Wow. So I am absolutely amazed at the results of my 40 Days of New experiment.
I initially came up with the Days of New idea after reflecting on the ever deepening rut that I was hopelessly descending into. On some level I realized that nothing in my life would ever change unless I started forcing myself to pursue new places and experiences. I was aware that this required me to step out of the comfort zone of my routine, but honestly I never had the time or energy to do it.
However, starting this blog got me reflecting on my current rut. After I wrote my first couple entries about adventure, it became painfully clear to me how bored I was with my routine. Writing about the dangers of a comfort zone clarified just how desperately I needed to step out of mine. It is interesting that I call my daily routine a “comfort zone”. In actuality, my daily grind was anything but comfortable. It drained me emotionally and physically, and left me bored and unsatisfied. But inertia is a powerful thing. Objects at rest stay at rest, and people in uncomfortable routines stay in uncomfortable routines, unless they make a solid effort to step out of them. Taking a big leap into adventure was too much for me at my current situation, but taking a lot of baby steps seemed perfectly reasonable. Doing one small thing each day could get me into the habit of stepping past my uncomfortable comfort. And that is when I decided to try the Days Of New again.
If you followed my experiment at all, you can see that initially I was not optimistic about this project. My most ideal goal was to reach 30 days, but I was doubtful that I would even last past day three. Work consumed all my time and energy, so there was zero time to fit new things into my life. But even one day of new is still better than zero, so I decided that even if I failed, I would still have succeeded.
I will be honest, this experiment was pretty horrible initially. The first twenty days were an uphill battle. Although I enjoyed most activities, it felt impossible to keep finding time and energy each day to try something new. I was constantly looking up new activities and places, so a lot of this experiment went against my innate desire for freedom and spontaneity. At the beginning, I dreaded every new activity. After each frustrating workday, I just wanted to go home and sulk in front of my computer. The actual activities were usually fun, but it took a lot of energy to overcome my desire to just go home instead.
After a while something changed. I stopped hating it. Soon my resentment towards my Day of New was replaced by enthusiasm. Each activity proved to be a better escape from my workday blues than sulking in front of my computer at home. Each new activity unlocked a new place and experience in my environment. My flat and two dimensional world gradually became interesting and multifaceted. I was discovering that there were endless nooks and crevices in my rut that I could explore. And slowly, day by day, the world around me began to transform.
I never thought I would make it past Day 3. So reaching day 30 was an exciting accomplishment. But I was not ready to stop, and so I continued on with day 31. When day 40 approached, I knew it was the right time to satisfactorily end the Days of New experiment. This experiment was an absolute success. But I also feared ending the project and slipping immediately back into my old habits and routines. Therefore, it is now time to focus on what I have learned during this project, and how to continue applying it forward.
What I learned and gained from 40 Days of New
1. I have more time and energy than I think.
Ruts can imprison you in a very slow and insidious way. They don’t happen quickly, but gradually as you find yourself trapped deeper and deeper in a routine. The longer you’ve been in it, the harder it is to climb out. This is fine if you are perfectly content, but by definition ruts are not a state of joy. They are a state of boredom, discontent, and possibly frustration. Ruts can very slowly drain you of all your motivation, energy, and enthusiasm, until you are too tired and stuck to crawl your way out of that trench.
The problem with breaking out of a rut is that it requires the very things that it is consuming from you. Time, energy, motivation, enthusiasm, and inspiration. On some level I was aware that I needed was to make time for new and exciting things. But it felt like I had no time to try new things. I was cranky and exhausted every day and never had the energy to pursue anything new. I became completely uninspired. I couldn’t think of WHAT to try, and I had no enthusiasm for the few ideas that I DID think of.
With this experiment, that all began to change. I was exhausted daily the first few weeks, but every day the potential shame of failing pushed me past my exhaustion. It forced me to find time in a seemingly full schedule. It forced me to push past my post-work 4pm bad mood when all I wanted was to hide from life at home. It forced me to keep trying new things, even if I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited and enthusiastic about them. This experiment made me see that I have more time than I realize and more energy than I feel. It showed me that sometimes inspiration and enthusiasm come AFTER you start taking action. Days of New encouraged me to take one little step each day, and by Day 40, a journey that starts with 1 single step had now taken me forward into new terrain.
2. Nature is the best anti-depressent and stress reliever.
I always knew that I loved nature and being outside. But until this experiment, I never realized quite how powerfully it effected me. At the start of the experiment, I would be in a bad mood after work, and just want to go home and hide. Unfortunately I would spend all my time in my room on my computer. Hours would pass in minutes, my mood would stay the same, and I would be back at work before I knew it.
Once I started going to forest preserves more, I began to notice a consistent and powerful change in my emotions. All the stress and frustration would melt away. All the concentration difficulties I had all day would melt away. The noise in my head would clear and I would feel centered and focused. The interesting thing about this is the effect was much more pronounced around trees. Some preserves were just paths in big open fields, and I never felt the magic calming effect that I consistently experienced around trees.
I also noticed a very real change in the passage of time. If I go home after work to stare at electronic screens, hours pass in minutes. But one hour in nature seems to be much longer than four hours inside. I think part of this might be related to neural stimulation. Even though walking outside can seem peaceful, there is still of information your brain is taking in. In ten seconds a rushing sound of wind will feel cool against your skin, and then a thousand leaves will flutter in response. As the leaves flutter, a bunch of different birds will begin to sing and then swoop by in front of you. And then a chipmunk will run across the trail. Clouds will be constantly moving across the sky. There is just generally a lot of neural input, compared to ten seconds inside where not much changes or happens around you.
I also found that being outside in new forest preserves satisfies the inner explorer in me. Once upon a time, humans spent most of their time outside and thus explored the world much more. But these days, it’s easy to spend your days chained to a desk, in one building, seeing the same people and places. You can go years without exploring more than your corner of the world. Constantly walking new paths, finding new trails, and hidden lakes convinced me that there is a huge world that I can explore without even having to go far. What a great feeling!
3. It is important to plan and create fun new experiences.
I hate planning things. I hate schedules, I hate how easily it is for my time to get all booked up so that I never have time to relax, or just go with the flow of life. I am a big fan of spontaneity. So it was surprising for me to find that the best part of this experiment was when I was constantly planning things out.
Days of New is hard. I had to constantly be looking up new things to do. I had a constant flexible list of ideas I could do each week. I didn’t create a rigid schedule, but a lot of new things involved me making appointments at times later in the week. The experiment was a lot easier when I planned ahead.
But that wasn’t the only benefit. When I was actually doing the experiment, planning new events gave me things to constantly look forward too. I had so many fun new experiences lined ahead of me that I found myself generally more excited about life. When I got stressed or bored, I could think forward at the new and exciting activities I had ahead of me for the next few days!
4. You never know what you will end up enjoying.
Some of the forest preserves that I always wanted to explore ended up being lame. Some of the ones that looked awful ended up being amazing. I was pessimistic about the new rock climbing gym, but I loved it! I ended up signing up for a martial art I had never ever thought I would like. It is easy to for preconceived notions about activities and places, but you really never have any idea what you will like.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel inspired because nothing seems interesting enough to pursue. Or things seem too hard, or too scary. There are a million reasons why it can be hard to get enthusiastic about finding something. The important thing is to start trying things first. Sometimes the inspiration and enthusiasm hit after you have taken action.
How to Continue Days Of New
The important thing about this experiment is that it was designed to change my patterns and behaviors, and get me to start engaging more in the world around me. Forty days is a good period of time to create a new habit. But trying something new each day can’t go on indefinitely. So as the experiment drew to a close, I had to reflect on how to continue implementing these positive new changes and behaviors in my life.
1. Keep Visiting Forest Preserves.
The cool thing about this experiment is that I started it in the spring. There are many more months of amazing weather ahead of me, and plenty of time to continue exploring a lot of new preserves. There are also plenty of trails and paths to continue exploring in the ones near me already. I have many listed already that I want to visit, many are further away. I plan to continue exploring these throughout the summer and fall. The more time I spend outside in nature this summer, the better! I will also keep using nature as my post-work anti-depressant anytime I need it! It is much more effective than going home to sulk!
2. Utilize Yelp
Sometimes the easiest and quickest new thing to do was to try a new restaurant. Occasionally this became really difficult. I never used Yelp much before, but it quickly became my new best friend as I did this experiment. I will keep using it to easily find new places as the summer continues.
3. Keep looking up Groupons and Living Socials
These emails flood my inbox, and I usually ignore them. Now I’ve learned how many really cool activities and experiences there are. I plan to keep reading the emails and trying anything that sounds interesting or unusual to me. You never know what you will end up loving!
My friend suggested that I try some sort of volunteering during the experiment. That was a really great idea and it is ridiculous that I never considered that while I was doing the Days of New. I used to be very big into volunteering and I think it is important to give back some of your time to the community and world around you. She gave me this suggestion towards the end, when I was almost done with Days of New. But just because Days of New is finished doesn’t mean it isn’t a great idea to pursue!
5. Martial Arts
One of the most unexpected twists of this experiment was that I ended up signing up for Jiu Jitsu classes. I never expected to do that. If you told me that at the end of this experiment I would be taking Jiu jitsu, I would have been stunned. I even considered bailing on this Day of New activity because I didn’t really feel into it. But you never know what you may enjoy. I’ve committed myself to try it for three months and see how I like it. It is nice to have come out of this experiment with something new and exciting!
It is interesting to see many of the new paths that have unfolded in front of me. Paths that lead me directly out of my rut. Unlike my apathy before, I feel excited about a lot of the options and opportunities that are ahead of me. I may not have made a complete huge leap out of my rut, but I’ve made enough changes in habits and perspectives during this experiment to last me a while. I have more energy and enthusiasm, and somehow have more time now than I ever did before. My apathy has converted to enthusiasm.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In this case, that step was just 1 Day of New! I look forward to seeing where this journey leads. Thanks for reading!
21. Danada Equestrian Forest Preserve