Routines are great.
But you never really know how your routine is working for you until you change things up.
Every week, I take a dance class (I’ve been doing this for years). And recently, my dance teacher went out of town. All of a sudden, an important — I would even say critical — part of my weekly routine changed. My dance classes give me structure. They give me something to look forward to. They give me an outlet, a way to separate myself from work, and a chance to reconnect with myself. And as a creature of habit, it was hard for me to know what to do with myself now that a meaningful part of my week was gone.
For a day or two, I felt a little unsettled, even disgruntled about it. My dance teacher wouldn’t be back for a bit, and so I could either sit around and mope about it, or I could prioritize doing things I always say I want to do but “don’t have time.” So I signed up for a ballet class. I booked myself an appointment with the chiropractor. And on Saturday, I treated myself to an afternoon at the spa — something I haven’t done in who-knows-how-long.
And as I was laying there, during my spa treatment, with a Vichy shower spraying down on me and washing away the past (haha), I had a very powerful moment of clarity about something I had been processing for weeks.
The fact that I was in a new place at a random time of day, doing something totally out of the ordinary, created space for my brain to process in a new way.
The best way to optimize your routine is to change things up.
People always talk about the importance of “changing things up.”
- Trying to write with your non-dominant hand to see what you create.
- Sleeping on the opposite side of the bed.
- Reading a genre you wouldn’t normally read.
- Driving a different route to work.
- Doing an activity outside of your normal schedule.
And yet, even though we all know there are benefits to breaking our routines, we still go on trying to find better, faster, smarter ways to do what we always do.
We like predictability. It gives us a sense of control and continuity.
This same idea applies to the workplace, and plenty has been written about the benefits of not working. In 2013, The New York Times published this great think-piece titled, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.” Then, in 2015, Harvard Business Review published a piece titled, “To Be More Creative, Become Less Productive.” These are all just different ways of saying: as much as we think optimization is the goal, sometimes taking a step back can help us see the bigger picture.
So, here are a few ways to “change things up.”
1. Don’t wait for life to make the decision for you. Break your routine intentionally.
The pandemic is an extreme example of how life can throw you a curveball and, in being forced to adjust, you realize how badly you needed to take a step back.
For example, the pandemic was the first time I really allowed myself to think differently about my work/life balance. (Anyone who has heard me talk about work/life balance knows I don’t believe it’s possible, by the way.)
Since everything during the pandemic has centered around the home, it created extra time and space to think about and do things differently. I used my house differently. I changed things up in my schedule. I realized there were things I could shift in my day-to-day that helped me feel more relaxed and believe it or not, at the same time, more productive.
And as soon as I made some of these changes, it felt amazing. And knowing it was possible to make those types of shifts also felt amazing.
So, why wait for a global pandemic? Or why wait for life to make that decision for you? The more you can make the intentional choice to change up your daily, weekly, or monthly routine, the more you can encourage those moments of personal growth to happen organically. You don’t need to change big things. It could literally be going and grabbing your morning coffee from a different coffee shop just so you can walk down a different street. Or instead of starting your day immediately diving into emails, turning on some music, and cooking yourself a nice breakfast.
Little things can make a meaningful difference.
2. Look at “routine breaks” as gifts, not obstacles.
How many times do you arrive somewhere, only to be told, “We’re not ready for you yet. You have to wait.”
The doctor’s office. A long line at the grocery store. Getting your car fixed.
Most of the time (if you’re like me), we see these moments as inconveniences to our schedule and routine. “Ugh, this is going to ruin my whole afternoon.” We immediately think of all the things this is going to impact, and how we’re going to be late to our next appointment or obligation, and how this is going to crush our productivity for the day, and so on.
But what if, instead of looking at these moments as problems and inconveniences, we look at them through a different lens, and recognize them as gifts.
After the fact, we can usually see how what originally seemed like an inconvenience might have been actually an opportunity to do something for ourselves we normally don’t have the time to do: call a friend, open a book, stop by somewhere fun for lunch, etc.
3. Use breaks in your routine to practice being present.
Think about the first time you moved to wherever you’re living now.
It was a new neighborhood. You were excited. There were so many new places to explore, things to see.
Now think about how accustomed to your neighborhood you’ve become.
Do you even notice those same things around you anymore? Or have you just fallen into your daily routine, repeating the same patterns over and over again?
When I walk my dog, Bernard, around my Venice neighborhood, when I’m feeling present and relaxed, I actually can tap back into that feeling of novelty and discovery that I experienced when I first moved to Venice from New York City. I was in awe of all of the different succulents, the funky and inconsistent architecture, the sounds of the birds, and on and on. Each walk felt like such a treat. And now, when I bring a consciousness to my walks, I can have that very same experience again.
One of the reasons I love traveling is because, when you travel, your whole routine gets broken. Everything around you is new. Your eyes are wide open, and you want to take it all in — which is the opposite of how I feel at home, where everything is “familiar.”
Well, you don’t have to travel to Greece to spark that perspective shift. It can be as simple as taking a different route home, going somewhere new for lunch, waking up earlier than normal to go for a morning run, etc. Or even as simple as bringing a more conscious, present you to a typical situation.
And when you become more present, you immediately feel connected to the joy of life again.