Curiosity, selfies and the comfort zone.

Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life
— Dr Linus Pauling, scientist and Nobel Prize winner

Today is the first of September and I've just spent fifteen minutes posing awkwardly with one arm outstretched trying to take a 'selfie'.  Trying to get the light right, and the angle right, trying to show the better bits of me without the not so good bits.  Trying to take a photo that I'm kind of happy with that I can post on Instagram to let others see.  Why? Because this month I'm playing along with the Fox in Flats Style Dare - one of those social media challenges.  It's a lot more fun than the Ice Bucket challenge but arguably less altruistic.  You can find out more about it here

Okay, so I'm playing dress ups, what's that got to do with psychology?  

Taking selfies and posting them on social media is not something I usually do.  I'm kind of shy and that level of personal exposure is well outside my comfort zone.  But this will be the second time I've participated in the challenge.  When I first discovered it in July I had a little conversation with myself that went something like this;

'Ooh that looks like fun!'

'No you can't do that.  You would have to post photos of yourself on social media sites that other people would see!  We're not comfortable with that.'

'But it looks like fun, you love dressing up'!

'I know but the photo thing makes me feel uncomfortable.  I don't like it.  People who know me might see.  They might think bad things about me.  Nup, can't do it.'  

'Ooooowww, but I'm really curious.  I'd really like to give it a go.'

'No.'

'Pffft, you're no fun!  I know, maybe we can just take photos that don't show your face?'

'Hmm, maybe....  That might not be so bad.  But I still feel kind of weird.'

'Please?'

'Ok, I guess I could try that. Just once.'

So I tried it and the conversation went like this...

'Look! People liked your outfit. There are little 'likes' next to your photo. Keep going!'

'Ugh, yes but tomorrow's dare is red lipstick. How do I do that without showing my face?'

But by now my curiosity was piqued.  I was getting positive reinforcement.  I kept going - for the whole month - picking out clothes, shoes and accessories, dressing according to the challenge of the day, taking photos, posting them, checking out other people's photos, 'liking' their looks and creativity.  I still felt awkward about it but I discovered exciting things that far outweighed the weirdness:

  • I found a lovely community of interesting, clever, supportive women with wonderfully varied styles and great smiles (I've yet to see a bloke join in).
  • I had fun being creative with my clothes, hair, makeup and photography - all things that I enjoy.
  • I was exposed to a new world of entrepreneurial people who are writing blogs, running their own businesses, doing the work/home/kids juggle, living their lives with verve. Flourishing.
  • It gave me an opportunity to interact with other people, even very briefly, on days when being a work at home/stay at home mum didn't provide other chances to do that.
  • I gained a great sense of achievement when I saw the whole challenge through for the month,
  • And I discovered (with a teensy bit of regret) that I really don't need any more clothes. 

So, back to the psychology bit...

Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new takes curiosity - a strong desire to know, learn or experience something.  It's often curiosity that gives you the impetus to take a shot at something that intrigues you but also make you uncomfortable.  Because curiosity, whilst usually seen as a positive trait, is fundamentally a state of anxiety.  When you're curious you are intrigued but unsure, interested but vulnerable, keen but uncomfortable at the same time.  You want to step outside that comfort zone but you're just not sure what you'll find out there.    

Todd Kashdan, an American scientist and professor in psychology has studied curiosity and found that people who felt curious and acted upon it reported high satsfaction with life and tended to engage in more happiness inducing activities - activities that lead to a long lasting sense of wellbeing rather that momentary good feelings - like expressing gratitude to others and volunteering to help. (You can find out more about Todd's book, 'Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to Happiness here)

It turns out that curiosity and stepping outside of your comfort zone may not be the easy path to take but it may be the path to greater happiness in the longer term.  It gives you the opportunity to learn new things, meet new people, change your perspective and improve your mood.

So what can you do to step outside or your comfort zone and exercise your curiosity?

  • Maybe make a pledge to try one new thing each day this week? Take a new route to work or home from the school run, maybe cook a new meal, schedule a meeting you've been avoiding or take a new class?
  • Think about out the times you have tried something new - what did you learn? How did it feel?
  • Think of something you've always been curious about and take one little tiny step towards discovering more about it (Google is great for this but you can read a book, make a phone call, talk to someone...)  See where it takes you.  
  • Today is the first day of a new month and there are hundreds of monthly online challenges that you can investigate and participate in.  Here are some ideas.  

As for me, I'm going to take that little step further outside of my comfort zone and put today's Style Challenge photo right here, on my blog, for you all to see.

Turns out you don't have to show your whole face :-)

What are you going to do to step outside of your comfort zone?

If you have other online challenges to recommend, post them in the Comments!