Life can start to feel routine, even boring, at any age. But especially at midlife, finding a new activity renews your energy. It gives you something to learn and talk about with other people. It may even point you toward a new career.
Why try a new activity?
Good for the aging brain
Taking up a challenging new activity does more good for the midlife brain than computer brain training games. Check out this story from NPR.
You’ll be more interesting
Don’t you get tired of talking about the same old things with your friends? How the kids are doing, where you might go on vacation this year — blah, blah, blah. In contrast, you can be the life of the party if you talk about the day you spent at circus camp.
It takes courage to break out of your comfort zone, especially if the new activity is one you suspect will be hard for you. But facing your fear and insecurity, then realizing you CAN learn something new, leaves you with a huge sense of accomplishment and confidence.
“You Only Live Once.” This expression, used mostly by younger people, is a reincarnation of the 1960’s counter-cultural ethos. The idea is to experiment, be open to new ideas, new attitudes. Or, as people have credited to Christian writer and professor Tony Campolo, among others: “[Most people] tiptoe through life with no aspiration other than to arrive at death safely.”(Carpe Diem by Tony Campolo – 1995*)
Don’t want to keep on tiptoeing through life? Here are 22 ideas to help you shake up your routine with a new activity.
22 ideas for a new activity
1. Take an in-person class
A nearby college or community college is a good place to take continuing education classes. A local school district may even have an Adult School division that offers courses you’ll want to try.
2. Explore new topics with online courses
There are countless things you can learn about online. You might choose podcasts or classes from iTunes University and download information you can listen too while you’re driving, cooking or taking a walk. Check out tutorials on YouTube, Vimeo, Lynda, Teachable, Udemy, Skillshare or another platform. Many online courses are free or inexpensive. You can often download a sample lesson to see how you like the course material and teacher before you buy the whole series.
3. Start a new sport or other physical recreation
Right up there with doing something new to benefit the aging brain is doing physical activity. Why not double down and start a new exercise program? You might even enjoy yourself while also helping your brain!
4. Retreat, refresh, refocus
Sure, a girls’ weekend at a spa can be lots of fun. But you can do a smaller, cheaper retreat just by setting aside a day to step out of your routine and focus on YOU. You could get away to a hotel or B&B, or drive to a beautiful spot just for the day. Besides allowing yourself to unwind, you might want to journal or brainstorm ideas you’ve only dreamed about. There are plenty of online resources to help you plan a personal retreat. For starters, try A Guide to the Personal Retreat by Beck Tench or Retreat Day.
5. Volunteer in your community
Get outside yourself and turn your attention to someone else! This is a sure-fire way to shake up your routine and give you a new perspective. You can sign up for one-day projects like school or park cleanup days, or volunteer to help direct visitors at an annual event in your town. If you want to make more of a commitment, invest yourself in meeting other people’s needs. For example, lend a hand with tutoring at-risk kids, serve at a soup kitchen, or provide childcare for teen moms to work on their GED certificates.
6. Help a neighbor
This is easy because you don’t have to organize anything or sign up for a community project. Simply pay attention to your neighbors and help them out. Do you have an elderly neighbor who could use a little assistance running errands? Or one with a sick child who would appreciate a home-cooked meal? You might have a neighbor who’s lonely and would love receiving a visit from you.
7. Sponsor a child through an international relief organization
A small investment from you can make a big difference in the life of an impoverished child. Plus, you never know what might happen in your own life after you commit to a modest monthly gift to help a child far away. Sometimes a sponsor develops a keen interest in the country where the child lives. She might eventually travel there to learn and serve more. Some organizations even help you meet the child you sponsor. For example, Compassion International coordinates trips to connect sponsors with their sponsored kids. Other relief organizations that offer child sponsorship are Save the Children and World Vision.
8. Pay attention to your spiritual side
Maybe you got turned off by religion a long time ago. Or observing a faith tradition wasn’t something your family did. But it’s never too late to connect to something deeper. If you’re curious about an unfamiliar religion, or you want to check out the “Jesus church” your co-worker attends, take a risk. Ask questions, explore.
9. Take a break from electronics
Yes, it’s contradictory. There are so many resources online that can teach, encourage, connect and even challenge your views. But burying yourself in electronic devices leads to social isolation. Interact with someone face to face. You can take part in Sabbath Manifesto’s National Day of Unplugging, or just do it on your own. The point is to change your perspective, if only temporarily.
10. Create something
During your break from electronics, see if you can reconnect with a handicraft you used to do, or try a new creative pursuit. Sew, knit, build furniture, cook a new dish. The possibilities are endless.
11. Draw, dance, make music
Take an art or music class, learn to play a new instrument. Sign up for ballroom or square dance lessons. Besides being fun and another way to meet people, these things are — you guessed it — good for your brain.
12. Send a hand-written note
In the era of texts, emails and Facebook messages, we’ve almost lost the art of handwritten correspondence. Reinvigorate it: buy some new stationery or notecards and a nice pen. Send a note to express thanks, encourage, or just say hi. You’ll make the recipient’s day.
13. Reconnect with an old friend
It’s one thing to scan your Facebook news feed for updates on far-flung friends. But try sending a personal message, get their phone number and have a little chat to catch up. It may be awkward, sure. But you might see that you and your friend still have a lot in common. Or you might learn just the opposite. The insights will be interesting all the same.
14. Wake up one hour earlier for a week
I’ll admit it, this one sounded like a great idea. Until I tried it and found out it was hard. But when you force myself to set the alarm an hour (or even a half-hour) earlier, you get to enjoy unstructured time in your day. Time for yourself. Time to exercise, read, meditate, pray. At the very least, you can drink a cup of coffee from a real cup instead of a travel mug.
15. Meet with a personal stylist, then clean out your closet
Many department stores offer free personal shopper services, since they know it will result in sales for them. If you’re sick of your clothes, take advantage of this service. Or scour your local area for a personal stylist who will come to your home and help you sort through your closet.
I recently gave away all the pants and skirts I’d been holding onto “just in case” I ever lost enough weight to fit into them again. It was depressing to acknowledge my expanded waistline and the fact I’d never return to the size I had ten years ago. Nonetheless, getting rid of clothes that were taking up space and reminding me I wasn’t as small as I had been was strangely freeing. Besides, if I were to lose weight at some point, I’d feel justified in buying new clothes!
16. Experiment with a different diet
Choose to eat differently for a week, or two weeks, or a month. Don’t do it to lose weight — do it to see if you feel better. There are so many diets to try, each of which promises health benefits. Mediterranean, MIND, Paleo, Fast, Vegan and many more. Don’t make it all about the scale: take notes on your body’s response, your mood, energy level and so on.
17. Investigate your family history and genealogy
Did people in your family already collect a lot of data on your ancestry? If so, meet with them and find out what they’ve learned so far. Check out online sites like ancestry.com or geneology.com to start your own research.
18. Start a blog, podcast or vlog
You can start a personal blog with very little investment. Even if it’s no more than an online journal or way to record memories for family and friends, it can be fun to explore this communications medium. A podcast or vlog (video blog) requires more learning and investment upfront. But it can help you get your message out to the world while also developing new technical skills.
19. Travel without a plan
Most of your life, you’ve had structured vacation itineraries. School or work schedules have constrained your ability to travel for longer than a week or two. And you’ve had to plan and reserve hotels and transportation for most of your trip in advance. Now, even if you set start and end points for your trip, experiment with keeping the middle of it flexible. Don’t make reservations for every single day. See where your mood takes you.
If you’re the type who likes to have things planned out beforehand, this will be hard for you. But you may discover something you didn’t know about before — it’s worth a try.
20. Rent a home in a different community, or even a different country
This one has the prerequisite that you’ve retired or at least can work remotely. It’s the dream that’s recurred at various points in your life: to escape your everyday life and move to another place, maybe even somewhere far away. Now’s your chance! You can try out a house swap or work with a vacation rental agency in your country of choice. Make sure to check references and go with a reputable agency who can assist if there are problems. Even though you’ll miss comforts of home, living in a different place will yield life-long memories. Probably also a few new friends.
21. Explore a new country without leaving home
Even if you don’t have the time or money to live in a different country, you can choose a “country of the month.” Immerse yourself in internet sources, books, and documentaries on this country. Learn about its people, language, history and culture. Prepare its traditional foods and invite friends over to share what you’ve learned. Better yet, make this a project you do with a friend, and enjoy learning alongside one another.
22. Try one new thing for 30 days and record your experience
Plan your own month-by-month adventure. For inspiration, watch this 3.5-minute TED Talk by software engineer Matt Cutts. He’s the former head of Google’s web spam team and developer of Google’s family filter, SafeSearch. Now he directs the engineering team at United States Digital Service.
Matt’s message is that you can do pretty much anything consistently for thirty days. And that pursuing your personal “30-day challenges” helps you remember and appreciate your life, not just witness the months sailing by. He adds his learning that small changes can be the most sustainable ones and exhorts listeners to try it for themselves.
Your new activity awaits
So get out there and try something new. You might even chart out 6-12 months of “30-day challenges” for the coming year. It may lead you to something that gives you a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment. At the very least it will give you something new to talk about at cocktail parties.
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