15 Reasons to Have More First Moments
While spending way too much time inside over the past week as the polar vortex descended on the Midwest, Heather and I started planning our summer bucket list. On the agenda are some classic favorites, such as camping trips with friends, beach days in Sleeping Bear Dunes, backpacking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and lazily exploring northern Michigan’s quaint coastal towns.
But a bucket list wouldn’t be complete without adding some new adventures into the mix. Routine has its benefits, but life—especially in adulthood—can get stale without the pursuit of more first moments.
Think about the last time you learned a new skill, hiked a new trail, visited a new country, or formed a new relationship. Recall what it feels like to expose your family to new experiences, and to see the wonder in your children’s eyes. These are the moments—“First Moments”—that make us feel alive, create lasting memories, and remind us that how we spend our days is how we’ll spend our lives.
Sometimes First Moments happen spontaneously and serendipitously. But in our experience, if we’re not intentional about planning for new experiences, then the inertia of the status quo will keep us trapped in our routines.
So grab a pen and a journal. Meditate a bit on whether you’re living the life you desire. Are you making room for zest and excitement? What are some things that you’ve been longing to do and experience, but haven’t found the time or gumption to pursue? First Moments aren’t only found on around-the-world adventures. The simplest moments, available in all seasons and right outside your front door, can be every bit as satisfying.
Need a bit of extra motivation? Here are 15 reasons to have more First Moments.
They create lasting memories.
A number of studies have been conducted in which older adults have been asked to recall their most vivid memories. Overwhelmingly, these memories relate to experiences that took place from ages 15 to 25. This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence bump.” Memories of middle age and the later stages of life are not nearly as rich and crisp. For most of us, it's because we stop engaging in as many First Moments as we did during our youth.
They slow life down.
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and author who studies how our brains perceive time. In an article in the New Yorker, he explains that our brains process familiar information quickly. But when new information is introduced, such as during a First Moment experience, it takes our brains longer to organize and synthesize the data, making the experience more memorable and time (appear to) slow down.
They fuel creativity.
When creative people get stuck, many will seek inspiration from new experiences. Da Vinci went for long walks in nature. Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond. When you try new things, you disrupts your brain’s normal patterns and can gain new insights. This stimulates creativity and allows you to see things in a new light.
They help us learn and grow.
There is a concept in psychology called the “mere exposure effect” that biases us toward familiarity. It’s a survival mechanism built into us as a result of our evolutionary past. Mere survival is far less a concern in our modern world, but we still tend toward familiarity. It’s what gets us stuck in the rut of routine, especially as we get older. But to grow we need to change, and to change we need to grow, which is best accomplished through trying new things at every stage of life.
They help us to develop passions, hobbies, and traditions.
First Moments lead to more meaningful moments. By trying new things we come to understand what we're passionate about, what we have aptitude for, and what brings our lives meaning. First Moments, therefore, often turn into lifelong traditions and hobbies. “Vita non est vivere sed valere vita eat” is a Latin phrase that translates to: “Life is more than merely staying alive.” We agree. Life is about having more First Moments.
They shift our focus from things to experiences.
Numerous studies have shown that the more people pursue materialistic goals, the less happy and satisfied they are in life. On the other hand, those who meet their basic material needs, and then prioritize having more experiences, are happier and more content. In fact, research proves that merely thinking about engaging in an experience, versus thinking about purchasing a physical object, leads to significantly more positive feelings.
They force you to grow.
Growth doesn’t come from thinking about something, it comes from doing something. Growth requires the taking of action, which can be scary, because it can be uncomfortable to expose yourself to new situations and people. And whether it’s playing a new sport or picking up a musical instrument for the first time, it’s hard because you’ll necessarily be bad at it before you can be good at it. But there’s only one way to become good at something, and therefore enjoy something, which is by taking the first step.
They bring joy to others.
As parents, we all want to leave a legacy of meaningful memories and traditions to our children and grandchildren. Generations to come won't remember us by the stuff we leave behind, but rather by the stories, memories, and lore that we generate during our lifetimes. Engaging in more First Moments allows us to leave an inheritance to our kids far more valuable and enduring than any physical good or financial bequest.
They help ward off regret.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse for many years, wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. In it she chronicled the regrets of those at the end of their lives. The most common regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Rarely do we regret the things we do as much as the things we never tried. By planning more First Moments into your life, you can age with contentment knowing that you left nothing on the table.
They create "pleasant" and "happy" anticipation.
First Moments are not only pleasurable "in the moment"—there's considerable happiness derived from the First Moment planning process itself. Research shows that planning for and anticipating an experience creates more feelings of happiness, pleasantness, and excitement than planning and waiting for a purchase of a material good.
They leave a residue of happiness in their wake.
Buying something often leads to "buyer's remorse." We regret our decision to consume almost immediately after making it. The opposite is true of new experiences. Research shows that our impression of experiences actually improves over time. We tend to overlook any negative aspects of experiences (those pesky mosquitoes at the campsite, for example) and accentuate the positive (time spent singing and storytelling around the campfire).
They foster relationships.
Studies have shown that there is a negative stereotype of people who are "materialistic," but a positive one of those who are perceived as "experiential." People enjoy spending time and conversing with people who elevate the importance of experiences over material things.
They keep our minds sharp.
Want to stay at the top of your game throughout life? Engage in more First Moments. Research shows that having new experiences and learning new skills is one of the most important factors in maintaining memory and cognitive ability throughout life. Taking on new challenges strengthens entire networks in the brain.
They help keep marriages fresh and exciting.
After having our twins, Heather and I implemented a weekly date night routine, and we have rarely missed a week over the last five years. One of the things we’ve found, however, is that the most fun and satisfying date nights involve trying new things together rather than defaulting to regular haunts for dinner and drinks. In light of our experience, it wasn’t surprising to learn that studies have found that couples who spend time jointly doing new and exciting activities are more satisfied with their relationships. Novelty of experience is a key to a successful, rewarding marriage.
They make you healthier.
In an article for CNN, cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus writes about the benefits of learning and trying new things, and the positive impact it has on health. According to Marcus, scientists have found that the pursuit of new and novel experiences correlates with lower cortisol levels, better immune function, and more efficient sleep.