Born to Explore
It happens to all of us. We wake up one day and realize that we have been here before—just like yesterday and the day before that. Today is destined to be the same as all the others: safe, comfortable… and boring.
Often, we need to engage in new experiences to be more vital and happy. Research from psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns, Ph.D., author of Satisfaction, shows that our brains benefit from new experiences so much so that the process releases the feel-good chemical dopamine. According to a study published in the journal Neuron, it is even triggered by the mere expectation of a new experience. Researchers call this the “exploration bonus.”
We are born to explore. Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, maintains that connections between brain neurons, called dendrites, develop in response to new experiences, and they shrink or vanish altogether if they’re not stimulated with new information. To keep our brains happy, we have to keep moving forward into the new.
If novelty feels so good and does good things for us, why do we usually stick with what we know? The answer lies deep in the emotional center of the brain, called the amygdala, which perceives the unknown as potentially threatening. As a result, we often overestimate the potential risk inherent in a new experience and underestimate the consequences of playing it safe.
The good news is that we can override this default. Here are some practical ways to build the necessary life skills—our venture aptitude—to pursue new experiences and really start living.
Do it to do it. When you approach an experience with this attitude, there is no harm to your self-worth because your objective isn’t the result, but the experience; the pursuit of knowledge, challenge or enjoyment—and that’s egoless.
Advance into the fear. You inflame fear by running from it, and you reduce it with every step that you take facing straight at it.
Make the unknown more knowable. Knowledge trumps irrational fears. Talk to others that have participated in experiences you wish to engage in. Do research.
Don’t look at the mountaintop. Break down big goals (running a race, acting in a neighborhood play) into small, incremental goals (running around the block, taking a beginner’s voice class) to build competence and confidence.
Dabble. Sample the offerings. Try several different classes or events to see which ones excite you the most.
Judge your life by how much you try, not by the results. That removes the fear and alibis, and puts you squarely in the center of the place where you are at your happiest—absorbed in lifeaffirming experiences.
Joe Robinson is a work-life-balance trainer and coach, and author of Don’t Miss Your Life. He shares motivational essays at DontMissYourLife.net.