1. Go from fearful… to stunt pilot. Shy and fearful as a kid, Cecilia Aragon was 11 when she learned to bicycle, and when she climbed a ladder, her fear of heights made her break into a sweat. “What I kind of realized was that if I was going to do anything, I had to expand my comfort zone pretty dramatically. I started doing that,” says Aragon, whose fear-smashing breakthrough came as a grad student when she rode in a four-seater Piper Archer plane and a friend handed her the controls. She marveled as she steered the plane (with the friend’s help) over the Golden Gate Bridge and California coast—and upon their landing, she signed up for pilot classes. “I was in heaven.”
Despite her 5-foot-2 frame requiring a booster seat in typical planes, she became an aerobatic pilot so good at low-altitude loops and spins that she won trophies and competed in the World Aerobatic Championships. “I feel the fear; it’s just that I use it. I use it to make my flying sharper rather than paralyze me.”
A bonus side effect: Completing her doctorate and applying for a university academic position didn’t seem scary compared to flying headlong toward the ground and potentially ending up in a fireball. She went on to work for NASA and heads the Scientific Collaboration and Creativity Lab at the University of Washington.
Guzman recommends the practice, “though it may not be as refreshing and important for others as it was for me. I think it depends on how sucked in you feel to your digital life, and how confident you are that you have control over it.”
7-11. Find a new hobby associated with physical movement, such as painting, dancing, learning a musical instrument, perfecting your voice or learning to type. Neurons that fire together grow together; there seems to be some kind of connection between thinking great thoughts and doing something with your feet, mouth or body, Hall says. These types of things have a real blunting effect on more serious disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, the physician adds.
14-15. Create a major concrete goal requiring many incremental ones, such as running your first marathon while training to climb Denali (Alaska’s Mount McKinley). Witness what San Francisco-based venture capital investor and triathlete Gordon Ritter is doing. By getting out of his comfort zone, he clears his mind of the details of everyday life, fostering new ideas and “aha” moments. “We sort of trip through life doing what’s right in front of us,” says Ritter, a cloud investor, entrepreneur and founder/general partner of Emergence Capital who previously rowed crew while at Princeton and summited Aconcagua in the Andes.
“Most people look at mountains and think: There’s no way I can do that. These mountains are so ominous,” but he says climbing drives home the lesson that a mountain is one big slope that requires putting one foot in front of another—just like accomplishing big goals in business can be, metaphorically speaking.
Ritter’s training regimen also includes strapping on a backpack and getting on the Stairmaster set for high resistance for an hour and a half. He also plans to tie a tractor tire to his waist and drag it around. “I continue to find ways to get out of my comfort zone,” he says. If you go too long without pushing boundaries, “you do get stale.”
16. Brush your teeth while standing on one leg. “It gets you to balance,” says SUCCESScontributing editor Mike Roizen, M.D., who is the Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer and co-author with Mehmet Oz, M.D., of the best-selling YOU series of books. Make sure to do it in a safe environment where you won’t fall (not on a slippery tile floor).
18-19. Get creative: Try a new recipe. Take an art class. When confronted with a problem, don’t stress out; think creatively about how to solve it. There isn’t just one specific type of creative person, says researcher Nicholas Turiano, and you can become more creative just by trying new things. “Keeping the brain healthy may be one of the most important aspects of aging successfully—a fact shown by creative persons living longer in our study,” says Turiano, who is a National Research Service Award postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s psychiatry department. His study, published in June in the Journal of Aging and Health, found a link between a longer life and creative thinking and openness. “It is likely that those individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age. And since the brain is the powerhouse or command center for all functions in the body, there is definitely an advantage to continually exercise the brain—which is a hallmark of those high in creativity.”
25-26. Get close. We love our families, but it’s easy to let day-to-day busy-ness come between us. Your teens may even prefer it that way. Schedule time for activities that would foster conversation—take a hike, build something together. And make sure to schedule a date night with your spouse.
28-29. Change up your daily routines, like reading the paper and checking email and Facebook in the morning, says Waitley, who saves those activities for the evening and instead launches into the day’s most important tasks. “I’m basically a morning person, so I try to jump into what I really love in the mornings and sort of ease down and in the evenings relax,” he says. “Most people waste the first few hours of the day.”
30-31. Take an improv class or ceramics class. Philadelphia-based career strategy consultant Cathy Goodwin started both classes to learn new skills, “not realizing how hard they would be.” But she says the experiences have been great—just make sure to seek out supportive instructors or colleagues. “Realize that while you’re learning, your confidence will be lower. If you just don’t have talent for something, you can be frustrated for a very long time,” she says. “I’ve never been good with my hands and my ceramic objects still look like something most people could do in third grade.” Her ceramic sneakers, however, were “a huge breakthrough.”
Trapeze classes help the mind and muscles; by turning around and doing quick maneuvers, it builds memory, Roizen says.
“It’s really uplifting just to get over that fear a little bit,” says Kesner, who works in the pre-press industry. “It’s a buzz, a real adrenaline rush. Everyone should give it a try.”
37. Power nap. Napping may seem outside the comfort zone if no one else at work does it, but it brings dividends: 20 minutes boosts alertness, 30 minutes helps you feel physically recovered and 50 minutes heightens creativity, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleep expert and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan.
38. Talk on the phone while walking on a treadmill. “When talking on the phone like this, I can go 3.3 mph at two degrees,” Roizen says. He can write while walking at about 1.7 mph, and he can read at about 1.9.
39-43. Give! Volunteer at a local school or nonprofit or do other good deeds. Share a batch of brownies with your neighbors. Hold the door for someone, let another driver proceed ahead of you, make bouquets from your garden for co-workers. Giving induces feel-good endorphins.
44. Try karate. Lee Lasris normally goes for low-risk, low-impact sports such as tennis, golf and bowling, but, at age 60, he wanted more excitement and switched to GoJu Karate. A surgeon friend was taking a class and had dropped weight and looked great. “I said, ‘That’s for me,’ ” says Lasris, a lawyer in Davie, Fla. He’s suffered a broken rib and broken toe (twice). But he looks forward to the twice-a-week class, which starts with calisthenics and involves putting on gloves to spar. “I feel like I’m in better shape today than 10 years ago,” says Lasris, who is now 62 and hopes to get his black belt by age 70. “We’re having a great deal of fun. I love the confidence it gives me.”
45-49. Climb a mountain. Steven McCraney lives almost at sea level in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., but the real estate developer is on a quest to climb The Seven Summits, the highest peaks of seven continents. He already scaled Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro and recently trudged to the top of Aconcagua in Argentina, the Western Hemisphere’s highest mountain at nearly 23,000 feet. Forty-two people started the 24-day trek, but near-hurricane-force winds and temperatures of 30 degrees below zero near the top proved too much for many. Just three guides and three climbers reached the peak, including McCraney, 52, a climber for only five years. “You feel pretty humbled and small when you look around and you’re at the highest point in the Andes. It was just a great life experience,” he says.
His training routine generally included a one-hour spinning class four days a week and an hour of running before or afterward, plus swimming laps as his departure neared. He also trained with a team of guys who met a couple of times a week to climb the steps of his 20-story office building—adding a backpack and 10 additional pounds each week until each eventually carried 50 to 60 pounds. McCraney hopes he’s inspiring his three daughters to explore life to the fullest. “I think it’s important to show them that not only are some things possible but everything’s possible.”
50. Try “The Nap-a-Latte.” Drained by a 60-hour-plus workweek? Sleep expert Breus often recommends this: Drink quickly a small cold cup of drip coffee (it’s high in caffeine), then nap for 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll get enough ZZZs to lower your sleep drive before the caffeine kicks in. “You are good for about four hours,” Breus says. (Don’t do it within eight hours of bedtime, or you could have trouble sleeping.)
In the end, remember: Keep your mind open to change all of the time, Dale Carnegie advises. “Welcome it. Court it. It is only by examining and re-examining your opinions and ideas that you can progress.”