Archive | June, 2014

In A Rut? Feeling Bored By The Same-Old, Same-Old? Need A Mood-Boost? Adopt A ‘Do It Different’ Mindset For A Day.

10 Jun

Most of us are creatures of habit, and it serves us well in many ways. We create basic routines and habits that help guide our daily lives, maximize our productivity and give us the sense that we will have the emotional and physical energy we need to fulfill our home, work and other responsibilities and hopefully be able to tend to our own needs as well.

  • We get up at the same time during the week and often on the weekends too.
  • We take the same route to work, the grocery store and other places we frequent on a regular basis.
  • We have a convenient, tasty coffee shop that is our one and only.
  • We have a particular genre of TV we like and rarely venture from it.
  • Many of us have a style of dress we adhere to, much like a firm dress code. My husband, for example, describes his self-imposed professional dress code as his ‘Garanimals for adults’.

At a deeper level, in our quest for a sense of certainty and predictability in a world that is anything but certain and predictable, we tend to form perspectives on people, events and ideologies and rarely if ever call these perspectives into question and open our minds to alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

Without realizing it, we often gravitate to a certain personality type and surround ourselves almost exclusively with the people who fit ‘our type’. When it comes to the people we’re closest to, we tend to believe we know everything there is to know about them and don’t think to probe for something new, something that can broaden our understanding and excite us about them in a new way. How often do you say to your partner, best friend or sibling, “Tell me something I don’t know about you”?

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, investigative journalist and New York Times writer Charles Duhigg points out that our inclination to develop and stick to habits and fixed thoughts is natural. Habits are the “result of the brain’s constant mission to save effort. The number of impulses, functions, operations and outputs the brain must calculate and create just to execute an action as simple as brushing our teeth or backing our car out of the driveway is stunning…to have the opportunity to rest or to think about other things while we’re moving through our daily lives, our brains are constantly unconsciously on the prowl for ways to save effort.”

While there is a vast body of research that explains why we tend to establish fixed routines and form firm opinions and default behaviors, brain science experts also underscore the need for us to switch things up on occasion as a means to keep our brains nimble and strong and gain the greatest fulfillment from our lives.

According to Temple University psychologist, Frank Farley, Ph.D., “It’s easy to get comfortable with your usual way of behavior…But research shows that people who embrace change – not run from it – are happiest.” Michael Roizen, MD, author and Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic further notes that “following the same routine every day will not stimulate your hippocampus-the part of the brain most responsible for memory. To keep your mind active, simply try to vary your routine at work or at home.” Even the slightest variations in our routine and typical thought patterns exposes our brain to new information, interactions and environments, which causes the brain to release ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and enables us to:

  • Interrupt our negative thought patterns and give us the mood boost we need
  • Prevent or overcome a general, often unexplainable sense of malaise
  • Spur greater creativity
  • Fuel our sense of adventure and our excitement about people, places, events & life in general
  • Build our capacity for resilience when undesirable changes in our lives occur without warning

I refer to it as my ‘Do It Different’ mentality, and I call upon it when I’m feeling stuck in a rut, or like I need a quick shot of new energy. Sometimes I ‘do it different’ for just a few hours, other times I try (not always successfully) to hold onto my open mindset for an entire day. The ways in which I shift my routine and challenge my rote thought patterns vary, but they are generally always very simple and the effects are almost always rewarding.

Here are some of the variations that have worked for me:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier or later and do your best not to get stressed by it.
  • Take a different route to work even if it means a slightly longer commute.
  • Don’t look at your phone for a full hour after you wake up.
  • If you walk to walk, make a point of smiling and saying hi to everyone you pass.
  • Push yourself to be curious instead of judgmental when you find yourself judging someone’s behavior or appearance. Instead of thinking, ‘Eek, how could she wear such a ridiculous outfit?!’, try replacing that thought with, ‘Hmmm, what a curious style of dress she has. Oh well, to each their own…’
  • Trying diluting your frustration with a sense of wonder when something doesn’t go your way on a given day. If someone steals your parking spot, which is understandably frustrating and makes you angry, see if you can temper your negative emotions with thoughts like, ‘I wonder if he was late for an interview for a job that could keep his family from being evicted’, or ‘I wonder if she’s rushing to get to the hospital down the block’.
  • Take a moment to appreciate the things you generally take for granted in your daily life, e.g., your mail getting delivered; your trash getting picked up; the train or bus being on time; people working hard on a cold day to clear ice from your city sidewalks; etc. If you’re feeling especially bold, take a moment to say thank you to these folks or others.
  • Ask your spouse or partner, sibling, friend or close coworker to tell you something you never knew about them.

These may appear all too simple and even feel meaningless to some of you, but please give them a shot anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised by the positive effects on your mood, productivity and interactions.

Please let me know your experience and also share any additional strategies that have worked for you.