“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard
Many people struggle with feelings of anxiety or resistance to novel experiences. Often, this fear of the “unknown” is instilled in us in childhood, when we are learning from our parents what things are safe and unsafe. Sometimes, we get mixed messages about what is safe and unsafe, which can lead to being fearful of things that are not actually harmful or even unafraid of things that truly are harmful.
In its extreme form, fear of new experiences can manifest itself as neophobia. On the milder end of the spectrum, a person may experience low grade resistance to new things or an unwillingness to break away from comfortable routines or habits. When a fear or unwillingness to try new things begins to interfere with your life, it is time to evaluate what behavioral changes you need to make to build a life that is enriched by a variety of healthy experiences.
Signs of Resistance to New Experiences
- General apprehension/anxiety when something new is suggested
- Bodily sensations of tension/rigidity when in a novel situation
- Attempts to self-medicate high levels of arousal/anxiety with drugs/alcohol
- Tendency to complain along the way during new activities/experiences
- Choosing to focus on the negatives of the new experience, rather than the positives
Resistance & Fear
At the root of all of this resistance is fear. Studies indicate that people fear unknown outcomes more than a known bad outcome. When the human imagination gets involved, it is easy to get carried away by all of the potential bad things that could result from something new. The sad part is that when we choose to get caught up in “what ifs” we close ourselves off to the possibility of wonderful new experiences. In a way, it is choice to detach from life and avoid truly living.
Animals who have an innate phobia of new experiences experience higher levels of stress hormones as well as a shortened lifespan. This research suggests that a lifetime of chronic stress and aversion to novel experiences takes an incredible accumulated toll on one’s health. What a sad irony that all of that fear surrounding trying new things and being in new situations could actually lead to a shortened life span. Isn’t death “supposed to be” the most frightening event of all?
Helpful Reminders When Trying Something New
- Trying something new requires courage
- Trying something new opens up the possibility of enjoying something new
- Trying something new keeps you from boredom
- Trying something new forces you to grow
If you experience difficulties or resistance to trying new things, take a moment to ask yourself how that resistance is limiting to you and your loved ones. In what ways does your hesitation, anxiety, and fear limit yourself from having a full life? There are certainly many things in life that truly are dangerous and should be avoided, but there are many more experiences that have the potential to enrich your life.
The next time that you experience the familiar sensation of anxiety, fear, or resistance, mindfully notice what is occurring. Recognize your personal signals that you are experiencing fear of the unknown. What happens next is up to you. Instead of engaging in the same old self-defeating pattern of shutting down, holding back, or numbing awareness, why not try something different?
Take a leap towards the new experience. Embrace it completely. By slowly building confidence that you can engage in (and even enjoy!) new experiences, you are making it more likely that you will choose to move towards novelty in the future.
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Featured image: Colours by Camdiluv / CC BY-SA 2.0