I sat down yesterday to write this month’s post. I was blank. Granted, I just posted my May post in the middle of June, and I usually work on a 30 day cadence. But truth be told, the ideas haven’t been streaming in lately. Usually as the end of the month approaches I start thinking about my post and I “write’ several ideas in my head well before I sit at the keyboard. The ideas hit me while I’m walking, driving, traveling… out experiencing the world, experiencing new things. So I guess it’s not a complete surprise that I haven’t been hit with inspiration since I have been in a more set and narrow pattern and rhythm as of late. As a matter of fact, at 111 days of quarantine with only a small handful of trips to the same 2 stores, and daily walks down the same streets, pretty much the same avocado and hard-boiled egg sandwich every day for lunch, the same cycle of meetings and calls; there has not been as much ‘new’ going on as usual.
This got me thinking about the neuroscience of novelty, an idea I was introduced to about a year ago during a Neuroscience and Coaching course I took with Ann Betz and Ursula Pottinga of BEabove Leadership. I've noticed during the last few months, struggles with boredom, stuck-ness and the lack of novelty in life has popped up on coaching calls, in conversations with friends, family and colleagues; and now here it is as I faced this blank “sheet of paper.”
During the course (taken in a place I had never been before with people I was meeting for the first time), I learned that novelty is as important as sleep, exercise and nutrition for our overall sense of well-being and our ability to grow and change, to establish new habits and to show up and respond in skillful and creative ways. Neuroscience research has shown that novel experiences activate the pleasure centers and memory centers of the mid brain and produce a rush of dopamine, a chemical that brings feelings of pleasure, throughout the whole brain.
According to neuroscience research the desire for the regular experience of novelty is essential to a long, happy life. There’s even a term for it, “neophilia.” Of course as with most things there is a dark side of side of too much novelty, not the least of which is addictions that throw you off course from accomplishing things in your life (think Facebook likes and Tinder swipes). However, the focus of this idea journey is on the experience of too little new, which I think will only increase every day that our communities (and the world) are closed to us.
There are many practical, political and business reasons our communities want to re-open, the research would suggest that the human need for novelty for our well-being should be added to the list. But as we are starting to see, opening up is leading to spikes in disease spread, so what are we to do to have the novel experiences we need while staying at home as much as possible?
Novelty is the experience of anything new to us. In the pre-Coronavirus world many of us accessed novelty unconsciously, by simply going to a new restaurant, seeing the latest hit movie, visiting a new city or country on vacation, going to a new gallery exhibit or a show. We would talk to new people, strangers in line at the store, attend networking groups, have coffee with a friend at a new hip café. Let’s do something different was often the call when making plans.
Now I hear from people and experience in my own world, feelings of being stuck and stagnant and bored. I hear angst of falling into a rut of eating the same thing every day, the day in day out of coffee…work…zoom call…lunch…zoom call… work… zoom call…dinner…tv…bed…repeat. Yes many of us have looped in some exercise time, an occasional trip to the grocery store, some online shopping, social distance meet ups with close friends or family. And there’s an occasional new book, new TV show or movie (for me right now it’s a major binge on Gilmore Girls!) but the overwhelming feeling is of being stuck for the foreseeable future in a world with limited options for new experiences.
So what can we do? Get creative, allow silly, have fun. What about walking backwards, writing with the other hand, talking a class on line that is teaching you a completely new skill or new information, learn a new language using Duolingo, join a book club with people you don’t know, mix up the forms of exercise, try a new recipe, go upside down, what does the world look like when you’re upside down? Maybe sleep on the other side of the bed. Like classic rock? Try country. Like country music, try Beethoven or Mozart for an afternoon.
In April my colleague Kristy and I launched a week-long workshop called Creativity Jumpstart. We have run it 3 times and more than 40 people have gone through it. The feedback has been awesome and we are humbled by the stories of transformative impact we are hearing from our participants. As I started writing this post I realized that among the many things we are doing to create a transformative experience in the workshop, one of them is that we are bringing novel experiences in the form of creative challenges, into participant’s lives every day for 7 days and they are coming into a community with people they don’t know to experience something they have never done before. Novelty!
Here are some of the things I have done to bring some novelty into my daily life: I work in different rooms in my house often moving around throughout the day to mix it up. I am reading books on new topics, I’ve started painting, some days I do yoga and some days I walk and every once in a while I do a recorded Pilates class that Adam sent me. I am designing new workshops. Today we drove to a different park to do our walk. And tonight I learned how to make brown herbed butter for my butternut squash ravioli.
I’d love to hear about your creative ideas about how you are bringing novelty in during quarantine. And if you are so inspired join me and Kristy for a week of novelty – new ideas, new challenges, new activities, and new relationships - we welcome you to Creativity Jumpstart! Click here to register and use discount code “friends”.
photo by Lynne Harris Bernstein