One of life’s greatest gifts is that you can never run out of things to do. There are 192 countries you could visit, over 4000 large cities, more than a million mountains to climb, and 7.5 billion people to meet. Yet somehow, feelings of boredom and stagnation are common. It can be easy to settle into a routine at the expense of trying new things. While there is value in stability, this needs to balanced with trying something new. Looking into some of the research, it is clear that embracing new experiences can be life changing for your levels of happiness, career progression, relationships, and personal fulfillment. Overcoming the fear of discomfort and taking on new challenges will allow you to continue to grow as a person and feel a more profound sense of meaning and achievement.
Time Slows DownIn the snappily entitled ‘Attention and the subjective expansion of time,’ researchers from the University of Wales, York University, Harvard University, and Dartmouth College laid out a profound new theory. They found that time appeared to slow down during unexpected, non-threatening events. The reason given for this is that you focus more of your attention when experiencing something for the first time. This is one theory as to why time seems to speed up as you get older; fewer things are new to you.
Travel is an obvious way to remedy this. Jetting abroad to a brand new culture will cause you to pay more attention to the things around you. Whether it’s remembering which way to look when you cross the road, trying to figure out what foreign words mean on a menu, or being unable to locate a ticket machine at a train station, everything requires more attention. The act of paying close attention is also known as mindfulness, which has well-documented benefits for happiness. When time moves slower, you feel a greater sense of tranquility and calm.
However, you don’t need to travel regularly to experience this effect. You can start paying closer attention immediately. Next time you take a familiar walk, to the local store, say, then try and pay more attention. Look at every house you pass, from their windows to their roofs, observe the cracks on the sidewalk, or try and notice the smells in the air. If you do this, you are having new experiences each and every day.
Pushing Your LimitsTrying something entirely new will often require you to leave your comfort zone. In the Journal of Adult Development, Juan Pascual-Leone refers to these kinds of situations as Ultimate Limit Experiences. We all have an idea of what we are capable of, but it is not until we reach that limit, that we know for sure. In most cases, you are much more competent than you realize. Pascal-Leone notes that we must have these kinds of experiences to develop wisdom; this is how we successfully navigate through life.
The most significant benefits are always found on the other side of fear. For instance, you may have become comfortable in your current job. You have been doing it for many years, and you are good at it, but is it really fulfilling? The chances are, you are capable of switching to a much more exciting career. Perhaps you want to run your own company or make it in a creative industry. By embracing new challenges, you can expand your limits and move towards a more fulfilling goal.
Opening yourself up to the new isn’t just a way to identify your capabilities, but also to expand them. As you age, it is important never to stop picking up new skills. In the Woman’s Brain Health Initiative, Dr. Vivian Brown argued that learning new things is the single best way we know of to prevent cognitive decline in old age. Many people stop learning once they leave college, but by traveling or starting a new hobby, you can keep your brain stimulated. It’s like a workout for the mind.
This will help you in both your personal and professional life. Being talented at many things will make you a more attractive person, boosting the chances of finding a new, fulfilling and exciting relationship. You will be like a magnet to other talented and interesting people, who will help you to develop your personal skills. Try picking up new skills that will also bolster your résumé, such as computer coding or learning a language. Even if your new activity involves learning an instrument or climbing a mountain, you are showing that you have grit and determination. This will pay off in any career.
Reigniting Your Creativity
Creativity is essential for general wellbeing, but it also forms a significant chunk of meaningful work. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be cultivated, more than an inherent trait that some have, and others don’t. In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Simone Ritter noted that life experiences, both positive and negative, improve creativity, so long as they are unusual or unexpected. This is because it allows a shift in thinking which helps the thinker to be more innovative and find unique solutions.
If you stick to a rigid routine and never leave your house or small town, then creative juices can run dry. Instead, consider a spontaneous trip. The less you plan, the more unexpected events will be. Imagine heading to El Giza with no prior knowledge of the Great Pyramids. Your mind would be blown when you turn the corner and see them standing there. You could also go and see an unknown band or visit the boring-sounding museum that you said you weren’t interested in. Even if they aren’t exciting in themselves, they could shift your thought patterns enough to help you with the poetry or fiction writing that you’ve been putting off.
Novel experiences are an essential part of wellbeing. The more you embrace them, the more powerful the effects. They may even be life-changing, by opening you up to more exciting careers and more intense relationships. You could travel to faraway lands or just pay more attention to daily life. Whatever you do, be open to new experiences.
Written by Thom Brown