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.
There is also a sense of discovery when we try new things. In this process of exploration we may find new passions, hobbies, or develop new friendships. Basically we are increasing our odds to experience joy. We are allowing for opportunities to figure out which experiences give us satisfaction and pleasure and which experiences are not worth repeating. Even if we discover that we hate the new thing we tried, we gain direction and purpose. We are given valuable insight to change our goals and take another path. We can’t know what we like or don’t like if we don’t have the experience to make up our minds.
So how do we embrace new experiences when we feel fearful to even try?
In my personal experience it helps to build upon successes. You start off with a small do-able goal, achieve it, and then add onto that experience.
Here is an exercise to get you started:
- Write a list of new things you would like to try. Include anything from trying new foods, meeting new people, taking a class, going to new places, or pursuing a new dream.
- Now rank each item on your list according to the fear and anxiety you feel about trying this new experience on a scale of one to ten. The higher up you go on the scale means the more frightened you are of initiating this activity. For example, I would rate trying a new food as a level 2 at most. But I would rate something like travel to a new city as an 8 or 9.
- Next look at your low level anxiety producing new activities. Try to do one or two of these items on your list each week as time permits. Evaluate how it went after trying that new thing.
- Keep trying to progress through your list, building up your successes as you go. If you reach a goal on your list which seems too scary for you now, break it up into more manageable steps. For example, if you want to meet new people you can start with a venue where you feel more comfortable such as writing to others on-line. Then you can work your way up to calling someone on the phone and then perhaps meeting someone in person for a quick cup of coffee.
We would love to hear about your experiences in trying new things. Which new experiences seem to cause you the greatest anxiety? Have you found any good strategies for keeping your stress at a manageable level as you attempt to do something you have never tried before? Your thoughts, stories and insights are invaluable to us and other members. Please share with us. We are listening