Why You Should Try Something New
It always starts the same way. I see something I want to do and I get excited about it. It usually happens around a skill that I want to acquire— lately, it’s all been about adventure. I’ve become obsessed with self reflection and conquering fears — really trying to put myself in uncomfortable situations to build strength. As a result, certain types of activities have become really appealing — kitesurfing, travelling to dangerous places, spiritual experiences, motorcycle riding, skydiving — anything that seems like it will push me out of my comfort zone. These types of activities are starting to reinforce my self-identity. They make me feel like an “adventurer” and that has become an important trait for me. For the most part people build their interests around the qualities they feel are important. For example, if it’s important for somebody to be “fashionable”, they will take time to read fashion blogs, shop in trendy stores, post pictures on instagram in specific brands — this becomes a part of their identity. Everybody builds their own self-identity. It could be built around being a creative, a rebel, an athlete, a thinker, a socialite, having money, an entrepreneur, a person of faith…. there are hundreds of archetypes. Most personalities are made up of a number of these traits. Who you identify with and believe yourself to be will drive your opinions and actions.
For me, I have been driven by adventure and “personal growth” lately. When I see a new activity, the first thing I generally think about is how “cool” it will be to say that I’ve done this and have a great story to tell about it. It’s usually a desire for validation more than anything at first. It’s uncomfortable to think that I am doing new things to try to live up to a self-image I’ve created— but, continually seeking out these new experiences has had a huge benefit. It’s like I’m using my need for validation (ie. one of my weaknesses) as motivation to make myself a stronger better human.
Once I’ve decided on a new activity — next comes the required research to make it happen - Fire-up the battle between Excitement and Procrastination. For 90% of people, 90% of the time, procrastination wins and you decide to “Do it later”. The “excitement” to acquire the new skill isn’t strong enough to cut through the commotion of daily life. I have been waiting to learn guitar, produce electronic music and learn computer programming for years. Here is what happens:
- “I don’t know how to start … So i’ll do it later” (ie. how do I actually take a lesson, where do I need to go, what do I need to bring). When you don’t know what needs to be done, your mind will make the task feel ten times more challenging because it can’t map the required steps. Without the required steps, you will have the urge to procrastinate. This APPLIES to everything you do — work tasks, planning a vacation, renovating your house, your dinner plans, going to a social event, etc. It’s physically an unpleasant sensation — it’s similar to the thought of sprinting on a treadmill — it feels tiring. Let’s do a quick experiment — What feels easier to you?
- 1) Spending the day at work and then doing errands (maybe dry cleaning, grocery store, haircut, mall, lunch with a friend, a few meetings, some emails and the gym)
- 2) Finding a new dish at random on the internet to cook for your family, going to the grocery store, getting the materials required and preparing that dish
Number one is a standard day for most people and is generally easy — you wake up and go through the motions. Assuming you are not a seasoned cook, the second option requires thinking and creates doubt — “I don’t know what to do” —
Immediately your mind will say “where do I search on the internet, I don’t know what these ingredients are, what are these tools they ask for, where can I get this stuff etc.” Even though, the time required is probably less than half the time of option 1, most people prefer to repeat what they know. This happens in jobs all the time — people will willingly do the same task over and over because it doesn’t require thinking — there is no level of stress to push through. It’s almost as if there is a physical barrier to learning — like it takes mental effort the same way that “physical sprinting” does. You can feel your “learning ability” get tired. I can see it happening to myself all the time. I will often choose to do the easy work tasks first (ie. respond to email) then the more difficult tasks that I am not sure how to start (ie. determine a proper PR plan for product launch)… because I don’t have a clear path yet on each specific task. I need to figure it out.. so it becomes easy to procrastinate. Pro Tip: Write down 2–3 tasks that you do know need to be done and just start with those. Once you have momentum, move on to others. Always break down a complex problem into tasks and start working through them one by one.
- I won’t have time because of “other commitments”. For me this manifests as “I don’t want to interrupt my routine”. I am very intense about my work, diet, supplement, meditation and workout schedule and whenever I get a chance for an adventure, I start thinking about how this will impact my schedule. It’s uncomfortable to think about changing your schedule. People are creatures of habit. You’ll start worrying about how work will be impacted, what about other goals you’re working towards, the inconvenience of moving scheduled meetings around, what will people think if you miss “X” event, how uncomfortable it may be to explain your absence, (ie. this doesn’t apply to certain situations where you have kids or specific times at work when free time really isn’t an option). These things provide a natural barrier in your brain to trying something new. Again, breaking your schedule on occasion is another skill we need to practice. For me, whenever I break out of routine, the adventure always provides me with a much needed boost to come back to my daily routine with renewed vigor and life and I actually perform at a much higher level. Learning something new often also helps me visualize answers to a problem I have been fighting with or provides a new viewpoint where it is most needed. This is a common and scientifically proven theme for “original and creative” thinkers. They solve problems by getting out of routine.
- “I don’t want to do this alone”. This is a huge one — maybe you did the research and maybe you found the time… but now you don’t want to go alone. Social interaction can be awkward. Especially doing a new activity you aren’t an “expert” at. Will I look foolish, what will the people be like, will they like me, what will I say, etc. Many people have a core group of friends and spend 90% of their time with that circle (ie. family, significant other, friend group, repeat). There is nothing wrong with this. People like to spend their time with those they love the most. But, not having a friend to accompany you shouldn’t be a reason you back out of something you really want. The only thing I can suggest here is to just fucking do it. Each time you go, you will be scared at first, but the fear falls away to something amazing and on each adventure you learn a little more about yourself, become more confident in situations and your own abilities and less concerned with what others think of you.
The combination of the three items above can quickly kill your thirst for adventure and can result in feeling stuck, bored or unfulfilled. Ask yourself when was the last time you actually went and conquered a fear, pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, actively researched and tried something new — Fear and complacency are common (Where do I start, I don’t have time, I can’t do it alone). Next time you see something that looks interesting — take 5 minutes to research how you would go about starting it. When you notice fear, annoyance and complacency creeping into your mindscape, push through the feeling. Even though it feels stiff at first, once you are in motion, it becomes simple.
I’ll quickly tell you about a recent experience I had where I went through all of the above, and the amazing results I got out of it.
A friend of mine told me about an experience in Nicaragua last year where he went scuba diving at night. They settled at the bottom of the ocean, turned off all the lights, sat in the darkness and waited.. Within minutes the bioluminescence of the algae lit up the ocean. He said he felt like he was in outer space. That was the hook I needed. After hearing that, I decided I wanted to get certified to scuba dive. This was a pain in the ass to do — I had to take an online certification test which took a few days, an in-class session, a pool training session and then two days of diving in a muddy man-made lake outside of Toronto with no fish. This was just for the initial certification. When I moved to Israel, I realized a tropical environment would be perfect to get my advanced certification and dive at a proper reef with real fish. But where to start… I’ll have to go alone, I don’t know where to dive, i’ll need to rent a car, I don’t have time with work. I have a little trick here — I will tell myself, just commit to five minutes of research and send a few emails. BOOM.. now the path has started and its easy to “follow-up on an email” or go to “an info session”. Once the ball is rolling, there is much less friction. I used google to find Shulamit Dive School — they had pictures of night dives, shipwrecks and the Company was small and intimate. Perfect. A few emails to Shulamit and I was booked for a few days mid-week in Eilat. The dive course consisted of two written tests, a navigation dive, 2 shipwreck dives, a super deep dive and a reef dive. All of the dives were with Nitrox (enriched air that allows you to dive for double to triple the time)
With the booking part done, I started to have thoughts around missing the gym, falling behind at work, etc. This always happens to me. I am not yet mentally prepared for a crazy new experience — the mind focuses on what it’s missing as opposed to what will be gained. This happened with the meditation retreat, the motorcycle trip, coming to Israel. Fuck it. I would make it happen anyway. I know myself well enough now, that those feelings would disappear when I got started. I drove three and half hours through the desert at night, which was an amazing experience in itself. At one point I stopped the car on the side of the road and got out to look at the stars. The combination of complete silence and darkness was deafening. There are very few moments when nature is overpowering and I was lucky enough to get one before I’d even started the adventure.
I booked a hostel for two nights based on recommendation of the dive school. It was cheap, clean and super simple. The dive school picked me up the next morning for the first day of diving (2 dives that day). The first dive was the reef dive with two other people. I hadn’t been scuba diving for about six months and the only previous time was in Canada, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just went for it. It’s a strange sensation being underwater for a long period of time. Completely silent except for the sound of the respirator. Everything moving in slow motion. Although, I couldn’t control my bouyancy, so it was tough to relax. Basically, the goal is to have a specific amount of oxygen in your life-vest to stabilize your bouyancy so that you remain flat. Then the amount of oxygen in your lungs controls whether you rise or fall. The goal is to stay flat in one place with minimal motion. You can do this by holding half your lungs full of oxygen — not holding your breath, but breathing out halfway and then filling your lungs.. or the opposite. At first, I had a lot of trouble doing this. I would breath in too much and start to shoot up, and then I would let too much air out of my vest and end up on the seafloor. This really pissed off the guide and our group because the sand spreads in huge clouds and damages the visibility. It made it tough to relax because I was so concerned with my movement.
Your buoyancy also changes with the depth. The deeper you go, the more the air in your vest compresses, so you need to continually adjust the vest and the amount of air in your lungs. I found especially as I moved from deeper to shallower waters, I would immediately start shooting up toward the surface. If you don’t focus at a point on the ground, it’s really easy to lose your bearing.
The second dive was a wreck dive, which was very cool. We descended about 30m to a sunken ship and all sat on the deck and then proceeded to go through the dark caverns underneath. It was really eerie. I felt like I was in a ghost story. There was a whole ecosystem on the ship and I constantly swam through schools of fish hiding in different corners. Again, it was tough to control my bouyancy and the experience was so new, it was hard to relax. I find oftentimes, when trying something new, it’s not enjoyable immediately. Just like the motorcycle trip I recently went on, at first it’s stressful, but eventually there comes a point when everything clicks and you move into a comfort zone where you develop a certain “feel” for the activity.
For me, this was on day 2. Once you get a bit comfortable, you can start to develop a real love for the hobby. It’s a combination of conquering a fear, and the confidence that comes with mastering something new (ie. well maybe not mastering, but the feeling of progression = BTW- This is amazing for building self-confidence). Everytime I start to learn something new, it’s the same process..
- This is tough. Usually there is a lot of listening at this point and it can be boring.
- I don’t like this, it feels weird or I am not good.
- Okay I’m getting a bit better
- I can do this
- This is amazing
The more new activities I try, the better I feel about my abilities to really learn to do anything. I think doing a lot of new things over the past few years has provided me with a lot of motivation to attack challenging problems and also be okay with not being good at something- to be okay with failure, to understand perseverance and to ask for help when starting out. Having to do this consistently is amazing practice — Especially when starting with something that you are doing recreationally, because the cost of learning/failure is low! This will help prepare you for when the stakes are higher (like in the workplace)
Anyways, Day 2 was amazing. I had my breath control on point right from the start. I felt comfortable and paid attention to slow relaxed breathing and bouyancy. I was able to stay flat and moved slowly using my lungs and legs. By floating in one place effortlessly I could devote all my attention to the underwater world and what I saw was incredible.
There was greenery everywhere. The coral reefs were hotbeds of life. I saw a few octopus and all kinds of fish (my knowledge of aquatic life is basically zero, so I have no names).. There were fish tucked in all kinds of nooks and crannies in the coral and the colors were epic. At one point, I thought I was hallucinating as I saw what looked like little plants rising slowly out of the ground, like in a game of whack-a-mole — Bang.. I saw a tiny fish zoom in and eat one. I later found out these were sea eels and it was very rare to see another fish attack. It happened so fast, it was crazy.
The coolest part had to be a deep dive to another shipwreck. On this dive I hit 37m at the very bottom of the ship. It was a feeling of desolation because of how quiet it was, and I had the urge to push myself as deep as possible. I love situations where your mind wants to run away in thought.. fear, worry, stress, excitement. And you need to breathe, be present and totally focused. You can feel these emotions come up, and you just let them go. Paying attention to your breath, the visuals, the physical sensations. You feel like you are in control. There is nothing like it. Since I started meditating actively, I have found that these situations make me feel more alive. Everything in life that creates stress just drops away and you hit a point of clear focus. It’s rejuvenating. Combine that with the pure wonder of being in a completely foreign world under the sea and I was absolutely stoked.
I remember at one point sitting completely calm, fully aware and thinking.. wow, I am really happy. Trying new things has a way of doing that to you. After the five dives, I was officially an Advanced Open Water Certified Diver. I am planning on heading back next month for a bit of kitesurfing and a night dive! The drive home through the desert was amazing. I was blasting rock and roll and smiling the whole way home, content that I had pushed myself to accomplish something I had wanted. The moral of the story is to try something new. Go to an art class, read a new book, go to a concert, learn an instrument, do something outdoors, have a picnic in a city nearby, go to a farmers market, drive a different way to work.. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Do something new and do it often. When you feel uncomfortable, you grow. If you always follow the same routine, there isn’t a lot of room for new perspective and well, that can be a little boring…
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