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Micro novelty joyshift

Introducing novelty into your life on a daily basis can be a major challenge. You need a system to help you overcome your normal routine. The novelty micro-joyshift is designed to do just that. You will delight in one completely new experience each day.

This joyshift requires thinking up lots of ideas for new experiences. You can hope that ideas randomly pop into your head, or you can be more methodical, which is likely to be more productive. The system I propose is to imagine a routine activity and then think of a way of changing something about it. The usual daily events for most of us are: bathing, dressing, eating, watching media, parenting, commuting, working, exercising, playing, socializing, and sleeping. Each of these experiences has features which can be tweaked, to provide the novelty boost. Write out a list of the ideas you come up with for twists on routine experiences.

For example, one feature of any activity is physical, that is, how your body performs the act. Consider eating. Normally you put food in your mouth with your dominant hand. But you can create an entirely new eating experience by using the other hand. You may think that making small behavioral changes to your routine daily acts is not fun, but I’ve found the reward comes from the self-awareness it generates. For example, in shifting to my left hand to eat, I learned about the importance of my hands to the overall eating experience. Another variation is to eat with your fingers. Or eat in silence. Focusing on the taste and texture of your food, rather than the evening news, will enhance your enjoyment of the meal. Or chew each mouthful until it becomes liquid. You could add all of these ideas to your list, under the heading “Eating”.

Changing the time when you normally do an activity can significantly transform the experience. Consider your sleeping habits. Most of us go to bed and get up at regular times. Instead, you could change your normal sleep pattern by going to bed or getting up extra-early or extra-late. Or get up in the middle of the night and gaze at the moon or stars, or have a night-cap. Or nap in the afternoon.

Another feature of a regular activity that you can change is the object you use. For example, a simple way to inject novelty into your meals is to add a food you have never tried before. This requires that you obtain the food first so when you create your grocery list, you need to add a new item: “something novel”. Next time you go to a grocery store, look for foods you’ve never eaten. Add them to your novelty list. This week you will try a new herb; next week a new fruit; the week after that a new vegetable, and so on.

You could do the same with media. For example, if you are a news junky, you can depart from your usual sources and every week or so read or watch online the news from a completely new source, perhaps from another country. Or buy an unfamiliar magazine before you get on the bus, subway, or plane. Or listen to a song by a band you have never heard before.

Location is another variable that can change an ordinary act into something new. Consider performing a task in an unfamiliar place. Say you have to write a report. You can vary the experience by leaving your workplace and going to a park or coffee shop to do the job. The new setting can have a major impact. Varying the usual route you take to go to work or do errands can have the same effect. Walk, bike, or drive down a new street to get to your usual destination.

New people should be part of any novelty quest. Most of us are with people at work, on public transport, at a bar, entertainment event, or parties, but we don’t reach out much to those we don’t know. There is little novelty in keeping to ourselves like that. We are naturally hesitant in approaching strangers, but research conducted on commuter trains reveals that when we make the effort, our ride is happier. The study reported that most people thought that being alone would feel best; but when they overcame their resistance and chatted with a seatmate, their trips were more enjoyable.1 (See References below.) A few interpersonal skills can maximize your success in approaching strangers. A great resource for those techniques is the book First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You. 2

Finally, you can bring newness into your everyday activities just by sharpening your powers of observation. For example as you walk down a familiar street, start looking at things you normally gloss over, such as the architectural details of the buildings you pass – the pitch of the roof, color schemes, window shapes, or the landscaping. Or study the people you see, or take note of the shape of the clouds in the sky, or the scents in the air. There is endless experiential richness available almost everywhere and at any moment if we only make the effort to look for it.

The novelty grid below is a handy tool for generating ideas to tweak your routine activities. Some sample activities are listed in the column to the left. The columns to the right list the various generic features of each activity. You may want to add or subtract items from each list. Each time you do the novelty micro-joyshift, you choose one item from each list and then imagine a tweak. For example, say you select “working” and “people”. The tweak might be introducing yourself to somebody new at work. You then record your intention in your journal during the planning set that day, and perhaps set reminders, and then go say hello!

When considering novel experiences, be open-minded about the potential reward. Often you cannot know whether you like something until you try it. Remember that to qualify for the list, an experience need not be something you would want to do regularly, but only once. Make sure to mix up the categories from day to day. If today you try a new way to put food in your mouth, then next week take a new route to work, and the week after that sample a new media outlet.

This joyshift provides more emotional rewards than just new experience. First, it fosters self-knowledge. When you enter the unknown you learn about yourself. You uncover new responses in your emotional repertoire and discover new likes and dislikes. Such insight is inherently interesting to your inner narcissist. Second, when stepping into the new becomes a regular feature of your life, you discover attractions to things that you never would have imagined. For example, a novelty joyshift got me interested in classical music, a genre I completely ignored before then. Novelty quests can transform a flight of fancy into an enduring hobby, relationship, or job. Finally, research shows that when we regularly “do something different” our life becomes more disciplined. We are better able to control bad habits like smoking and overeating. The novelty joyshift helps shape a new sense of self that is more flexible and less subject to automatic impulses.3

References: 1 “Let's make some Metra noise”, Nicholas Epley, Juliana Schroeder, June 3, 2011, The Chicago Tribune.

2 First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You, Ann Demarais, Valerie White, 2005.

3 See: Flex: Do Something Different, Ben Fletcher, Karen J. Pine, 2012.


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