Why You Should Read + Watch + Listen Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Stuck in a book/music/tv rut? Reading + watching + listening to things outside of YOUR personal norm is so good for you! Click through for tips on how to do that >> yesandyes.org

With the piles of new things I’m always trying, it might surprise you know that I’m a creature of habit.

Does this song have a poppy hook?  I will download it immediately and listen to it 100 times.
Oh, is this a funny, self-deprecating memoir? I’m on the library waitlist yesterday.
Is this a documentary about some sort of subculture and/or an underdog?  NETFLIX GET OUT OF MY BRAIN.

I will search high and low for a solution/approach/writer/lipstick/pair of jeans that works and when I find it? I’ll ride it till the wheels fall off.

Last month my book club/dinner club read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. While I didn’t particularly like the book I was glad I read it because it was totally different than any book I would have chosen for myself. Left to my own devices I would never read anything involving codes, warlocks, or history. Super no.

But when I read this book – so far out of my comfort zone –  strange, wonderful things started happening in my brain.
I had new ideas for blog posts (like this one).
I thought of a different way to structure my business.
I remembered the pile of recipes in my desk drawer I’d been meaning to try.

As obvious as it probably seems, good things happen when you break out of your ruts – no matter how comfortable and well-written and funny those ruts are.

Reading different books, watching different movies and tv shows, listening to different types of music – they expose you to new ideas, new rhythms, new approaches, new people.  And you don’t even have to like those new ideas for them to have a positive effect on you!

So how can you go about finding good, useful, well-made things outside of your usual?

Ask for recommendations from your friends! I love music that has been mockingly called ‘Brooklyn elf music,’ so I’m going to ask for recommendations from my friends who love metal. And country. And punk.

The only shows I watch are half-hour comedies.  But I bet my friends who love dark hour-long dramas could recommend some stuff.  Or my people who like action movies.  Or war movies with largely male casts (uggggh, I hate those movies!)

And all those memoirs?  I’m going to give them a break in favor of some nonfiction, a few collections of essays, and (dare I say it?) sci-fi?

Stretching your brain + boundaries feels good. Opening yourself to new ideas fills you up. Click To Tweet

I might learn something from codes and warlocks yet.

Do you get into culture and media ruts?  How do you get out of them?  And (more importantly) what metal and country music would you recommend?  Are there any action movies I should see?

P.S. Why you need a New Things practice + How to start one

Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

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  1. Jess

    More on the rock side, but Halestorm is a good entry into that side of music. I'm not a huge hard rock fan either but my husband loves them – and they're pretty good!

  2. Becky Dundon

    If you're feeling like attempting sci-fi and/or fantasy writing, try the Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin! I'm usually hugely NOT into fantasy, but her books are wonderful. They're like myths, both the stories themselves and the way they're written.

  3. Lynsey @ Eternally Wanderlyn

    I love this idea. I think we all kind of get stuck in a rut because it's comfortable. Luckily, I have my boyfriend and some of my friends to break me out of it with their recommendations. And usually I'll eventually tire of doing, reading, or watching the same type of thing over and over again forcing me to seek out new things. 🙂 As for hour long dramas, I really enjoy things like Game of Thrones on HBO and Dexter (which is on Netflix).

  4. D

    Though they are fairly mainstream as far as "metal" goes, I enjoy Pantera. They are so ridiculous, they make me laugh. Sonata Arctica is a fabulous metal group. As far as reading goes, scifi/fantasy is my comfort zone, and I ADORE Anne McCaffrey and Garth Nix. And Neil Gaiman.

  5. Ben Simon

    Along these lines, my favorite place to find books is in the "New Releases" shelf of the library. This puts a whole smattering of topics in one place, and there's almost no penalty for trying something.

    It's not random by any respect (the books had to meet certain criteria to get published and picked up by the library), but at least I don't find myself going back and reading the stuff over and over again.

  6. Vanessa @ Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts

    If you want to read some fantasy without getting too…dungeons and dragons-y, I highly recommend the "Redwall" series by Brian Jaques. It's written for older children but it's not too dumb. The good guys, however, are very good and the bad guys are very bad. It's the stories/sagas of a bunch of cute woodland creatures (mice, squirrels, otters, badgers and moles) who live in and about Mossflower Wood. They're constantly getting invaded or attacked by groups of rats, fox, and ferrets. The descriptions are adorable and everyone is constantly eating delicious things like nut ale or acorn and leek pie. It's a very cute series and I would have loved it when I was 12.

  7. reddirtgirl

    Country music! I'm an indie rock fan but country holds a special place in my heart forever and always. Kacey Musgraves is great newer artist ("Follow your Arrow" is a fun song) and the Dixie Chicks are wonderful ("Not Ready to Make Nice" is still in heavy rotation on my playlist all these years later). Classic Dolly Parton ("Jolene") will never steer you wrong, nor will Emmylou Harris ("Red Dirt Girl", "Jambalaya", "Seeing Double and Feeling Single").
    Omigosh, I could do this all day 🙂 I'm not sure if they still call it "alt-country", but there are some great artists in that genre: Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch.
    I'll stop now but seriously, I have way more recommendations thanks to an Alabama childhood.

    • anobion

      TN girl here – yes on all above! Also more of a rock fan, but have a huge love for good (mostly alt) country. Just listened to Laura Cantrell last night and she is fabulous! Also, really like Robert Earl Keen. And Dwight Yoakam is great fun – love a little honky-tonk. The Dixie Chicks concert has to be one of the best I've ever seen. They are some talented ladies. Other best concert was Emmylou playing with Patty Griffin.
      As for hour long dramas – the new HBO series True Detective is great!

  8. jessherbine

    I lah-lah-love this. It's so true, stretching outside of your "usual" is what sparks creativity! For new music, listen to The 1975's "Chocolate". Talk about pop songs you want to put on repeat for forever.

  9. Maggie Olson

    Check out the Duhks and Mary Chapin Carpenter for good country(ish) music! Mary's always a good time. Her song "Halley came to Jackson" was a huge part of my childhood.

    My whole life is a music rut. Being around new people is the only way I get new music. Books, I do a little better… but not always!

  10. Sarah Bishop

    The "Follow your Arrow" song mentioned above is wonderful.

    Fantasy books – Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's series. It's set in an enviroment that resembles an alternate renaissance Europe. There are 3 different trilogies and all are great. For a more modern take Dianne Sylvan has written The Queen of Shadows series that's set in modern day Austin TX and is about vampires. It's what got me into reading more and more urban fantasy. A slightly more dark take on urban fantasy is Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series (and the related Outcast season). Good stuff there. Totally miffed that I sent the book to MI with my sister.

  11. Erin Filson

    My favorite rock band is The Kills and my two favorite action/sci fi movies that have come out recently are The Avengers (I looooove superheroes!) and Pacific Rim. Enjoy!

  12. Katie

    Hello! Been little bit of a lurker on this blog for a while (love it!) but something about this post made me feel a need to comment:

    1) I also disliked Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. But I typically like things in that genre (at least from time to time) — so that might have less to do with the genre than the overall quality of the book

    2) yay for getting out of your comfort zone! I have a recommendation for a show for you if you're getting out of the "30-minute comedy" space…try Sherlock on BBC (it airs on PBS in the US and season 1&2 are on Netflix / Amazon Prime) it's a mini-series and is close to the books but set in modern times…just completely wonderful and well done and addictive.

    3) If you're already thinking about getting into country – try Nashville for a girly drama, it would hit two goals in one!

    And then in terms of tips for getting out of your comfort zone more often – first, in my bookclub, we had a rule that each person gets to a pick a book and the rest of the group would read it. There was no democracy, only turns. It's great for mixing things up. second, follow the lead of your friends (boyfriend?) more than normal and see where they take you that you wouldn't normally go.

    have fun!

  13. Shenee

    OMG. I am so guilty of this when it comes to music, I literally listen to the same few playlists over and over again and hate the process of finding more music, I even listen to the same Pandora stations over and over.

    Gonna try this out.

  14. rachelannpierce

    What a great idea. Hmm, this means I should listen to hard rock, read a few classics, try an action movie, and… watch reality TV? I dunno, I watch a lot of TV already.

    Speaking of, if you're looking for a good TV drama, I'd suggest Sleepy Hollow. It's got a lot of supernatural/Revolutionary War conspiracy theory going on, but there's also a good amount of man-out-of-his-time comedy, and it is one of the most diverse casts on TV right now. They just finished their first season this week and they've been renewed for a second.

  15. Sydney

    YES! Yes to all! I am constantly stuck in music ruts, because I think anyway, I'm not a "music person" (apparently not something you should put in your online dating profile…) and just listen to things that happen to come into my own personal nebula. I have a few very cool, very hip friends, and I usually ask them for help. Also: Songza. That isn is my jam! So many playlists of new to me songs! As far as recommendations go: I recently got into Doctor Who, which totally took me by surprise because I am not that kind of person at all but that broadened many television and british-related horizons!
    Also teas: I'm not a tea person, but apparently every other living human in Toronto is, so going tea shopping a fun new thing for me to do!

  16. Kim

    I am totally with you on the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. One of my goals for 2014 is to watch a different foreign film each month. January was "Saawariya." Not the greatest film ever, but entertaining, and who knew that Bollywood did adaptations of Dostoyevsky?!

    For TV, I highly recommend you check Netflix for the short-lived TV series "Firefly." It's sort of a SciFi/Western combo. Sounds horrible, right? But I absolutely loved it! (You have to give it a couple of episodes though because the first one, where they introduce all the characters, is pretty confusing.)

  17. Ripley Nox

    I like the post-punk genre. Try Group of Four, Joy Division, Buzzcocks, Clash, Jesus and Mary Chain.

  18. Anonymous

    As far as genres go, you should TOTALLY try watching 'The Hour.' It's good. Real good.

  19. Daniella

    Get out of my brain! I am almost finished with a book for a book club (first time meeting up next week!) and I almost didn't finish it. I found it to be boring, slow, and…pedestrian. It also made me realize how picky and selective I am. While I haven't decided how good or bad this is, I think the biggest thing I walked away with was the fact that style evolves slowly. I just picked up reading (after a hiatus of a couple years) about five years ago. I didn't know what I liked and read everything. I still think of myself as someone who "doesn't know much" about literature. But…I think this book showed me that I do and that it's okay to have specific taste. And it's also okay to step outside of myself to experience something new.

    I also saw the new Coen Brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. I never would have watched it based on the premise (not really into folk music), but the fact that I went and saw it because it was a Coen Brothers movie exposed me to an era of music I really know nothing about.

    So maybe our very picky, selective tastes CAN work for us in a positive way. Or maybe I'm just arguing that I shouldn't have to change.

  20. Cait Berg

    I usually finally give into the tv shows and movies EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER are talking about – and either I really get why, or I don't like them. So, just giving in is usually how I get out haha.

    Country = ALWAYS go with Texas Country. It's THE BEST. It's got a little bit of rock in it too, so it's not just honkey tonk from the 70s. Go with William Clark Green, Roger Creager, Josh Abbott Band, Brandon Rhyder, Zane Williams, Cory Morrow and The Randy Rogers Band..they're all fantastic!

    As for action movies – "Taken" is fantastic (Liam Neeson is SO good), "The Transporter" series, The Hunger Games – both the first and Catching Fire..also, I just saw "Lone Survivor". It was sad, funny and made you feel so American – blessed to be in a country that men fight for. It makes you thankful. But if you don't like war movies, I wouldn't try it.

  21. Maegan Ayre

    There's been some great books/tv/music recommended already (Sleepy Hollow! Firefly! Garth Nix! Clash! Pacific Rim! The Kushiel series!), but I would like to add Isaac Asimov's Foundation series to the list. I have one more book in the series to read, and I've really enjoyed them! They're sci-fi, but it's more about people and politics than "hard" sci-fi. I started with the original trilogy (Foundation/Foundation and Empire/Second Foundation) then read the sequels and then the prequels, but you could also start with the first prequel and work your way through from start to finish as well.

    For a different kind of music, check out Social Distortion. Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes and Sex, Love, And Rock 'N' Roll are my favourite albums, and some of my other favourite songs are on Prison Bound and Social Distortion. There's good stuff on all their albums though!

  22. guiltless reader

    Such a good post! Also the reason why I started my book blog … and now I think that my new norm (reading-wise) is something I could never have imagined!

  23. Tina

    I also hate war movies! My most recent out of character movie is Here Comes the Boom. And I totally 2nd the recommendation for Sleepy Hollow as a show to watch.

    Love this idea of getting out of the comfort zone in this way and seeing what opens up. I have a pretty ecclectic musical taste so I will have to think about that part, but I am sure I can come up with a book, movie, and music genre to experiment with for a couple of weeks to see what pops up!

  24. Anonymous

    Ray Bradbury is always a great pick for sci-fi that's not toooo strange, and Haruki Murakami writes surrealism in a very understated yet observant style. Some great non-fiction reads are diaries; people like Susan Sontag or Anais Nin. Thank you for this post, I'm going to make a small list of things I'd never consider reading/watching and maybe rethink that resolution!

  25. Nova

    I'm really into stoner metal right now (no it's not all about smoking weed haha). I say give Kadavar, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, The Sword, Witchcraft or Graveyard a listen! It's Led Zeppelin-ish and not too aggressive. And as far as heavier music (hardcore/metal) goes I say try Cancer Bats, Black Breath, and if you want to listen to super simple roots of punk/rockabilly music listen to The Misfits. The lyrics are almost goofy, so you have to get over that and just feel the awesomeness of the music of the late 70s to early 80s.

  26. jpshutterbug

    I love this post. I agree that without experiencing new things and stepping out of your comfort zone life can be very boring. Some of my recommendations:Firefly is a great sci-fi TV series. We have it on DVD and just finished watching it for the 4th time. It is very well written. For sci-fi books my favorite is Forever War, they are making it into a movie. Country Music isn't my favorite but – My favorite is Dierks Bentley – Long Trip Alone (album)

  27. April in Autumn

    Please just read the Night Circus. Make your book club read it too. I recently hear the song Avant Gardner by Courtney Barnett and was like… this is not what I usually like… but now it's in my head. I was just trying to think of something outside the box so… there you go.

  28. Mary

    I highly recommend Neal Stephenson for a new sci-fi-ish author. I think you could appreciate coding-nerd-ism, mixed with detailed history. Start with Cryptonomicon and if you like it, continue with the Baroque Cycle. I learn so much stuff just from reading his writing.
    Netflix: I second Sherlock, and all of SVU.
    I really don't listen to music anymore, so I'm no help there.

  29. Mary

    I highly recommend Neal Stephenson for a new sci-fi-ish author. I think you could appreciate coding-nerd-ism, mixed with detailed history. Start with Cryptonomicon and if you like it, continue with the Baroque Cycle. I learn so much stuff just from reading his writing.
    Netflix: I second Sherlock, and all of SVU.
    I really don't listen to music anymore, so I'm no help there.

  30. Laura

    For new music, I use Songza. Select what mood I am in and voila! French jazz, angry metal, or the Rap Report. All at my fingertips.

  31. Ari

    Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman. Sci-fi/fantasy for literary folk.

  32. Stacia, the Homey Owl

    Breaking out of my rut is something I'm trying to be more conscious of this year. It's not always enjoyable, but I come away changed and broader and often inspired. A friend of my challenged a group of us to create a playlist of music we had never heard before (new to us), and I've suddenly discovered an entire grouping of artists that meshes so well with the mood in my work room. They've been playing in the background as I work every day for over a week, and opening my eyes to new ways I work and new things I'm drawn to. (They're far from metal, but I love A Fine Frenzy at the moment.)

  33. Sortof SuperMom

    I'm trying to break out of my comfort zone as well!
    I don't know much about music, except what I learn from my 8 year old (ummmm yeah, now I know a couple of names of pop songs).
    When it comes to TV shows though I love forcing (I mean ummmm suggesting) shows to people. Walking Dead! Breaking Bad! Dexter! Orange is the New Black! Orphan Black <—that's a must!!!! Sooooo GOOOOOOD!
    As far as books go I love reading non-fiction now. Things like Malcolm Gladwell, Zeitoun, Michael Pollen, Inside of a Dog, Stolen Lives, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, etc. But to break out of this comfort zone, oddly enough, I'm going back to some of my old old favorites. I'm not sure what you would consider his novels, but Vonnegut is amazing and sci/fi-y. I am currently reading The Sirens of Titan and can't believe how good it is…again.

  34. Shimona Hirchberg

    Yes! Love this. I get drawn to the same things over and over again. Even the books I read have basically the same plot. Which is okay/great, but…
    It’s easy to find new things (ie googling 10 books to read), but it’s usually just a list and doesn’t tell you whyyyy you should read it/may want to read it. Which makes me not care enough to try. So I’ve stopped asking for recommendations. I’m going to start trying again. Thank you!

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