Change Your Input, Change Your Life
When’s the last time you made yourself uncomfortable?
This question isn’t rhetorical and it’s definitely worth answering (at least to yourself).
Because your answer is indicative of the life you’re currently living – for better or worse.
So many of us instinctively stick to what we know.
We grow up playing certain sports and we stick with them through high school, college and (if we have just the right amount of luck) into our adult years.
The same goes for musical instruments, languages, hobbies and just about everything else in life.
It’s almost as if after we graduate school and get a job, new experiences vanish.
We become adults and we stick to what we know – to what’s comfortable.
It’s a shame, because sticking to what’s comfortable limits the adventures we’ll have in life.
And adventure is what we need now more than ever in a world where sedentary connectivity is the norm.
The following are 3 life-improving reasons you should go on more adventures.
1. Adventure makes you smarter…
In an experiment conducted by German researches, 40 mice were put in a large, enriched environment (5 levels of glass chutes, toys, scaffolds, nesting places and more) and monitored over the course of 3 months.
It turns out that the mice who explored more built more new neurons than those who explored less:
“Researchers found that the brains of the most explorative mice were building more new neurons — a process known as neurogenesis — in the hippocampus, the center for learning and memory, than the animals that were more passive.” [Article]
Neurons are fundamental for the functioning of the brain and body as a whole.
The more neurons we build, the greater our capacity for motor and sensory development. If we actively build and engage more neurons we can become better at things like reading comprehension, scientific reasoning and mathematics.
Of course, we’re not rats in a cage, so how can we implement this advice?
- Travel more
- Travel often (to new places)
- Travel young (but if you’re not young, travel anyway)
Don’t have the time or means to travel?
- Go to a new coffee shop
- Take a new route home
- Go for a run on new trail
- Try a new brand
- Start a business
- Take lessons on any topic you find interesting
- Read (a lot)
The list could go on for days, literally only limited by your creativity (and if you consider yourself lacking creativity, check out my pay-what-you-want guide: Putting On Your Brain Goggles – it will help you invent, design and develop creative ideas)
In any way you can, expose yourself to new experiences.
The more you explore, the smarter you’ll become.
2. Adventure gives you photographic memory…
The brain naturally lumps together consistent, similar memories.
This is effective from a storage and functioning standpoint – our brains don’t need superfluous details to function – but it also has drawbacks.
Think about your last year of work or school. What stands out?
How about from middle school or high school? What do you remember?
Chances are the majority of your memories are blurred and dull. The day to day grind fades away over time. What’s left is a general impression of what life was like at the time…an impression that will continue to shift, distort and change over time as you grow older.
So what happened to the details?
The truth is they’re nowhere to be found because most of our days are monotonous, familiar and ordinary.
Under conditions like that, details fade.
Which means if you want to improve your memory – if you want to actually remember the details – you need to change things up.
According to psychology writer Claudia Hammod, you are most likely to remember an event if it is “distinctive, vivid, personally involved and is a tale you have recounted many times since.” [Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception]
To create long lasting, detailed memories, focus on these 4 elements of creating a memorable event:
1) Distinctive – how does it differentiate from your day to day grind? Changing up coffee shops is a good start. Taking a day trip to the Bahamas is better. There’s probably a happy medium in there somewhere. Experiment and explore and figure out what’s right for you (but different than you’re used to).
2) Vivid – how many senses are you stimulating? The more senses we can stimulate at one time – and the better we can focus on this stimulation – the more vivid our memories will be. Plus, there’s an added benefit to stimulating things like your sense of smell because it’s directly linked to your memory. And you can make an event vivid without artificial sense stimulants (beer, cigarettes, etc.) – all it takes is awareness and focus. When in doubt, do things that are intense (and pay attention to the details).
3) Personal Involvement– you need to be the protagonist of your story. Watching a rugby game? Cool. Playing fly-half and leading your team to a state championship victory? The latter memory will stay with you longer – much longer. So as much (and as often) as you can – be the person doing stuff: Run from the bulls. Take the wheel. Make the introduction. Get out of the bleachers and get into the arena.
4) Recountable – memories relived are memories remembered (redundant, sure – but still true) . If you had a remarkable time doing something, make sure to actually remark to someone about it. Or at least to yourself. Preferably several times a year. Memories will stay clear and detailed the more you recollect and recount.
Want to create distinctive, vivid, personally involved, recountable events?
You guessed it – go on more adventures.
Exploring, traveling, learning, creating…all these things automatically hit all 4 elements, and what you’re left with is something you can actually remember in detail.
Okay, that’s hyperbole, but it’s pretty darn close.
3. Adventure lengthens your life…
Or at least the perception of it.
Extraordinary things stick in our minds longer and more clearly than merely ordinary things (see above).
The memory of mundane, comfortable, ordinary routine lumps together and fades away in time.
Novelty, on the other hand, is a jolt to the brain system – we not only remember new experiences more vividly, they also seem longer to us when we reflect on them. This is called the “Holiday Paradox” by Hammod: “the contradictory feeling that a good holiday whizzes by, yet feels long when you look back.”
It follows then that the more often we experience change (and the more dramatic the change), the longer our lives will seem.
As a personal anecdote, I remember moving a lot as I grew up. It seemed like every few years my family would move to a new location. Sure, I never had the chance to establish roots anywhere, but I think I got the better end of the bargain: a brain constantly exposed to new people, locations and things.
And because it happened every few years, I remember each location uniquely and vividly.
This is in stark contrast to many people I’ve met who’ve spent their whole lives in the same neighborhood or working the same job. Ask them about the last 5, 10, or 20 years and it’s a blur of sameness.
The question isn’t one of right or wrong, or living a good life or a bad one, or anything like that – the question here is: would you rather have vivid, positive memories throughout your life (and continue to create new, remarkable memories, or would you rather be the person who brings up his high school football highlight reel 20 years later?
So if you want to lengthen your life (or at least the perception of your life), go on more adventures.
If you want to take it one step further and not just lengthen the perception of life, but actually add years to your life, then go on physically strenuous adventures (consistently).
Not only will your life seem longer, you’ll have more years to create new, meaningful memories.
In the End
Will going on adventures make you smarter, improve your memory, and increase your lifespan?
The research suggests it will.
But it comes at a price.
There’s something I didn’t mention earlier but would be remiss not to mention at all: going on adventures, traveling, exploring, creating, learning – these things are fun, exhilarating and enlightening in their own right, but they do come at a price.
Everything new is uncomfortable. It has to be by its nature.
And that’s the rub – if you want to live a life of adventure, you need to get used to discomfort.
Sounds easy enough to deal with, but how many people do you know who’ve avoided taking action, avoided trying something new, avoided starting something that might not work because the prospect of doing any of those things is, well, uncomfortable?
Probably more than you or I’d care to admit…
The silver lining: it’s never too late to start.
It’s never too late to try something new.
It’s never too late to change.
In the end, the choice – and the responsibility – is entirely yours.
Whatever you decide, I hope you make the right choice for you.
Be bold and keep creating.
(p.s. and go on more adventures)
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