Opinion: In with the new

A new year is as good a time as any to usher in the new and reap the harvest.

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. This was not what I was thinking last weekend as I wobbled on the edge of the 3m diving board at Moana Pool, a line of expectant under-10s behind me. I made myself jump before I had time to do anything other than register my fear, its ridiculousness and the need to jump now, or never.

Every homegrown Kiwi, as far as I'm aware, was born backflipping on trampolines and diving into pools. It is not much use, in my present environment, to have grown up playing in an orchestra and shopping for fun. Musical transposition skills don't help you cross rivers, remember to remove tomato laterals or skin goats.

If I look back on the decade and a-half that I've lived in New Zealand, I realise how much I have learnt. And unlearnt. I no longer really understand how to walk in high heels. Or why you'd want to. But I can chop a log. My mall stamina is waning, true, but I know stuff I never even knew I wanted to know about sheepies and horsies.

A new year gives new eyes, no matter how much we try to resist the calendared cliches. If I do have a resolution this year, it is this: be open to the new. My secret weapon in embracing this opportunity? The family.

My desktop background at the moment is a blackboard with two circles. The smaller one, low, to the left, has an arrow to ''the comfort zone''. The big bubble gracing the rest of the page is - you've guessed it - ''where the magic happens''. I'm happiest sharing that wide space with others in the experience. Which is how I persuaded my legs up those diving-board steps in the first place. Daughter in front, son behind. Part of my mind asking ''Why? Why? Why?''.

Why? Well, research shows that our minds, well, our brains, like to do new things, because it lets neurons hold hands in new formations. The connections that fire from trying something, anything, new, lead to more open, consolidated learning in the hours afterwards, which is one reason first-time experiences leave us feeling elated, alive.

True enough, unless, perhaps, you are me and learning to use Twitter, which leads to solitary angst, obscenities and wringing of cliches about what the world is coming to. I recommend diving boards over birdie words for that sense of wellbeing.

Shared experiences (and I don't mean it in the Facebook sense) can be of literally and figuratively immeasurable value to our brain development. There's this scientific idea about our brains empathising with each other's undertakings and behaviours, but there's nothing like partaking together. At least that's my very potted understanding of the quadsyllabic texts regarding mirror neuron activity. My brain would have sparked high-diving-board empathy synapses from just watching the kids jumping, would have used my knowledge and emotions to set up those neural pathways. But joining in makes those connections stronger, longer lasting. Here's a neuronerd cliche for that: ''Cells that fire together, wire together.''

Ringing in the new neuron activity is not necessarily about doing scary stuff, feeling the fear and doing it anyway. The new might be bringing compassion instead of rampant capitalism to the shared Monopoly games that always end in tears (or is that just in my house?). Learning to see and interact with things in a new way. Like in the very, extremely awesome Seung Yul Oh exhibition at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Walking around, you so want to touch the plastic balloons, the funny mouse and his matchsticks. Then you turn the corner to a sea of balloons and a beanbag riot and you can. Touch. Rush. Join the art. The day looks different afterwards.

Is it always the kids who are eager to jump in first and bathe in new experience longest? Why? Maybe because they're physically growing and changing, they're comfortable with both body and mind accepting new stimuli? You know, though, our brains continue wiring and rewiring after our bodies have stopped their beanpole ascent. And I'm glad the new year reminded me of that. I was otherwise in danger of being all grown up, sitting on the sidelines of the pool with a book. Always getting what I've always got.

- Liz Breslin. 

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