Chasing Novelty

Running

I’ve been overly excited ever since I heard there might be a new iPad mini. This of course is not the first time I got excited over the prospect of a new gadget or toy. I’ve been experiencing the same feelings since I was a child anticipating the newest toy.

I can honestly say that it’s deep rooted into my being at this point. I still sometimes can’t wait to get home, so I open the box in the car.

What about you? What are the new things that you feel overly excited about?

This feeling of excitement of course is not limited to gadgets. It can be fashion, entertainment, home decor, diet and fitness, online trends, travel, software, information or even ideas and ideology. Anything that is new to us can cause these feelings.

  • But why do we feel this way?
  • More importantly, why do we keep seeking the same feelings knowing fair well that they won’t last?
  • And come to think of it, why don’t they last?

The allure of novelty

When we look for excitement in new things we’re basically dealing with:

A perceived dull present

We take what we have for granted. We stop seeing the wonder and beauty of our life as it is.

Things settle down and our initial enthusiasm for whatever we were experiencing becomes routine—normal and expected.

A desire to improve or feel happy

We often confuse happiness with thrill. Newness is thrilling. It stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. The term retail therapy is not without merit.

When we acquire new things or new experiences we feel more alive. Our senses are heightened and our elation adds a rosy color to life.

Sometimes we want to feel better by trying to fix what’s wrong with us or wanting to get better at something.

We think the new exercise equipment is all we need to get into shape. Or the new self-help book will heal our past and allow us to move forward.

But:

The feelings don’t last and the novelty wears off.

Why?

Because reality doesn’t measure up to the fantasies our minds conjure up. This is not a pessimistic view, but a realistic one.

The new exercise equipment will not motivate us to get into shape more than going for a walk or a swim at the community center’s pool.

The self-help book will not heal the past or improve the present with one aha thought or idea.

We expect magic from new things, but real magic lies within us, and how we use the tools (old and new) at our disposal to meet our needs.

The dangers of newness

Thrill and newness are fun—for a short while. But the fun comes with steep costs such as:

Lack of depth: Jack of all trades, master of none

When we keep chasing new things, we don’t spend enough time using what we have. We’re caught up in the wave of keeping up with trends and seeking new things. In the process we might gain a little bit of knowledge and experience—but not enough to excel at anything.

I believe with all my heart that true joy comes from doing things well. And to do something well we need to keep at it—over and over and over.

Doing the best we can with everything we do repeatedly is a sure way to mastery.

Mastery of one thing leads to a narrower and more contented focus. We put our energies and time into a few things that we do well. This is where we improve and we feel truly happy—not momentarily thrilled.

Constant yearning and struggle

There is nothing wrong with trying new things to see what we want to be good at. But at one point the yearning for new things can become the only skill we master.

If we’re always looking for something new we miss out on all the things that are right in font of us. We ignore the skills we have and struggle to find the one thing.

Take the example of fitness. We can keep looking for the newest trends in diet and exercise. Get an elliptical trainer, join a gym, watch videos, and keep reading books on the subject looking for the one thing that we can do.

What if instead we focused on the tools we have right now. If you don’t have any tools at home, put your shoes on and go for a walk. Do that enough times in a week and see what happens.

In the beginning you will resist. But as you keep at it, you will feel better and this will motivate you to do better. You do 10 minutes, graduating to 20, then 30 and so on. You master walking and you start paying attention to your surroundings as you walk.

Which is better?

  • Keep looking for the perfect system or just start walking?
  • Start gradually losing weight or keep reading and preparing for it?

The excess weight is not going to disappear by reading books and paying money for videos and a gym membership. Walking will. Replacing junk food with vegetables and fruits will.

I use this as a simple example but in today’s world we face so many new things on a daily basis. If it’s not at work, it’s online or on Facebook or on TV. There are new extreme sports, new travel adventures, new phones and tablets and so on.

And this brings me to the costliest of costs of novelty:

Confusing consumption with meaningful action

In an effort to feel that we’re doing something that’s moving us forward, we spend hours reading about something, or buying the tools that will get us there. But the reality is: we’re consuming either information or products and services. We’re not moving forward; we’re stuck!

How can you tell if you are consuming or taking action?

Check if you’re making progress or not. If the intention is lose weight or build strength, are you seeing visible results?

If you want to free yourself from the past, are you feeling more empowered and doing things that matter to you now? Or are you still waiting for the magic to happen?

We can’t kid ourselves for long. We can try though; and that’s why we keep chasing our tails experimenting with new stuff with no end in sight. And thinking we’re doing something that matters.

How not to be swept away by novelty

As much as I would like to think of myself as a conscious consumer I have moments of emotional weakness and I start looking for new things (like the possible iPad mini) to fill a need.

The best reminder before allowing the emotional consumption to take place is to pause and reflect on:

The constants of life—the things that don’t change

This is where the truth speaks up. Instead of focusing on the getting of something, I can look at what I need.

Our basic needs don’t change over time. We can’t live without air to breathe, food and water, shelter and clothing. We need love and connection. We have needs to be free and to express ourselves freely.

The needs can be met only through our own actions and emotions—not outside toy trends, or even people.

What makes us happy and contended is not accumulating stuff, places, or connections. It’s how we experience such things. It’s how we perceive, interpret, interact, understand, and remember the experience—all are internal processes.

That’s why two people can share the same circumstances and resources yet have different experiences and memories. This means what makes us happy is internal and is only relevant if it meets our needs and expectations.

Take my example of anticipating the new iPad. I can explore this desire further by asking:

Why do I want a new tablet?

The only answer I can think of is using the software I had on my older iPad that I sold and access to newer (more fun) apps. Do I need any of them? Not really.

What difference would this new purchase make in my life?

Am I going to become a better analyst, writer, or reader because of the new tablet?

Again not really. I might spend more time on it, but I can get the same stuff done on a computer without the added cost and probably more efficiently.

The main point is: we don’t need a lot of new stuff to take action and move forward in our lives. Most of us in this part of the world are blessed with so much.

What we can do instead is master our lives and work, using what we have, and enjoying the journey—a much better proposition than seeking momentary thrills and novelty.

There is nothing wrong of course with getting or experiencing something new if you can afford it, without sacrificing important priorities. And as long as you know it’s not going to make you feel better. It’s you that makes you happy.


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