…stepping away from them.
If you’re like me, human, you’re a creature of habit. It’s so much easier to stick with something you’ve thought or done a gazillion times, than it is to risk it all to try something unfamiliar. Of course if we’ve no choice, as when something or someone dictates change, then we rise to the occasion. But deciding to take that leap on our own…are you nuts?!? And the older we get the harder it is to…jump off a cliff…even with a parachute!
The oldsters magazine from AARP, spoke to this topic in an article by Ken Budd. “New Adventures, New Risks, New You!” encourages seniors to jump into life without pausing to ensure there’s a safety net. Budd writes
I was struggling to find my purpose. And then a friend gave me some advice: “You only know about yourself when you’re outside your comfort zone.” Without really planning on it, I started volunteering around the world and plunging myself into sometimes scary, always fulfilling experiences.
Budd goes on to describe his various volunteer escapades, from cooking spaghetti for 42 hungry and eager children in Kenya to “building rock walls in the West Bank or working at a school in China.” Along the way he
was kicked by a horse, scratched by children…lost half a thumbnail after slipping on a slope in the Andes (which felt a bit like an interrogation technique used by secret police)…nearly stepped on a tarantula…forced to drop [his] pants by Israeli security…suffered stomach viruses in China and Kenya…slept on the floor for two weeks in an unfurnished apartment with 18 guys and one bathroom…had a spider bite…the size of a golf ball…
In spite of his trials and tribulations Budd says “And yet thinking about these incidents makes me smile.” The man must’ve lingered in the Kenyan sun too long.
Experts, in this case Susan Biali, a Canadian doctor, wellness expert and life coach, and Cornell University researchers, weighed in on the benefits of risk-taking. According to Biali ” ‘A lot of people see anxiety, fear, and nervousness as a warning that says, “Danger! Danger!” but it’s actually a sign you’re moving forward…’ ” And the Cornell researchers theorized that of study participants “57 percent…were happier after spending money on an experience instead of on stuff, compared with 34 percent who chose material goods.” The reasoning? We tend to own our experiences whose memories are longer-lasting than an outdated iPhone. Evidently we even tend to appreciate the “lousy experiences.”
It’s no surprise that the experts confirm what we already know in our gut…
…happiness helps us live longer: A study published in 2011 found that happy people were 35 percent less likely to die a premature death than their less content counterparts.
We’ve also been hearing a lot about challenging our brains. The article likens them to gardens for which “new activities are mental manure: the fertilizer for new brain cells.” We’re encouraged to change it up. ” ‘Take a new route to work. Get out of bed on a different side. Brush your teeth with a different hand. It stimulates your brain.’ ”
The experts also assure us more fun if we attempt to break old habits, especially when it comes to long-term relationships.
…a study of married couples in Psychological Science…Spending time together helps, but falling into dreary, moldy-marriage traps–meeting with a tax attorney is not a date night–will not rekindle passion. Try something new!
Budd writes “When my wife and I taught English in Costa Rica, it was exciting to see us escape our usual roles: to watch her play dodgeball and bowl with kids using a tennis ball and soda bottles for pins.” Psychologist Pepper Schwartz explains ” ‘Boredom is the enemy, so creativity is the rejuvenator.’ ” She points to examples of seniors who took a new lease on life…a couple in their 60s who started swapping partners, better known as “swinging” (really?!?)…and another couple who learned aikido, the art of self-defense. Other options include touring exotic locales, or embarking in a joint enterprise, such as a small business or foundation. Schwartz says “try new things and gain new intimacy: ‘Change the mind…and the body follows.’ ”
Finally, Budd recommends we let go of our inhibitions. He strongly recommends we give into our goofball selves.
In Kenya, I tried to say the Swahili word for shared taxi–matatu–instead said matiti, which means…boobs. As in, “Wow, the boobs are nicer here in the city…”
But I came to cherish my stupidity. Every time I felt dumb, I learned something. As Alina Tugend writes in Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, “the fear of making mistakes is a cudgel that hangs over so many of us,” preventing us from taking risks. So here’s my risk-taking, rut-breaking advice to you: Don’t be bludgeoned by fear. Embrace every opportunity to be a bai chi. [Chinese for “idiot.”]
I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to traipse around the world getting myself into situations that would require all of my 9 lives…were I a cat…and a newborn at that…to survive and live happily-ever-after…let alone to live and tell about my adventures.
I think I’ll take baby steps outside my comfort zone.
- When I’d prefer to ignore the sunlight peeking from beneath the drawn window shade, I’ll throw back the bed covers and eagerly dive into the day. I’ll will myself to make it to 8:15 exercise class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
- When I’d prefer to take our sweet dog for a short walk, I’ll will myself to go the extra mile…literally!
- When I’d prefer a ginger ale, I’ll will myself to fill up my “tank” with no-calorie…water.
- When I’d prefer to blog, I’ll will myself to get up off my b–t and do some housekeeping.
- When I’d prefer to procrastinate with a doctor’s appointment, I’ll will myself to “buck up…and take it like…a man.”
- When I’d like to sample a savory sweet…a bowl of white rice…handfuls of roasted peanuts…and second helpings of comfort food, I’ll will myself to…zip my lips!
- And when I’m tempted to let time get away so that the night-owl in me gets the better of the early bird, I’ll will myself to slide under the bedcovers…by 10 p.m.
Won’t you join me and throw caution to the wind. After all you only live once. So what the heck…go for it!!! Before you know it…
…baby steps soon become…tyrannosauras steps…