When you think "summer," do you think about life slowing down, maybe even getting a bit boring? Nancy D. O'Reilly, a clinical psychologist and women empowerment expert, wants MORE for you. She wants you to have a big, bold, brave, passionate summer.
O'Reilly, along with 19 other successful women, cowrote the book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life, and she says the one thing the authors all have in common is their courage and sense of adventure.
She wants each of us to have it, too. Personally, I'm all for it! I'm about to celebrate a milestone birthday and 25 years of marriage, and, along the way, I've settled into some pretty deep ruts.
First, there are some health reasons to get out there and try new things. A recent CNN article suggests that exploring new hobbies and discovering new interests may stave off memory loss. Stepping away from the TV and trying new activities also likely means more physical activity, which carries many health benefits.
O'Reilly says there are also big benefits to our relationships and our personal sense of fulfillment. When we exist and endure instead of approaching life as an adventure, we miss out on lots of fun and we squander our full potential.
Here are O'Reilly's seven tips to help you wring every drop of joy and excitement out of this summer (along with some added commentary from me):
Don't waste the weekend. Make the most of your weekends by rising early(ish) and spending your time purposefully. Set a goal for every weekend to do something you've never done before, whether it's visiting a new state park, learning a new sport, throwing a neighborhood block party or just cooking a new type of cuisine. "Accept the fact that these types of activities almost never happen on the fly—you need to talk to your family and decide in advance how you want to spend each weekend," O'Reilly says. (My husband and I have started our list: walk on the beach and watch the sunset from the pier, pick berries or peaches at a nearby farm, invite new friends to dinner, play tennis, ride bikes, go hot air ballooning, work on landscaping the backyard. That'll take care of a few weekends!)
Get out of your vacation rut. Are you going to a certain beach this summer because, well, that's what you always do? Even if you thoroughly enjoy a familiar destination, consider making plans to visit a new place this summer. For example, instead of the beach, think about renting a mountain cabin or taking a road trip. "Vacationing in a new place will be a treat for your brain, your eyes, your taste buds and more," O'Reilly says. "It's fine to use some of your vacation time to rest and rejuvenate—but be sure to plan a few adventures too." (I'm aiming for Italy in the fall, but there's a road trip to a wedding and maybe a trip to New York before then, and, if I'm lucky, a weekend at the beach … can't totally give up my R&R tradition.)
Find creative day-trip destinations. Imagine a 100-mile radius around your home. Chances are there are more fun places and events in that radius than you can cram into one summer: hiking trails, historic sites, lakes, new restaurants, museums, community theaters, festivals and more. "You may be surprised by what your area has to offer, and by how much it has grown and changed while you've been stuck in a rut," O'Reilly says. (I once had a friend who liked to pretend she was a tourist in her own city. I especially remember the whale watching outing she organized. I currently live in Virginia, where there are beaches, mountains, historic sites, wineries and festivals galore.)
Learn a fun new skill. The pace of daily life does tend to slow in the summer. Take advantage of longer days and more relaxed schedules by taking time to learn something new. Sign up for a class, join a club or ask a friend to share her expertise. "Your new skill could be kayaking, target shooting, water skiing, mountain biking, yoga, woodworking, or even skydiving," O'Reilly says. "If you're not at least a little nervous about what you've chosen to do, move on to something else. Remember, the idea is to challenge and exhilarate yourself—and that won't happen if you're not stretching beyond the boundaries of what feels comfortable." (I have a 70-year-old woman friend who has promised to teach me how to paddle board. Can't wait!)
Do at least one thing to give back to your community. People who care enough about others to volunteer their time, talents and treasure are the kinds of people you want to meet. Giving back enhances gratitude and contentment and can even reduce stress levels. So whether your "cause" is homeless animals, adult literacy or clean water, get involved this summer. (I think it's time for me to schedule another blood donation.)
Make a point to meet new people. If you have kids, you know they'll make friends during summer camps and activities—and you should try to do the same. If you're putting the preceding tips into practice, you'll already have dozens of new people in your orbit. You might also attend networking events, get on a new team at work, introduce yourself to familiar faces at the gym, and respond "yes" to more social invitations. "I would especially encourage you to seek out other women," O'Reilly urges. "Women inherently know how to make satisfying, mutually fulfilling connections. Most of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we just don't make it a priority to connect with other women. But when you're purposeful about doing this, your life will become richer, more exciting and more creative." (I'll admit this can get hard for empty nesters, and especially for those of us who work from home. Maybe the paddle boarding or biking will help me connect with some health-minded new friends.)
Maintain a spirit of joy and gratitude. There's one important caveat when it comes to stretching your boundaries and planning an exciting, adventurous summer: You must approach this goal with a positive, open attitude. Otherwise, your plans won't feel any different from your uninspiring to-do list, and they definitely won't help you to take your power and reach your potential. "The good news is, a significant amount of our happiness comes from the ways we perceive our world—and we can choose to have an attitude of gratitude," O'Reilly says. "Every time you learn something new, receive a new opportunity or learn a new skill this summer, allow yourself to savor the moment and say thanks. You'll find that your joy levels steadily rise—and that you are more and more excited to expand your world." (My yoga teacher reminds us of this at the end of each class, and I'm grateful for Dr. O'Reilly's tips. Now to put them into practice for my big, bold passionate summer!)
About Nancy D. O'Reilly, PsyD: She is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker and women empowerment expert, O'Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. She devotes her energies to fulfilling the mission of the Women Connect4Good, Inc., foundation, which benefits from her writing and speaking services. O'Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website. For more information, please visit www.drnancyoreilly.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.