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Challenge yourself to get happy

Ready for some emotional spring cleaning? "I Dare Me" author Lu Ann Cahn tells us how breaking out of her routine led to happiness.

You don’t know if you’ll love it until you try.iStock

Forget your broken New Year’s resolutions. With spring finally here, it feels like the real new year is just now beginning. If you’re ready to switch things up, Lu Ann Cahn — whose memoir “I Dare Me” recounts her year spent trying something new every day — shares how stepping into the unknown led her to happiness.

Failure is not the end

The hardest part of trying something new is the first step. But Cahn found that even when she didn’t succeed, the experience of stepping outside her comfort zone built courage, anticipation and readiness for more. “In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing or what would happen,” she says. “But almost immediately, I started feeling better. And the more I took risks, large and small, everything got better — life opened up.”

One thing leadsto another...

As she gained confidence in herself, the scope of Cahn’s goals grew beyond what she’d anticipated, like going back to school after age 40. Barriers like time commitment and initial difficulty no longer deterred her. “Before I started this journey, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to tackle [returning to college] because I was so stuck,” she says.

Don't assume you know what's going to happen

“There’s a whole buffet of life out there, and we keep picking at the same part every day without realizing we’re missing great experiences,” Cahn says. She thought she’d hate golf, but what she really never wants to do again is go to the opera. “We make judgments about things every day — someone asks you to do something, and you think, ‘I don’t feel like it, it’s not my thing’ — and that’s where we kind of miss out.”

Don’t be afraid to fly solo

Though her friends were supportive of her project, staying committed sometimes meant going it alone for Cahn. (There were no takers for a 10K mud run.) But that’s when things got interesting. “It’s good to venture off on your own because things happen differently when you’re by yourself,” she says. Like approaching people she wouldn’t have reached out to with a friend in tow: “My world expanded because of it.”

Reality check

When Cahn first started out, she had nothing to lose after her job of 20 years drastically changed in 2009. There was no room for doubt; moving forward was the only option. But even six years later, her old, cautious way of thinking hasn’t gone away. So, she came up with a counter-argument: “I have to remind myself, like anybody else, to say, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’”


Cahn had a speaking engagement in Palo Alto recently and decided to bring a frequent prop, a hula hoop, onto the plane with her. She wasn't sure she’d be allowed to take it past the ticketing desk but they waved her through, saying TSA would probably be a problem. But the security staff just scanned the hoop as any other piece of luggage.
 

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