Why you should do something every day that scares you

One of my favourite sayings, that I try to live life by, is “ Do something every day that scares you a bit.”

I am not talking about wild, adrenaline filled, acts of bravery, such as bungee jumping or paragliding. Nor do I recommend breaking rules or laws such as shoplifting, fair dodging or kissing someone that’s not your partner. I am talking about small, simple acts that nudge you out of your comfort zone … taking a different route to work, going for a walk without knowing your destination in advance, sitting in a different place in your living room to watch TV or around your dining table. Novelty is absolutely crucial to keep your brain healthy.

Unfortunately we are creatures of habit half of our lives and lived on autopilot. Our brains are lazy. The brain creates familiar neural pathways is in order to conserve energy. Habits streamline our lives freeing up time and energy to do more useful and interesting things.

However, habits can lead to a life where large chunks are run on autopilot. It’s liked you have checked out … not needing to be present, pay attention, focus or think. Unless you are careful, habits will control almost every aspect of your life including the clothes that you wear, the places that you go in your free time, your taste in food, where you holiday, the music you listen to and even your choice in partner.

Habits can also influence how you think and trap you in pessimistic or negative state of mind. If every time you look in the mirror your internal critic says “ Eugh, I need to lose weight” you will end up feeling bad about yourself. Your thoughts are directly connected to what you feel and how you behave . Habitual critical thought will make you feel negative, low and spiral downwards to the next negative thought.

Habits govern how we interact with everyone around us including ourselves. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do.” Habits arise when your mind is not fully engaged. A fail safe way to dissolve habits is to be mindful, bringing your focus back into the present moment and to mix things up a bit and do things differently. Curiosity makes the brain work harder. Challenge yourself, be playful and adventurous. Adopt a child like sense of wander in order to feel more alive.

I’ve always liked being a bit different and given a choice will always opt for the path less trodden. Going against the norm can feel frightening and exposing. In order to build confidence in yourself start small – if you usually put your socks on before your pants in the morning swap the order around! As you have small successes you can build up to big acts of novelty.

Putting my hand up to ask a question at the recording of BBC Question Time certainly got my brain and heart racing (Jonathan Dimbleby did not pick me.) I remember the fear as I signed up to raise money for a charity race. One of my most memorable shunts out of my comfort zone was the time I had dinner with a friend in a restaurant called Dans Le Noir . Visually impaired and blind waiters lead you to a pitch black dining room where you feel your way around the table and eat your food with your fingers. This experience was equally exhilarating and scary. My brain was challenged in so many different ways.

So help grow your brain power by creating a little bit of novelty today. Do something that scares you a bit!