On WGN Radio the other night, I was asked if I had any advice for people thinking about creating their own list of new experiences. On air, the main piece of advice I could think of was to ripoff Nike’s famous “Just Do It” line. After giving it more thought, I’ve come up with my top 10 tips for creating your own new experiences list.
- Get out of your head. I find that all too often I get stuck in my head when I have an idea, end up in “paralysis by analysis,” and talk myself out of whatever idea I’m thinking about. Sometimes, I get stuck because I hear that negative tape of “I can’t do that!” The truth is that we can do what we set our minds to doing. Expanding our comfort zone requires action, not analysis.
- Think big AND think small. New experiences don’t have to be over-the-top. They can be, but they don’t need to be. Try new foods. Read a book you’ve always meant to read. Cook a new recipe. Take a one-time class. Give blood. Splurge on the best seats you can afford to a play or concert. Eat at the 5-star restaurant you’ve always fantasized about.
- Set your own rules. When I began my journey, I thought about “new experiences” and what that meant to me. Yes, I wanted to do things that were 100% new to me, but I also wanted to do things I hadn’t done in what seemed like forever. I decided that 10 years was the cut-off point. If I haven’t done something in 10 years, which is 25% of my life, I’m a new person and the experience has probably changed some too. So I defined “new experience” as something that was 100% new or that I had not done in at least 10 years. A couple of naysayers told me I was “cheating,” but I just looked at them and said, “My life, my rules” and ignored them.
- Opportunities come as you grow. Be open to them. The more my comfort zone expanded, the more opportunities opened up to me. If you’d told me in April 2013 that Little Merry Sunshine would be part of ChicagoNow or that I’d have been interviewed on WGN Radio 720, I’d have strongly encouraged you to have your head examined, which might be a fun new experience for you! In my wildest imagination, those two new experiences were not on my radar.
- Celebrate the “failures.” There are a few experiences that I attempted, but I did not “succeed” at. For example, I wanted to kayak from Lower Herring Lake through the Inlet to Upper Herring Lake and back in Arcadia, Michigan. My brother and I set out on our kayaks, got across Lower Herring Lake, and into the Inlet only to discover that the Inlet was completely blocked by downed trees and we could not proceed. I didn’t kayak from one lake to the other, but I saw a new section of the lake I have spent summers on for my entire life. I’d also never seen the Inlet and was awed by its beauty. I consider this new experience fulfilled. Because our plans had been foiled by nature, we decided to embark on a different new experience: kayak on Lake Michigan, which we did successfully.
- Enlist others. Throughout my journey, I’ve invited friends to join me on various adventures. Some I chose to do solo because I specifically wanted to have the experience alone, but probably more frequently than not, I invited friends. Heck, I even invited people I only knew via Twitter or Facebook and ended up making new “in real life” friends. Once I even made completely new friends who I had never met in any capacity before that day. New experience and new friends. Double win.
- Look for deals. I don’t know about you, but I like to live within my means. I also like to have fun and fun often includes a price tag. Whenever possible, I looked for deals. I relied on sites like Groupon, Living Social and TravelZoo Local Deals. Of course, free is also good. All of the museums have free days which you can find on their websites. The best deal I’ve ever found in Chicago is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago weekend. My only advice about the daily deal sites is to only buy deals you know you’ll use and pay attention to expiration dates.
- Be flexible. My interests have changed over the past year. Some experiences I wanted to have when I first started have taken on less importance as time has gone by. It’s not that I don’t want to do them, but I don’t feel the same sense of urgency I once had. That’s okay. Of course, I’ve also found that I am more open to experiences I once would never have considered. Acupuncture is a perfect example. I had a horrible phobia of needles. The idea that I would voluntarily let anyone stick a bunch of needles all over my body was about as realistic as me learning Chinese overnight. Well, I suppose I’d best get to work on learning Chinese tonight because I love acupuncture and I’m no longer afraid of needles.
- Go public. I’ve never had a ton of success with New Year’s Resolutions. I’d get started enthusiastically, but eventually that excitement would fizzle and I’d lose interest. While my 100 new experiences journey wasn’t a set of New Year’s Resolutions, the fact that I took it public through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Little Merry Sunshine, have kept excited. People routinely ask me “what’s next?” or tell me how they were inspired by a story I shared about an experience. That motivates me and makes me want to keep going.
- Keep a journal or a blog or scrapbook. I’ve been blogging and scrapbooking my way through the year. From day one, I knew I wanted to remember this journey for my entire life and have something tangible to pull out when I’m feeling down or feeling like I’m stuck in a rut. I’ve got incredible pictures, notes and written stories, ticket stubs, drawings, and much more. They all constantly show me how much I’ve grown in the past 9 months. I’m not the same person I was when I started and you won’t be either.
Bonus tip: Ignore Debbie Downer. While I hope everyone you share your journey with is enthusiastically supportive of you, be prepared for the folks who aren’t. It’s okay. Let them be and ignore them. Here’s an indisputable fact: By having all these new experiences, you will change and grow. People who are insecure in their own lives want those around them to remain the same because they worry you’ll outgrow them. You may outgrow them because your horizons will expand, but you may have outgrown them anyway. No matter what, know that they’re lack of enthusiasm for your journey is about them and not about you.
Trust me, there is no downside to stepping outside of your comfort zone and expanding your horizons. You only live once and no one is promised “someday.” So stop waiting for all the stars to align and just do it.
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