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I looked down at that tiny glowing screen, expecting to see a note of encouragement from Kenny when I saw an unidentified number and the words “I think I’m sitting behind your husband? I’m at a burlesque show?”
This is what comes from trying new things, friends:
Embarrassment, blushing, fevered texting, a few tiny regrets. But more than any of that, trying new things has brought me deeper friendships, a richer life, a sense of accomplishment and capability, and one million stories like this one.
(Don’t worry! The text was from a long-time friend whose number I’d lost. She was there because her neighbor was also in the show. She was not scandalized by my costume or routine.)
As crazy as it sounds, that little list in my sidebar has done more for my life than, well, almost anything.
Trying new things enriches our lives. Here’s why:
New things slow time (!!!)
“Nice try, Von Bargen. Going to a new restaurant isn’t going to bend the laws of time and space.” I know it sounds crazy but it’s scientifically proven: The way our brains perceive time is subjective and new experiences feel slower and deeper.
Think about your most recent trip to a new city. You wandered through different neighborhoods, gobbled food you’d never tasted, chatted with strangers, saw things you’d never seen. You probably squeezed a month’s worth of life out of those few days!
Contrast that with a normal workweek. Snooze button > coffee > commute > meeting after meeting > commute > Netflix > bed. And then we all throw up our hands and say “I can’t believe it’s September already!”
Routines speed time. Novelty slows it.
New things deepen your experience
New things force us to pay attention. I’ve ordered #23 at Trieu Chau so many times the waitresses express shock if I order anything else. I’ve driven the route between my house and my parents’ so frequently I could do it in a pizza roll coma. Because these things are routine, I barely notice what I’m doing. I’m half checked out when I take the 101 N exit.
When we’re trying new things, we’re forced to be present. I can’t zone out while slacklining for the first time. I’m probably not knee-deep in Instagram while perusing the menu at a new Mongolian restaurant. New experiences force us to be present in our lives in a way that routine doesn’t.
New things get you out of your comfort zone
Dudes, I will ride a habit till the wheels fall off. I’ve been buying the same jeans, wearing the same lipstick, shopping at the same grocery store, bringing the same food to parties for yearrrrrrs. No one loves a well-worn rut more than me. (Which is the very reason I started my New Things practice seven years ago.)
Shockingly enough, personal growth doesn’t happen in ruts. Like the Pinterest image says: Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
New things build fresh pathways in your brain
Those ruts we’re in? They are – almost literally – muddy little trenches we’ve dug in our brains. Those repeated actions and patterns have actually formed pathways in our grey matter! We keep doing/eating/saying/thinking the same things because we’ve created an easy, clear path for our neurons.
It’s much, much easier to do something the 75th time than the first. When we try new things, we’re pulling our thoughts, energy, and literally our neurons out of ruts and building new pathways. Amazing, right?
To paraphrase Mr. Frost:
Two roads diverged in a brain, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Sharing new experiences deepens friendships
Which experience is more bonding: Grabbing a cup of coffee or going to a nude beach together? Will you connect more with your friends over a cocktail or playing nine holes of golf for the first time?
Sharing new experiences is vulnerable, hilarious, terrifying, and fun. It creates memories and opens up new parts of your personality. It might allow your friend to show off a skill set you didn’t know they had!
As a side note: if you write a New Things list and tell your friends about it, you might be amazed by how many of them are interested in helping you cross things off. It’s also a great excuse to hang out with that person you’ve been wanting to get to know better!
Trying new things can clarify your fears and hangups
Doesn’t sound like an awesome benefit? Hear me out. There are a few items that have been on my New Things list for years – each year they go untried; each year they get rolled over. Clearly something is up.
Why do I keep saying I want to go car-less for a week … and then failing to do it? Why, after three years of saying I want to, have I failed to drive a jet ski? WHY DON’T YOU TAKE A BALLET CLASS SARAH YOU KNOW YOU WOULD LOVE IT.
Noticing what I’m resisting is interesting and important. It highlights challenges and weaknesses I might otherwise miss.
Trying new things helps you discover new strengths
Did you guys know that I’m, uh, kind of a natural at burlesque? And that I can hold my own in the batting cage? It’s true! I would never, ever have known this about myself if I hadn’t tried these new things.
I probably don’t have a future in major league baseball or fancy dancing, but it feels great to walk around with these secret talents tucked up my sleeve!
Trying new things reminds you of old, beloved things
Many of us grew up with hobbies and interests we abandoned in adulthood. We weren’t good enough to go pro, we couldn’t find a way to monetize it, or maybe it just seemed silly to be 32 and still really into tap dancing. (But that’s a bad example because tap dancing will always be amazing.)
Trying new things can open that door and help you remember what you used to love. If you were a serious theater kid, what if your New Thing was Toastmasters? If you loved ballet, you try aerial yoga!
So how does one go about making a New Things list?
Well, you make a list of things you’ve never done, right? Yes! Obviously. That being said, it can be surprisingly hard! You don’t know what you don’t know, right?!
After making New Things lists for seven years, here are a few tips that might help.
Ask your friends for help + suggestions
This serves three purposes. One: Your friends will help you brainstorm all sorts of good ideas you never would have thought of. Two: It forces you to make your process public – which will hold you accountable and make you more likely to actually do those things. Three: It gives your friends an opportunity to suggest things they’ve been wanting to try and now you can do them together!
Make your list at the same time each year
I like to make my lists every year on my birthday. It’s a nice tradition and it gets me excited about the coming year. Maybe you’d like to do it on New Year’s Day, the first day of school or July 2nd – the exact midpoint of the year.
Put fewer things on your list rather than more
Yes, it feels really good to make a list of 100 things. It feels clever to make a list with the same number of items as your age. But in my experience, it’s prettttty hard to do more than 20 new things in a year. In all my years of doing this, I’ve never been able to complete an entire list in one year.
When in doubt, make your list shorter and more doable. If you cross everything off within three months – awesome! Just add more!
Choose things you can do in one day
Your New Things list is not your bucket list. Sure, we all want to run a marathon,* but that requires months of training. Walking along the great wall of China might technically be a New Thing, it would probably take months (or years!) of saving and planning.
Our New Things should be relatively easy and accessible. They should add awesome to our everyday lives. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences are lovely and important, but doable New Things are, too.
Try things that aren’t prohibitively expensive
It’ll be a lot easier to cross things off your list when they’re not making you broke. Of course, everyone’s budget is different, but I try to keep my New Things under $50.
Choose a few ‘boring’ things
Somehow, I made it to 36 without ever seeing The Sandlot. I also reached adulthood without reading Lolita, getting a manicure, or eating Ethiopian food. None of these are life-changers but millions of people love them. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about!
When you’re making your list, don’t forget the mundane things everyone else seems to know about. Give them a try and see if you like ’em!
Diversify your New Things
The first time I drafted a New Things list it consisted exclusively of books, movies, and food. This tells you something about my inner workings.
Your New Things won’t challenge you if you limit yourself to one breed of experience. If you’re a gym bunny, resist the urge to fill your list with physical challenges. If you’re homebody, make sure your list includes things other than new recipes and new types of home improvements.
I like to break my New Things list into five categories:
Books + movies
Acts of physical prowess
Totally mundane things everyone else has done
It seems crazy that a little list in the sidebar of my blog could have such a huge impact on my life, but it’s true.
I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made a New Things list? What’s on it? If you’re comfortable sharing, we’d love to see it – other people’s lists are so inspiring!
P.S. From now on, I’ll be sharing most of my New Things on Instagram rather than in blog post form. It’s hard to work up 500 words on ‘The Sandlot.’ 😉