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Doing Something New Is Good for You

Personal Perspective: Consider doing something out of your routine.

Key points

  • When you live in routine, you don't have to think so much.
  • Doing something new helps build flexible thinking and "wakes up" your brain, which is part of mental wellness.
  • When you engage in a new experience, the brain is likely to release dopamine, which improves your mood.
Source: Ross Find / Unsplash
Source: Ross Find / Unsplash

Routine can be so comforting. And easy. I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day—whole grain English muffin with plant based butter and blueberries and nuts. If it's Monday, I exercise at 9, start my work day at 10:30, and end by 6:30. In the evening I'll read, play games, spend time with friends or watch television. Other days are pretty similar, with the main variations being in my exercise routine. Is today strength training or pilates? This routine has been especially true since the pandemic. While hundreds struggled and are struggling with too much to do, my life got simpler during the pandemic, mostly because it became much more limited. I'm grateful that I don't have days filled with too much to do, too many demands, and extreme worry about loved ones. And I'm also aware that there may be others who are getting stuck in isolated comfort or discomfort. Staying in a restricted routine may have come from the pandemic, but the lack of novelty is limiting to our mental wellness.

Many days during the worst of the pandemic, I didn't even leave the house and unfortunately that can become a habit. When you live in routine, you don't have to think so much. That's a relief, right? But only to a certain extent. Too much predictability can become boring. The brain, according to neuroscientists may be half asleep. You know what wakes the brain up? Doing something new. Listen to a youth talk about change.

Doing something new is like bringing back that sense of awe that children have. You know when a child sees his own face for the first time? Or sees a dog? Remember a baby's amazement over their own fingers? So beautiful to watch them discover their hands. That amazement over you own fingers is gone when you grow older. But that amazement over the world doesn't have to be. You haven't seen it all—no, not really. And you haven't done it all. There can still be amazement, but you may need to step outside your comfort zone, leave that routine you have and likely leave your home. You'll need to take a risk of doing something that you haven't done before. Risk, even a small one, can be difficult, but it can have a big reward. You may rediscover your excitement and interest in life. But more than that, it can help you be more flexible. Doing something new keeps you young in some ways and gives you a broader view of the world. Your vision of how things can be changes as you gain new perspectives. Doing something new builds flexible thinking.

Flexible thinking is a part of psychological health. The good news is that you can develop more flexible thinking. You can actively work to consider ideas and views that you've never considered before. Imagine seeking out someone who has lived a very different life than you have, or someone with a very different political belief. Imagine stretching your mind to understand their point of view, whether you agree or not. Doing something new to develop flexible thinking can be simple, like trying an ice cream flavor you've never had before or learning a game you've never played. Maybe you go to a part of your city you've never visited. Trying new things helps you learn flexible thinking. When you try new things, you develop more flexible thinking, and you are likely to be a better problem solver. Trying new things is a way of exercising the brain.

When I was much younger, I enjoyed being around older people. But I made a repeated commitment that I wouldn't get out of step with the times. I wanted to continue to know what was happening in the world. Some older people I knew were still talking about music, art, and books as they did twenty years ago. That would not happen to me, I vowed.

Ha! Recently I realized I didn't know slang terms of today's youth. Okay, not so important. But also, I didn't know the current actors and actresses who were well-known to the younger generation. Again, maybe not so big a deal. However as much as I prided myself on being technology savvy for my age, I was so far behind the twenty year olds. And this was a big deal. I was not aware of the marketing trends that were mainstream for this generation. I didn't know the products that were important to young adults. I was losing touch. I was comfortable in my knowledge and the tools that I knew, and I didn't look for new experiences or options. That was a problem if I wanted to keep up with the world and not be outdated myself.

Trying new things and being open to change extends into the work you do and the way you live your life. Never tried a videoconference? Don't know what streaming means? Do you know what it means to funnel leads?

Trying new things is good for your mood. It can make your brain release dopamine, which leads to good feelings. Doing something novel helps you stay young and interested. And your novel interests are probably not the same as mine. But you can find the ones that are important to you.

Are you willing to try new things? Ready to start your list?

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