Routines take shape and stick with us because they usually work. We stumble on something, refine the behavior, and perfect it until it becomes second nature. Sometimes, routines can be bad and unproductive, but normally they work for us in providing comfort and security, which makes us happier. Unproductive routines can be replaced with productive ones, when we finally figure out a system which works.
But success has its pitfalls. With a great routine comes the eventual erasure of the fun you had when finding it. The pioneering spirit goes out the window. So does the thrill of experiment. Uncertainty is usually uncomfortable, but certainty can become dull quickly if you don’t do anything with it.
It’s a bad idea to change a routine that’s successful just for the sake of changing it, but life might feel empty if you don’t blaze other trails.
Bad routines, meanwhile, can trap you in a cycle of misery.
When it comes to the good routines, it’s still essential to change them every once in a while, so long as those changes don’t affect your productivity, of course. Even small changes to your routines will make you a lot happier in the moment you’re experiencing the change. You’ll enjoy the small things much more if you’re doing something new or that you rarely do.
For example, try getting out of your neighborhood when you can and find things to do outside it. With some free time last week, I decided to vary my routine and go to places I don’t usually go to. Even if it was just transitory, I programmed myself to feel better.
Exploration is in our blood. We’re a species that can’t be happier doing the same thing over and over again than we would be if we had some variation in our lives.
For most people, the daily routine goes like this:
- Wake up and get ready to go to a job they hate.
- Drudge around and do repetitive tasks at the job they hate.
- Come home and watch TV.
- Go to sleep.
Little wonder why depression and anxiety are increasing! How can you escape this cycle, all the while getting rid of truly bad routines?
Find Remote Work
This won’t be something you can do overnight. It took me two years to transition from office to remote work. The dull side is that you have to keep looking for reliable, repeatable gigs. The bright side is that once you find them, everything you do is entirely on your own terms. You’re free to structure your day as you wish.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by work and your deadline is comfortably away, feel free to go out for a walk.
If you think you need a better environment to get your work done more efficiently, you’re now free to experiment to find one – or several.
The key thing here is that remote work gives you the opportunity to change up your daily schedule and activities to keep your mood and energy levels high.
Do Something a Little Different Every Day
Routine affects you more than in the big activities you do every day. You might find yourself walking the same streets and seeing the same things. Some of these things are probably comforting, but it can make your day feel like it’s just “normal.”
Try going a little bit out of your way when you don’t need to. You might find your mood uplifted.
Do you always leave the house at a certain hour of the day? Why not try leaving at a different hour and see how things are different? Small changes might have a big affect on your mood. You might perceive something differently in the morning than in the afternoon.
Do you mostly eat the same food? This might actually be a positive routine, since eating the right kinds of foods consistently will give you benefits I don’t need to describe. Eating them constantly might get boring, however. There are only so many times you can eat lean chicken without getting tired of it, after all. That’s why you should get a spice rack.
Overall, try and look at different aspects of your daily activities and think about the things you might be able to change to get a new experience. New experiences inevitably leave greater impressions. If you have a whole string of new experiences every day, you’ll have a psychologically satisfying year.
The thing about routine is that it’s sometimes invisible. You do it so often that it’s quite simply a matter of muscle memory. This can either help you or harm you, depending on the usefulness of the routine. The key is to recognize a routine and figure out whether it’s useful and how you can break it, even if only temporarily, to have a different experience.
When you’re outside, think about the landmarks you routinely come across. Perhaps it’s time for you to take a different route.
If you’re working, think about the things that come to you automatically. Do they help or hurt you? Can you vary them to see if you’ll be happier? Can you start eating new foods? Is there a new exercise you can add to your workout in lieu of something else so it gets less boring?
Most people won’t think about these questions actively. By doing so, you’ll be a step ahead in maximizing your productivity and increasing your happiness.