There are many people who love the thrill of novelty. Some will go to great lengths to make sure that their life is full of new experiences and devoid of routine. They may try hang gliding one day and rock climbing the next. There are people who start new jobs or businesses and feel fueled with the excitement of starting over. When one thing doesn’t work out, they are onto the next plan without hesitation. Whether it is trying a new food or meeting new people, some individuals thrive on trying new things.
Then there are those of us who are wary or fearful of anything new. For most of my life I have been a scaredy- cat when it comes to doing something out of my realm of experience. After all it is safe here in my comfortable rut where I can control and predict all of life’s variables. It seems easier just to stick with the familiar routines and avoid the stress of doing something new. At least this is the illusion I have lived with for many years.
So why change?
Many people who are prone to anxiety fall somewhere on the spectrum of avoiding new experiences. Yet there are good reasons why you may want to attempt taking a step or two out of your comfort zone. One reason is that trying new things increases our adaptability and ability to survive. If we always do the same things how can we learn to get along when our life situation abruptly changes? Life pretty much ensures that your circumstances will change over time whether you like it or not. We will be faced with ever evolving challenges such as moving to a new home, acquiring a new job, or beginning a new relationship. Those who cannot easily adapt to such changes may experience a paralyzing anxiety and more.
There is actually research to suggest that the fear of novelty may shorten one’s life. In 2003, a New Scientist article cited research which showed that animals with an innate phobia of novelty have higher levels of stress hormones and die a lot sooner than animals who do not have such a fear. In this study rats classified as neophobes (fearful of new stimuli) were found to be 60 percent more likely to die than their less fearful counterparts. The researchers are reluctant to make the leap that what we find in animal behavior translates to us humans yet there is much evidence to show that stressful reactions can cause a host of negative effects upon our physical health.
There are also emotional reasons why it may be good to embrace new experiences. When we try to do something new, we are adding skills, knowledge, and competence to our psychological repertoire. We can look back and say, “I tried this and I liked it,” or we can also conclude, “I didn’t like this experience but I have learned from it.” Even if we fail during our attempt to do something new, we learn to pick ourselves up again. How do we know how to deal with failure unless we experience it? The more we engage in this process the more we trust that we can risk and handle the outcome. Our self esteem grows naturally in response to facing our fears. When we risk and try new things we feel more confident that we can do so again in the future.