. Everyone starts somewhere. The ones that have mastered a new skill have had awful outcomes before, too. Besides resilience, you can practice other attributes like courage, humility, patience, and discipline.
You can also learn something new about yourself. You don’t know your complete capabilities until you actually try. You don’t know if you’ll like something outside of your normal tastes or routines if you don’t try it. You don’t have to like everything new you try. You may see a greater sense of purpose that you hadn’t realized yet.
Trying new things can make you more relatable. You can experience something outside of yourself. You can expand your worldview. You can just have more topics of conversation. When someone is making small talk and might ask, “What’s new with you?”, you’ll finally have something to talk about! Because, actually, there is something new that you tried.
And to that end, you may even meet new people along the way. You can expand your network. You can go to that conference you’ve been thinking about. You can take that development course you’ve been considering. You can take a step to interact with others that you don’t normally. And who knows what opportunities could come your way by meeting someone new.
By trying new things you are adding to your life’s well of experiences. They don’t have to change the world. You can try new things just for the sake of a fun time. Your well of experiences funnels in to wisdom obtained over a lifetime.
Remind yourself of what opportunities and benefits you can experience the next time you might be tempted to let fear hold you back from trying something new.
Ok, so if you’re thinking, “What is something new I even want to try?”, I think it can be helpful to have some examples. We have the internet at our fingertips. There are lists of these things for goodness sakes! We don’t have to completely start from scratch by writing our own unique list with a feather quill and a vat of ink made from soot and ash on handcrafted papyrus. But while we’re on that topic, actually make a list. Write it down somewhere. In a note on your phone. In your calendar. On a sticky note you’ll see often. In that pretty notebook you’ve been saving for the right time. Now’s the time. Make the list! Remind yourself to actually do the thing or things. Don’t just give it a passing thought and move back to your autopilot routine. Actually do something new.
I’m linking a couple of lists of ideas of new things you might want to consider trying. One is a list with free things, ones with some cost, and ones with higher costs. The other is kind of an outlandish bucket list of items. Again, actually make a list.
When you’re considering things to add to your list, they may be truly novel things you’ve never attempted. Consider also that the season you’re in and your current life’s circumstances can also be new. Have you contemplated going back to school? Going to school with kids, if that might be part of your life, can be new. I would imagine that it adds much more complexity to your schedule than school before children. Maybe your health has changed, for better or worse, since you last attempted something. Again, that could make something a whole new experience.
Here’s my list of things new things that I want to try this year. I’m putting a defined finish line on them to give myself a little more guidance of pressure even to accomplish them. Do that if it helps you but no one is going to come after you if you don’t.
- Travel to 1 new place as a family
- Read 9 books
- Interview 5 people I don’t personally know for the podcast
- Bake croissants/kouing aman
Write a book outlineSubmit an article for publication as a contributor
- Launch a new product
- Learn how to make a GIF (graphics interchange format)
- Manifest list (a la Tabitha Brown–watch this video. It’s worth your time!)
- Get a facial
- Attend an in-person class
- Do something woowoo (tea leaves, Reiki, tarot reading, etc)
Will I change the world or the course of history with this list? No. But I will overcome fear or self-doubt or just enjoy a new experience for its own sake by completing, or at least attempting, this list.
Let’s wrap this up with a summary of trying new things. There are two main ways to approach trying something new: as a neophobe who is afraid of new things (like a picky eater) or a neophile who maybe goes a little overboard with the new things. The trick is to find the healthy middle ground, veering closer to the side of neophilia.
It’s important to remember that fear is the biggest holdup to trying something new. Recognize that and potentially reconcile that in a way that will still allow you to grow without looking back with regret at what could have been.
Whether it’s a new hobby, a new job, a new business venture, or a new place to travel, as you’re considering all of these things, remember and internalize all of the many benefits you’re adding to your life’s well of experiences.
I want to leave you with a quote I heard from Anne Lamott on a podcast recently:
We’re here to see and to see it all, not to watch and to look at.
Don’t spend another year doing the same things that held you back last year.
I want to challenge you to commit to incorporate something new in your life. Make the list and do the things.
I hope that you have enjoyed this episode and that it gave you something new to think about. I would love it if you would be willing to share this episode with a friend. It’s easy to share with a text or repost in your Instagram stories. Or even leave a review on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. It just takes a minute and it helps others find the show. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram. You can find me there @sowhynot.podcast.
As always, I hope you can use these ideas as tipping off points to channel the ambition, curiosity, and desire to create the life you want to live. Thanks so much for listening. Our time is so important and I am so appreciative that you spent some of it with me.