New experiences are both fun and scary.
We often seek them because we want to know what they’re all about. They sound interesting, or someone has told us how much we’ll enjoy them.
At the same time, new is different. We have no true model for new. We don’t know what to expect, and that makes new nerve-wracking and occasionally right past scary to terrifying.
The allure of a new experience can be so very tempting, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing that our desire to try them out can overcome our reservations. After all, new experiences are how we grow as individuals, how we meet new people, acquire new skills, collect new memories. Few of us are interested in following the exact same routine over and over again every day, with the same food, the same routes, the same faces, the same work, the same amusements. Instead, we want tastes of variety, whether small or large: a small difference to add a little spice, or a grand adventure that might change everything.
Even when we aren’t looking for new experiences, though, they can be forced on us anyway, when a literal or metaphorical road is closed for us or those around us, forcing an attempt at something we’ve never done before. Maybe it’s as simple as your usual route between home and school or work needing to change because of construction or a detour. Maybe you or a family member has lost a job – or your childhood best friend landed a new one, across the country. Maybe your traditional annual vacation plans have fallen through because of, say, a global pandemic, leaving you at loose ends to find relaxation and reset.
Whatever leads us to trying something new, there are a few universal ways to make sure we set ourselves up for success, enjoyment, all the way up to fun.
Start, whenever you can, by limiting the overload of newness so that you are tackling one or a handful of unfamiliar experiences at a time. Moving into a new living space can be overwhelming enough all on its own that perhaps your first week with your new kitchen might not be when you also want to start experimenting with unfamiliar elaborate recipes, for guests to boot. Driving a brand-new car or riding a new-to-you motorcycle might best be limited to familiar roads, and maybe not your first night-time outing and to somewhere you’ve never been. It’s not that you can’t, for instance, get on a plane for the very first time for your very first solo trip to anywhere, to land in an unfamiliar city where you know nobody, to participate in a class teaching you a completely new skill, and have a completely successful experience, but that’s a lot of new to stack up and a lot of stress that can make even the tiniest challenge seem or be impossible to conquer. If everything goes well, the sense of accomplishment is hard to beat, but without the knowledge and experience to deal with anything that goes wrong, you might instead become partially or completely discouraged, or even fail part-way or maybe all the way. That time. It’s a hard horse to get back on then, and in cases like that, you’ve got a lot of horses that could become what you fear to try again.
Whether it’s one new thing or many all together, get as much preparation out of the way as you can, before you actually embark on your adventure. Read or watch videos about what to expect. Learn preparatory skills. Get and practice with all of the necessary gear. Organize the documents and information you’ll need. Practice the parts you can at home. Find parallel experiences that you can use to build yourself up to your goal new experience. Perhaps your dream is to through-hike the Appalachian Trail. There’s an enormous, romantic appeal to months spent largely away from modern civilization, testing yourself against nature as you commune with the trees and meet other escapees of the daily grind. Before you start, it might be a good idea to read some books and websites about long-distance hikes in general and the Trail in particular. You might want to learn how to start a campfire, go on a few hikes with your equipment, try the food you’re planning to bring along. Planning ahead on when you’ll be where, what exactly you need to pack, and how common outdoors emergencies can be dealt with can all be keys to success. In other words, when the inspiration strikes you, maybe don’t simply hitch a ride to a trail-head and start walking.
Whatever you’re planning might be new to you, but you can benefit from those who have gone before you or who are available to help people just like you. You, me, we may all be excited or resigned about being on our own for this new experience. Odds are pretty good that we don’t have to face it entirely by ourselves if we are willing to ask for advice and help, though. That input might come from non-obvious and non-traditional directions, and we might have to be creative or humble to get it, but seeking it can be the difference between fun-exciting and scary-exciting. It’s completely okay to hire professional help to us master a new skill or navigate a new place. It’s completely okay to reach out to a stranger who has documented their travels through Europe to ask if they have advice for when you go on your European trip of a lifetime when you’ve never left your hometown before. It’s completely okay to see if the loose group of friends and acquaintances you’ve acquired might include someone secretly looking forward to the opportunity to teach a new motorcyclist, show a curious cook a new recipe, or mentor a burned-out professional into a new career. Not everyone will want to contribute to your experience, but it’s worth finding the ones who do so you can fill the gaps that self-learning can’t necessarily accomplish, and certainly not as quickly or efficiently.
Anxiety before we step off the ledge into something new is perfectly normal. It’s definitional, really, in that anxiety is literally the fear that comes with not really knowing what to expect, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes a new experience – desired or not – into a disaster. Fortunately, we don’t have to be paralyzed by anxiety and we aren’t doomed to “new” becoming stressful experiences that feel perpetually on the edge of disaster, by using these strategies to help make “new” the kinds of adventures that excite and inspire.