18 Oct Why doing something different can be good for you
Why is it that new things make us feel so good?
Yesterday, instead of my fairly regular routine of grabbing a sandwich and heading back to my desk to carry on working, I decided on a bit of a whim to do something completely different. I walked totally the opposite way and came across a lovely little Italian pannineri (I don’t think this is actually a word but you get what I mean hopefully!)..so I sat outside and enjoyed a spot of lunch in the sunshine.
I absolutely love sitting in coffee shops and people watching, but sitting outside on the street, what struck me immediately was the number of people passing that weren’t looking where they were going. There were loads of them, walking along and looking down at their mobile phone. Some of them would just stop in the middle of the street with no warning to anyone else and stand there transfixed with whatever was on their screen. When you see what this looks like as an outside observer, it’s actually quite disturbing. There’s very little chance for normal interaction, for you to look up and say good morning or afternoon as someone passes you and collectively it makes us look so unfriendly to each other. Apparently we do now have a few different words for it; text-walking; petextrian or my particular favourite smartphone zombie. In Japan they call it “aniki-sumaho” and in China and Belgium they have started to introduce text walking lanes (seriously!).
Anyway, enough of my soap-box ranting, it wasn’t all bad observations. While I sat watching the world go by (and quite pointedly not looking at my phone for once), I did watch two complete strangers actually strike up a conversation over a coffee a few tables away from me. Good on you, Mr Strong/Iron Man, whoever you were, I was so impressed with the ease in which you started chatting to an old man sat at the table next to you. It was really lovely to watch and you could see that both of them enjoyed the unexpected conversation. So just by being a bit more spontaneous I had a lovely half hour out and that feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day.
It got me wondering why it is that new things make us feel so good. Doing a bit of research, according to Dr Duzel from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, “When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environments for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”
Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters (a chemical that transfers information between neurons). It contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. It is actually hardwired into our brains to seek out novelty. Learning depends on novelty, new experiences and information stimulate the memory centres of the brain. This is why the best teachers try so hard to look for new ways to approach subjects to keep things interesting, it makes things easier to remember.
It’s good for your body and your brain
Although there is a lot of comfort in routines, Fred DeVito, author of Barre Fitness, said “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” . If you do the same workout forever your body is going to get bored. By working your body in a different way that can enhance your overall fitness levels. Your body has to work harder as it adjusts to the new activity, which means you’ll also burn more calories and when you switch up your routine then your brain benefits as well. Learning new skills helps keep your neurons firing better. You might also have more fun doing it than sticking to the same old routine or exercises. This is why I love boot-camp classes rather than the gym as we have different instructors and they are always mixing things up so it’s hard for you to get bored or for your body to get too used to a routine.
It slows down time
According to David Eagleman (neuroscientist), when you experience something novel it seems to have lasted longer. You might experience this when out walking somewhere you’ve never been. Everything is new, you spend a lot more time focussing and thinking about your surroundings and then on the way back, time seems to go so much faster. By paying more attention and actively noticing new things, time will appear to slow down. “The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass”.
It builds up your self-confidence
The more new things you try and do, the more capable you will feel. Granted, you might need to have some perseverance if you start with something tricky and find yourself struggling to be good at it to begin with. But if you stick with it, you are bound to make incremental improvements and in time achieve whatever goal you were working towards and that can only boost your self-confidence. Just remember that every failure is a learning experience and you learn what doesn’t work which is at least a step in the right direction. (I am currently trying to learn to play a musical instrument and I am really having to channel my inner appreciation of being a failure at the moment!). I think that the other thing trying new things can make you feel is a little bit, or a lot, braver as a person. You need courage to step into the unknown.
“If you believe in a journey of growth and learning, there is no failure, just figuring it out as you go along” – Farzana Jaffer Jeraj
It stops you feeling stuck
A lot of us tend to be creatures of habit at times, we travel to work the same way every day, we eat the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we stick to the same exercise routines and watch our favourite TV shows, it’s comfortable and it makes us feel safe. But it can also mean that you can end up feeling bored and stuck in a rut. Although routines can also be really helpful to get stuff done, it can also put limits on you. Sometimes you need to break your own rules a bit so that you can find new ideas and a fresh perspective. It can make you feel really refreshed when you try something new or interact with new people or go somewhere different, it wakes you up and makes you feel alive and re-energised.
It opens up new opportunities
You never know what new hobby you might find or a new direction your life might take by trying something different. You might hate it, but imagine if you stumbled across something you absolutely loved, how fantastic would that be.
You find out more about yourself
When we try anything new we can grow the most and learn best when we go into it with a beginner’s mind and with an open mind. It is helpful to understand how you learn. Coping with not being very good at something can teach you a lot about yourself. How you deal with frustration; how you deal with a new challenge. If you give up easily or if you persevere. It’s also helpful to find out what makes you feel good in the first place so it’s really important to experiment a bit and find out what else you might like. It can make you more interesting as a person and give you something to talk about.
Trying new things can cause ripples not only for yourself but for people around you too. When you become excited about trying something new not only do you want to do more new things but you will motivate other people to try new things as well. It’s lovely seeing family and friends enjoying new activities and knowing that you might have helped in a small way.
” Be brave enough to try something new; you might just succeed.” – Stacey Kehoe
PHOTO BY DEREK THOMPSON ON UNSPLASH