It’s amazing how difficult it can be to instill regular doses of novelty into a rooted lifestyle.
One of the more valuable aspects of traveling frequently or semi-frequently, I would argue, is the constant exposure to newness: unfamiliar tastes, smells, sights, sounds, colors, habits, routines, people, experiences, animals and plants, sports, traditions, and everything else. You give up a lot in the trade-off, of course, but for many people, myself included, those sacrifices are worthwhile. If you can get comfortable being uncomfortable, you’re set.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to spend some time Stateside. I wanted to take what I’d learned about myself in the years since I started traveling and see how my lifestyle might shift if I lived in one place for a year, instead of several different countries in the same period of time.
There’s still plenty to learn living in one place. But the real challenge, I’ve discovered, is figuring out ways to continuously expose myself to new things.
Novelty for the sake of novelty is not the goal here. Being surprised and challenged, and seeing the world from new angles is the real purpose. Different people prefer different levels of unfamiliarity in their lives, but most people can benefit from at least small doses of unfamiliarity in their day.
As I’ve written before: your favorite food in the world may be Moroccan food, but you’ll never know unless you try Moroccan food. There’s a whole world of interestingness out there to discover, and for that reason alone, periodically breaking free from routine and habit is a worthwhile endeavor.
Beyond that, new experiences can help us break out of auto-pilot trances we otherwise readily fall into. Our brains light up with activity when confronted with novel stimuli. It’s a biological thing: our brains are looking for threats and opportunities. Triggering that awareness can be draining, but it’s great at waking us up from those periodic brain-slumbers that help us conserve energy when working on repetitive tasks, but which cause us to sleepwalk through entire periods of our lives, unsure of why we feel like we’re living in a daze.
Something that I’ve been doing since I came back to the US is writing out a list of novelties for myself each week. I call them my Weeklies, and on this list—I make mine on Wednesdays—I write down a recipe, a song, a place, a movie, and a non-standard task. By the following Wednesday, I aim to have cooked that recipe, learned to play that song, visited that location, watched that movie, and completed that task.
I find that I’ll usually go above and beyond this list, visiting more places in a given week that I initially set out to visit, for instance. But especially during particularly busy weeks, I find that this list helps me break free of whatever else I’m doing and gain new perspective for a while. It helps me grow in multiple directions, rather than just one. It gives me the excuse I need to prioritize other aspects of my life for a while; which is especially useful when my productive, task-oriented side would keep me in a chair, at my computer, being productive in just one way all day.
It’s a framework for newness. And it can take a little while to get used to, but if you find yourself in a rut or a repetitive spiral, you might consider making your own list, with your own you-shaped goals, to see if it helps you diversify your growth, as well.
This essay was originally published in my newsletter.