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Five Ways to Break a Routine: How You Can and Why You Should

Five Ways to Break a Routine: How You Can and Why You Should

Derived from Old French, meaning “road,” routines give us the means to get from one place to another. But they are, by their nature, unimaginative. Routines are “performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason,” as stated by the Oxford English Dictionary. Tasks performed by computers are called routines, specifically because they are exactly the same…each and every time.

Our thoughts constantly streaming across the billboard of our minds inform both our words and actions. They are the underlying code governing our emotional, physical, and social selves. Because routines offer shortcuts to our heavily taxed brains, we rely on thought patterns to simplify our lives. We need some routines to keep ourselves sane. For example, if I don’t put my keys in the same place every day I frantically search my pockets, countertops, and sometimes the cheese drawer. But most routines can use a reboot every now and again. If we want to invite more joy, laughter, purpose, and meaning into our lives, we’ll need to challenge our shortcuts and regular operating procedures.

Here are five ideas to try:

See advocates, not adversaries: Each of us encounter tough situations–at work or at home. A call to the cable company, for instance, can be maddening. Our brains are ready to go to battle to get what we want. But, what if instead of focusing on what we want to get, we focus on what we want to give? Thinking, “I want to be that customer service reps best call of the day,” can powerfully impact how we enter the conversation and what we invite as a result. With a difficult co-worker, we might shift a thought like, “I have to deal with him today” to, “how can I design a partnership with him so we both get what we want?”

Exchange judgment for curiosity and understanding: Otherisation is a word coined by neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor. It’s the process by which we box people different from ourselves into classifications, making it easier for us to think of them as deficient. This happens in small ways, like assuming the guy in the BMW is an arrogant jerk, or the starlet that has a nose job is vain. But it also happens in much more serious contexts. Like when we assume everyone who says his or her prayers to Allah is a terrorist. Becoming mindful when an assumption gets in the way of seeing the humanity of another person as equal in importance to our own starts with the effort to learn more before pronouncing judgment.


Find a different question:
Einstein’s definition of insanity, though a bit cliché, is an important reminder as we seek to break our thought-routines. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” This easily applies to the questions we ask our families, friends, co-workers, and children. If we’re frustrated by the answers we’re getting, we have two choices: remain frustrated, because the answer isn’t within our ability to control, or examine the question we’re asking. What do we really want? Are we frustrated because we can’t get a promotion or annoyed that the kids keep leaving their coats on the floor? What’s behind the frustration? Is it really the promotion or is it about wanting to do challenging, meaningful work? Is it really the coats on the floor or is it something else?

break routine

Challenge our senses: In yoga, we practice paying attention to our bodies and our breath. We allow the instructor to cue us, in turn being reminded to think slightly differently about where we are–mentally and physically–within each pose. As we go about our daily lives, challenging ourselves to notice little things, and to do so with more than just our eyes or ears opens up a much broader experience. What are you seeing? Hearing? Smelling? How does the wind taste? What’s the quality of the light? How would you describe the way the sun looks right now? How does it feel when the sweat drips off your warm skin onto your mat? We can allow ourselves the moment, counting two or three breaths, and drinking in the experience as if it’s the last one we’ll have on earth.

See something, say something: This idea is most often used in the context of seeing something suspicious and saying something to an authority. But it’s just as–if not more–useful in reminding us to catch a fellow human in a moment of beauty and say something about it. A stranger once stopped me at Target to tell me she loved the way I was talking to my infant son. That was seven years ago, and I still remember. Amanda Palmer, alt rock icon, was a street performer for years. In her TED talk, viewed more than eight million times, she says, “so I had the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks, and we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit. And my eyes would say – ‘Thank you. I see you.’ And their eyes would say – ‘Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.’” We can all be a little kinder, a little bolder, a little more able to see the good, and to find a way to communicate it with a smile, a word, or even allowing our eyes to meet for an extra moment without looking away.

The definition of routines offers an important clue about their nature and purpose in our lives: “Performed as part of a regular procedure, rather than for a special reason.” We don’t want to live a regular life, where one day we wake up and it’s all passed us by. Every day, every moment, offers the opportunity for something special, a reason to go beyond our programming and touch the divine.

Written by our member: Angela Noel

Angela Noel lives and writes in Minneapolis. In between fiction projects, she posts inspiring stories about interesting ideas and compelling people on the You are Awesome blog. She enjoys yoga and loves books, humans, wine, and chocolate (but not necessarily in that order).  Connect with her on Twitter at @angiewrite or subscribe to her blog for a new post each week.

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