In this blog post I want to talk about the natural high we get from experiencing new things, overcoming challenges and also in true nnoodl style, embracing the unexpected. Interspersed with the usual smattering of themed song choices of course!
Each of us has our own “comfort zone” which, more than an actual place, is a psychological/emotional/ behavioural construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in your comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree. Creating a comfort zone is a healthy adaptation for much of our lives. But so is stepping out of our comfort zone when it’s time to transition, grow, and transform.
But experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing, too. If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cosy, you may be missing out on quite a lot, maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks. And looking at the bigger picture of life, if you can’t step out of your comfort zone you may experience difficulty making change or transitioning, growing, and ultimately, transforming; in other words, all those things that define who you are and give your life personal meaning.
Very simply, what we fear most about challenging ourselves is that we may fail and/or get hurt in the process. But truth be known, most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion, overcome hurdles and obstacles, and actually succeed in accomplishing something new and challenging. So for my first song, it's '11am (Daydreamer)' by the rock band 10 Years who challenge the concept of the comfort zone... (Speaking of challenges, this video seems to keep changing location, so may be worth a 'Google'!)
The Neurochemicals of Happiness
Life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience. Our biology insures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has a plethora of self-produced neurochemicals that turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve them. Let's look at some of our brain molecules that are linked to happiness and simple ways you can trigger their release in your daily life.
Through daily physicality and other lifestyle choices we have the power to make ourselves happier. One of the side-effects of living in a digital age is that we are increasingly removed from our physicality and each other. Our biology is short-circuiting. The balance of neurochemicals that evolved for millennia has been disrupted by our modern lives, making us more prone to depression, anxiety and malcontent.
I've always been someone who is more naturally drawn to artistic and creative subjects, but I find the science behind what happens in your brain from different activity quite fascinating. So here is some insight into what goes on...my secondary school science teacher would be proud (if a bit surprised) at my enthusiasm for science :)
Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”
Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.
Recent studies have shown that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for the so-called 'runner's high'. A BBC documentary recently carried out a mini-trial to test this theory. They recruited three volunteers from local running clubs who did a 30 minute run. Small blood samples were taken before their run, immediately after the run and also at 15 minutes and 1 hour afterwards. Professor Dave Barrett and Dr Catherine Ortori in the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy analysed the samples and recorded an average increase of 30% of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream of the volunteers. Now that's got to be a good enough reason to go for a run?
Time for a short musical interlude and this one came to mind, a REAL blast from the past! Well, having said that, it was resurrected much to my delight in the recent film 'La La Land'
Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule”
Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking. Every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. When we get something we want, whether it’s a promotion, an ice cream, or a kiss from a loved one, our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is also often known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it does just that.
There is also evidence that people with extraverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than people with introverted personalities. To feel more extroverted and uninhibited try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life, and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them. Goal setting is something I will be covering in my next blog in more detail, but in the meantime, here's a classic from Bon Jovi. It's a song I often have in my head when I have a big challenge coming up - I love the line "I just wanna live while I'm alive"...
Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule”
Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.
In a cyber world, where we are often ‘alone together’ on our digital devices, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and ‘tribal’ connections within your community. Working out at a gym, in a group environment or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin.
This is something that I have also found that people react well to in my nnoodl events. So often people have been waiting to try a new activity but have been depending on friends who aren't available to join them. The one thing that all of these events have in common is a group of people coming together with the same interest - trying new things with interesting, like-minded people. A lot of the comments I receive after these events is how people have perhaps been nervous about coming along on their own, but leave having forged new friendships.
So many songs could have been appropriate for this dopamine rush that comes from being with groups of supportive people. It reminded me of choosing music for the 'stings' of music that would be played as people would walk onstage to as they collect their awards to at some of the big events I have worked on. These really are moments that are very special and emotional, as people are surrounded by loved ones cheering on their achievements. Here is one that reminded me of the 'Place2Be - Wellbeing in Schools' Awards where I met some truly inspirational people...
Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule”
Serotonin plays so many different roles in our bodies that it is really tough to tag it. For the sake of practical application, let's call it “The Confidence Molecule.” Ultimately the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness and create a sense of belonging. To increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Being able to say "I did it!" produces a feedback loop that reinforces behaviours that build self esteem and make you less insecure, creating an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.
I can totally identify with this one, as I feel at my best and most confident when I am challenging myself to new things. OK, so cycling across the Andes might seem a bit extreme in terms of day-to-day challenges, but this type of feeling is very easily replicated. When I am feeling a bit under par I know it is time to try something new, take the recent example of my trapeze skills workshop, which left me feeling exhilarated. Again, definitely something which nnoodl embraces - get out there and feel the rush from trying a new challenge!
Another classic from the 80's here, and worth it for the oh-so-cheesy video that I had forgotten about.
But I am balancing it with something a bit more recent from the inimitable Eminem and 'Lose Yourself' which is a favourite of mine for some pre-challenge energy. It is an anthem to hard work and 'carpe diem'.
Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule”
Adrenaline, technically known as epinephrine, plays a large role in the fight or flight mechanism. The release of epinephrine is exhilarating and creates a surge in energy. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles. An ‘adrenaline rush’ comes in times of distress or facing fearful situations. It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous.
A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximising your human potential. This doesn't need to be throwing yourself out of a plane, skiing down a black run or swimming with sharks, however - it can be the smallest push to do something different.
Again, cue nnoodl where your challenge can just be the fact that you are putting your destiny in someone else's hands (mine!). When I did my own research for nnoodl, I used one of these little things below to randomly choose my activity for that weekend. I ended up kayaking down the Thames at 4am, climbing over the O2 Centre (with a stag doo!), becoming a barista, and creating a graffiti artwork.
Was I apprehensive about doing these things? Always. But how did I feel afterwards? Amazing!
So let's sign off with a feel good song that embraces the sentiment of trying something new and surprising yourself, with this one from Jack Garratt. Definitely another one worth watching for the video as they track a group of individuals as they challenge themselves. On that note, if you feel inspired to surprise yourself, we still have some early bird places left on the next nnoodl adventure on Saturday 10th March. So go to www.nnoodl.co.uk/the-packages.html and select the 'Mad March' event. Enter the code SURPRISE30 to get a whopping 30% discount off this full day event.
I promise there is nothing scary about it!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.