I was momentarily blinded by brightness as I pulled myself up over the edge of the ice cliff, each gloved hand clutching an ice pick that I had hacked into the ice. I had been face-to-face with the subdued blue of the ice for what felt like an eternity, but suddenly, here I was. I had made it to the top. My reward was seeing the setting sun glinting off the almost flat surface of the glacier.
"I can't believe this is my life right now," I thought, as I marveled at the glittering ice, perched at the precipice of this ever-changing force of nature. I considered the individual choices that had led me here, to Iceland, ice-climbing for the very first time.
I can't believe this is my life right now.
I never imagined that I could be this adventurous person, doing something as new and daring as this. I've gotten a few tattoos and I've gone airborne with a flying trapeze artist, but connecting with great forces of nature was totally outside my comfort zone.
Now, here's the truth. The single biggest factor that got me on top of that glacier was my sister. She was the one who booked my flight. She was the one who had voiced the idea of hiking on a glacier. She was the one who had peer pressured me into actually climbing the damn cliff.
But with all her prodding, I was the one who ultimately said yes to all these things. I ultimately converted these choices into reality, and I have to give myself a teensy bit of credit for that.
What I've experienced is that it takes energy to do new things. The idea is simple, and as I write it, it sounds painfully trite. But this reluctance to expend extra energy is one of the biggest excuses people give themselves to avoid going into the unknown.
Even down to the moment my glacier guide was placing those ice picks into my hands, I was thinking, "I can't learn anything new right now."
Why? Because learning new things, going to new places, trying new activities--these require us to actually pay attention to what's right in front of us, lest we fall on our figurative and literal faces! This wrenches our focus away from what we "need" to do or who we "have" to be (Atlas, Mother Theresa, and Beyonce, all at the same) and puts it squarely on our very next step.
How many times have you postponed trying something you knew you'd enjoy, simply because you have "too much going on right now"? Okay, so maybe you do have a hell of a lot going on. You've got people who count on you. People who you're committed to supporting, teaching, nurturing, empathizing with, or nurturing. People who you need to be there for. Not to mention the immediate things you need to do to be the best helper/carer you can possibly be--which may very well be to conserve as much energy as possible! You feel the need to stay in, go about your normal routine, whatever takes the least amount of energy, because any brain or body power that goes towards anything that's novel might require resources that you fear you've already spent, or that you can't afford to spend.
At least that's how it was like for me.
I know this is scary, but your people and your world will not disintegrate into the ethers if you shift your focus for a moment.
That bit of challenge, that bit of novelty is what promotes growth. When we put ourselves in new environments or situations, our bodies and minds are forced to adapt on a cellular and neurological level. The new brain and body connections that form as a result pave our way to new habits, behaviors, and emotions. Neuroplasticity at its finest, y'all.
Basically, experiencing new things actually develops our capacity to change the way we participate in and experience life. We all have not-so-healthy behaviors, thought patterns and moods that linger past their welcome, and relationships that don't help us but that we stay in out of habit. Any kind of lifestyle change implies growth on a systemic level, but without taking some form of risk by embracing unfamiliar experiences, we would stop growing--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
That's why I'm so grateful for my sister's prodding, because I honestly don't know if I'd have been able to take such a perception- and routine-shattering trip to Iceland if it weren't for her steady energy pushing me forward.
You wanna know how I felt after I climbed that glacier?
Empowered, because doing something so novel gave me a fresh perpsective of myself. I am now the "type" of person who climbs glaciers. I am now someone who can overcome fear and stagnation. I am now someone who wants to learn how to rock climb--which is something I never knew about myself.
I also felt energized, which was a surprise. Yes, it took energy to learn/try this new thing, but I got even more energy back. Hiking on this glacier and climbing this ice cliff was my absolute favorite part of the whole trip. It made me think, move, and feel in totally new ways, which freed up physical and mental resources that I forgot I had. My usual routine hadn't given me a reason to access these resources in months. Years, even.
These novel experiences that bring us self-awareness, empowerment, and energy are what people in my field refer to as "healthy risk-taking". Yes, you are taking a risk whenever you try something new, or even when you try something old in a new way. And yet these risks are healthy, because they challenge us to grow.
What you are in control of is choosing which risks to take. Which risks will challenge you to grow into the person you're meant to be? Take responsibility for where your energy goes.
Start small if you have to. Book that ticket. Save that date. Do some research. Re-vamp your dating profile with a dose of honesty. Apologize. Drive to the redwoods one weekend. Sign up for that class. Take a few steps down that road less taken.
Perhaps Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD says it best:
"The fact is you really do not know in many situations what you are capable of doing at any particular moment. You might surprise yourself if you took on a problem, just for fun, and tried something new, even if you didn't know what you were doing and even if you inwardly doubted your ability to do it... However if your beliefs and attitudes, your thoughts and feelings are always producing reasons for not taking on new challenges, for not taking risks, for not exploring what might be possible for you at the limits of your understanding and your beliefs, for not looking at what the entire scope of a problem might be and at your relationship to it, then you may be severely and unnecessarily limiting your own learning, your own growth, and your ability to make changes in your life."
I will never see that glacier in the same way again. Even if I go back in a year, it will have melted some, reshaped itself, with new cracks and crevices forming a new latticework across its surface. But that's okay, because I won't be the same, either. Will you?