Happy Year of New: The Best New Year's Resolution to Make

Jan 02, 2023
The best New Year's resolution to make

I don't know about you, but I’ve always loved New Year’s. It’s a time to reflect on the past and set aspirations for the future. Sure, we can do both at absolutely any time, but there’s something about the clean slate of a brand new year that makes motivation soar and more things seem possible.  This year, rather than the usual self-improvement resolutions, I've got a proposal for you...How about we celebrate this New Year by making it a year of new? 

 

A Year of New

It started with a spark.

Quite literally.

I was lying in bed, and however I happened to pull the covers over my head caused these tiny little sparks, like miniature fireworks. I was delighted.

I've known about static electricity since childhood when I used to work up a good a charge to shock my little brother. What I didn't know, though, was that it was possible to actually see the electricity, those tiny little sparks. I'd just never observed static in the dark before.

It was right around New Year’s 2017, and I thought, "How am I 36 and didn't know about this? What else do I not know?"

And so begin my all-time favorite experiment and the only New Year's resolution I've ever successfully kept.

 

The Best New Year's Resolution

In that moment, I vowed to have at least one new experience a week for that year. I didn’t stop there, though. My year of new experiences was so positive that I decided to continue it the next. In fact, I'm still going strong, heading into year 7 with an unbroken streak.

And, in the interest of full transparency, I'm trying to convince you to join me on this wild ride because I truly believe you’ll benefit as much as I have.

 

The Benefits of New Experiences

When I started this journey, I was just following a little spark of curiosity. I thought the novelty would be entertaining, but I had no real idea just how much this experiment would impact me - how much it would shape me as a person and how much it would influence my life experience. The changes have been gradual, sneaking up on me over time, yet profound.

I've noticed that I've become a lot less judgmental and less locked into expectations, less thrown off when things don't go according to plan, more patient, more open to discomfort in all its forms, and more actively engaged in life in general. Let me explain how and why.

 

Tolerance of Uncertainty

Are you someone who gets stressed when you don’t know what to expect? Are you someone who “needs to know?” Or can you go with the flow, knowing in your bones that things will be alright and that you can handle whatever comes up? If not, you probably have a low tolerance for uncertaintyCongratulations. You’re human.

We’re all uncomfortable with uncertainty to a certain degree, but the amount of uncertainty it takes to throw us off kilter or make us feel anxious depends on our tolerance. Given that life is inherently uncertain (how many times have we heard “unprecedented” in the last few years?), having a high tolerance for uncertainty and being able to flexibly thrive through change and unfamiliarity is a real strength.

Intentionally seeking out new experiences means regularly dipping your toes in uncertain waters. You’re stepping outside of expectations and, over time, stretching your ability to handle, if not full on embrace, the unknown. This is the key to expanding your tolerance for uncertainty, building resilience, adaptability, and flexibility.

 

Tolerance for Awkward

Awkwardness is, well, awkward. It can be quite uncomfortable, triggering embarrassment or anxiety for a lot of people. As with uncertainty, people vary in how much awkwardness they can tolerate before the discomfort shuts them down.

Over the years, I've found myself in some pretty awkward situations, all in the name of having a new experience (take, for example, MVMT Mass, a free form dance event in which we, 100% sober, were guided as a group to “dance like lizards and flamingos.” It was as mortifying as you're imagining.). In those moments, there’s a choice: grit your teeth and cringe your way through every excruciating moment...or embrace it. Now, instead of wanting to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment, I'm better able to open up, throw myself into the experience, and laugh my way through it, often finding genuine enjoyment, opportunities for growth, or, at the very least, a funny story (remind me to tell you about the full body sloughing I got in a South Korean bathhouse by a grandmotherly woman in her unmentionables. It was so hilariously awkward!).

 

Openness and Acceptance

Over time, I’ve found myself more open to the full spectrum of human experience and better able to accept all of the feelings that are part of it (meaning being able to observe, acknowledge, and allow them to be there without struggling to suppress, get rid of, or somehow make them worse).

Our brains are constantly trying to make sense out of things, and they quickly recognize patterns and form rules. Because I repeatedly seek them out, my brain has concluded that: "New experiences are good." That rule has become pretty ingrained and now seems to override the one that most of us have by default: "Pleasant experiences are good. Unpleasant ones are bad."  What this has translated to is that I am more open to "bad" experiences.

I (unintentionally) got COVID a few months ago. It's not like I enjoyed the experience, BUT I recognized it as my new experience for the week. Since new = good in my brain, it offered a slight silver lining to the fever. While it decidedly did not make me feel better - I still felt like hot garbage - it somehow seemed to suck less.

Sometimes I choose new experiences that are knowingly uncomfortable or have a chance of being legitimately unpleasant. Yet, I rarely view them as “bad.” Even in the face of intense, painful, or scary experiences, I tend to find value.

For example, I was intrigued by what I’d heard about fasting, so I embarked on a 30 hour one to see what it was all about. Historically, I have been someone you’d describe as hangry, with friends and family scrambling to make sure I'm properly fed shortly after waking. So voluntarily forgoing food, without the aid of a stomach bug, seemed like it had potential for disaster. While I wouldn’t describe the sensations of hunger as pleasant to me, i found that fasting wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. As I was able to be open and patient, allowing my experience to unfold, I gained some valuable insights about my body, my eating habits, and my ability to endure, and this new knowledge has led to some lasting behavior change. Definitely worthwhile.

 

You Learn A Lot

Experience is an excellent teacher. By pursuing new experiences, you discover:

New skills (like how to install a toilet or a light switch, make sourdough bread, and build a website)

Surprising new things that you like (playing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art meets dance battle inside a drum circle, and listening to reggaeton) and are good at (presenting live webinars) and things that you don't (running sand dunes or chewing fermented shark) and aren’t (Dutch pour painting, even though YouTube made it look so easy!)

- Things that change your life for the better (using biodegradable floss picks dramatically increases the likelihood that my dentist will be happy with me)

New things about yourself (I can hold my breath for longer than 2 minutes, tolerate an ice cold shower, be vulnerable, and override fear of heights…sometimes)

And about others and the world (how to overcome a language barrier to communicate, that the science-backed therapy I practice is remarkably similar to the core tenants of secular Buddhism, and there's at least one person in the world, a unique man in Austin, who is immune to the effects of electricity)

 

Expand Your Thinking

Our beliefs are shaped and shifted through experience. When we do the same things day after day, year after year, we have the same thoughts day after day and year after year. Our internal experiences - thoughts and feelings - become monotonous and habitual. New experiences expand our patterns. Think of it like shocking the system a little bit and fostering growth and change.

 

Get Off Autopilot

When we don't know what to expect, we pay more attention. We engage more with the here and now because our minds can't run on autopilot. Any time we're present and not just going through the motions contributes to a richer life experience and higher wellbeing.

 

It Makes Life Interesting in So Many Ways

 

It keeps boredom at bay

In The Four Hour Work Week, a book that was incredibly impactful to me, Tim Ferriss says that “the opposite of happiness is boredom,” and I tend to agree. You might think that the continual pursuit of new would lead to needing more and more stimulation to stave off boredom or that life would feel lackluster outside of those new experiences, but the opposite has actually happened. These days, I find that I am rarely bored, even on long flights with tarmac delays and solo quarantines (to be fair, I’m quite sure that mindfulness gets some credit here, too), and the continual quest for new experiences keeps the day-to-day monotony at bay.

 

Feel alive

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone with some of these new experiences leads to feeling truly alive (rappelling waterfalls). Whether it's the effects of adrenaline or just the energized feeling of surprise - surprising yourself by doing something that you didn't know you could (driving a motorcycle) or thought you never would (shooting a hand gun, something I’ve been terrified of and opposed to for years) - there’s a sense of zest, a vibrancy and vitality on the other side of fear. 

 

Awe and wonder

Sometimes, new experiences bring on a sense of awe (sitting in the edge of the Grand Canyon), humbling you as you realize how vast the universe is and just how miraculous it is to be alive. Some humble you in a different way, connecting you to humanity, dignity, and humility (volunteering with the Veterans Community Project). Others show you a way of being that you didn’t know existed (the unbelievably relaxed yet supremely alert quality of my mind after floating in a sensory deprivation tank).

 

Find adventure in the every day

Not every new experience is epic (like the one I'll share in the near future), and many don’t require a lot of time or money, just the right frame of mind. During a year of new, a trip to the grocery store becomes an opportunity to explore (try a chayote!). You can play tourist in your home town, take yourself on a date (if you’ve never eaten out or gone to a movie or museum by yourself, do it). Science experiments (make a rubber egg by soaking it vinegar. It’s really cool) and DIY tasks (making crackers or cream cheese) brighten up any regular old day.

 

Insider Tips

I hope that you're intrigued enough to try this out for a while. I just can’t imagine that you’ll regret it! But before you jump in, I’ve got a few insider tips to help you maximize this grand experiment.

 

1. Log your journey.

Trust me. This is an important piece. You’ll start to forget what you’ve done and what it was like. Moreover, it’s fun and interesting to read through, reflect, and reminisce about your new experiences (psychologists call this savoring, and it can help solidify the impact of positive experiences in tour brains). Finally, keeping track will help you stay motivated. You won’t want to break your streak!

Personally, I write my experiences and reactions in the notes app on my phone. I’ve also experimented with documenting with photos, blogging, and social media, but I always do the notes, shooting for as close to real time as possible. Do what works for you. Just don't skip this aspect. (If you do decide to share on social, tag us @peakmindosychology. We’d love to cheer you on!).

 

2. Be intentional and be prepared to make some effort.

Many weeks, just having the mentality that I am someone who seeks out new experiences is enough to make them happen because I'm open to and looking for them, and my default has become to say "yes" rather than "no" to opportunities that arise. Some weeks, though, I have to work to actually make a new experience happen. This means that I've spent time brainstorming, googling for inspiration, searching local events, and consulting the list of ideas and new experiences to try that I keep in my phone. It might take some effort, but being intentional and making these experiences happen is so worth it.

 

Are You Ready for 2023?

As we embark on a new year and a year of new, know that not every experience will be life changing (like starting my own business). Some will, for sure, but some won't even register an obvious emotional or psychological reaction (making a Kiva loan or participating in a virtual share holder vote). That’s ok. Some will surprise you, being more or less powerful than you expected. That's kind of the point. Regardless of what you experience, you're going to grow.

Happy New Year!

 

"Never pass up new experiences, [Scarlett]. They enrich the mind."
 -Rhett Butler (In Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

 

Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder

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