Because our schedules are often influenced by external forces (e.g., our work, our school, our families), it is easy to get stuck in a state of monotony where you are doing the same thing over and over again every day without giving it a second thought. While it’s good to have a routine that keeps you consistent with your work and your health, too much of it can backfire. If you’re like me, you eventually reach a point where you start feeling apathetic or even disengaged towards everyday tasks.
Once you come to the realization that you’ve been basically doing the same thing every day for the past few weeks, months, or even years, you start to feel stuck and as if you do not have the control to change things. You begin to crave spontaneity and hope that it will infuse some excitement into your everyday life, however, you’ve become addicted to your routine. Even though it’s starting to suffocate you, there is this comfort associated with knowing what will happen at any given moment.
So what do you do? How do you escape the monotony?
1. Acknowledge that you have control over your schedule. Notice that I did not start this post with “Because our schedules are often controlled by external forces…” I said influenced instead of controlled. This is because we do control our schedule. How can you say that your work or your boss controls your schedule when it is you who decided to take that job in the first place? I understand that this is not as black and white as I have painted it, however, it’s important to always remember that you have some control over your life and your routine.
2. Make a small change to a core habit. A core habit is something that you do every day, almost religiously. One of my core habits is drinking a cup of coffee every morning. I drink it every morning without even thinking about it. Now, I have no issue drinking coffee every morning. I love coffee. However, whether I want to admit it or not, it does contribute to the monotony and feelings of apathy towards my everyday schedule. Both my mind and my body have begun to expect the coffee every morning, so now I just drink it because I don’t want to get withdrawal headaches, not because I necessarily enjoy it.
So what did I do? I changed things up. I told myself that I was still going to drink coffee, but in the mid-morning (around 10:30am) instead of 7am. That did not work out so well. I felt pretty tired in the morning and that made it hard for me to work effectively in the morning. The next day, I decided to play around with it some more. I drank coffee at 7am, but only half a cup. Then, at 10:30am, I drank another half a cup. It turns out that half a cup in the morning was equally as effective as the whole cup in terms of getting me up and energized. However, by breaking my cup of coffee into two increments and by having a half cup around 10:30am, I noticed that I had a lot more energy in the morning. I felt consistently energetic throughout the morning.
So what happened there? I made a very small change and observed what happened. When the change backfired, I made another small change. That worked. Trial and error. Through trial and error, I discovered something that I would not have originally discovered. It was such a small change, yet discovering this new formula for drinking coffee gave me an excitement that I really needed in my routine. The implications were much larger because I had more energy, and as a result, I was more productive with my work which made me feel better.
3. Be your own guinea pig. Experiment. This is quite similar to the previous recommendation, but I want to elaborate. Because you do the same thing every day, you have been given a great opportunity to experiment on yourself. Think of how research studies work. For example, let’s say you want to see if a new drug effectively reduces blood pressure levels. How do you do it? You randomly divide two groups of people who are very similar, and you measure their baseline blood pressure levels. You then give one group a placebo and another group the drug you are testing. After a month, you compare the blood pressure of both groups and see if there was an improvement.
Because our routine is so monotonous and basically the same every day, we’re hypersensitive to any small change that occurs. For example, waking up just 15 minutes later in the morning can derail our entire morning (since we’ll feel that we are behind schedule). The beautiful part about this, however, is that our monotonous routine can serve as a baseline. We know how we feel on an average day, and that serves both as our baseline and our control group. We then implement a small change to our routine (similar to how I did with my coffee), and then we see how we feel. Was the change positive? Negative? Like I said, because we are hypersensitive to any small change that occurs, we will likely know if it made a noticeable difference. Experiment by drinking half the amount of coffee in the morning and see how you feel. Wake up 15 minutes earlier. Leave for work 15 minutes earlier and maybe you’ll discover that you can beat the morning traffic and save 30 minutes off your morning commute. Whatever it is, try it. Experiment. If it doesn’t work, you can always revert back. If it does work, you can permanently implement the change.
It is very easy to get comfortable with a routine. However, by experimenting changes, you get a chance to test out better alternatives to incorporate in your routine.
4. Take a small (or an extended) break from your routine. When was the last time you took a day off from work or school that was not planned for? We usually burn our vacation days for pre-planned vacations, for weddings, or birthdays, however, have you taken a day off out of the blue just because you can? Have you ever skipped a class just to see what’s going on around campus while you’re stuck in class from 2:30pm-3:50pm every Tuesday and Thursday? I’m not advocating that we should slack off or flake on our obligations, however, sometimes a small break from our routine can actually be productive because (1) it reminds us that we control our lives and (2) gives us a break and a fresh perspective on things.
If you have reached the point where you are just chronically burnt out, consider a larger break from your routine – a vacation, a leave of absence, a reduction (or increase) in work hours. If you’re struggling with the monotony your gym routine, try taking a break from it or try playing a different sport. Breaks are important. Breaks are necessary. If you have not done so already, read my past post on creativity which discusses how breaks from work are a necessary part of creativity and productivity.
Nothing I have shared is revolutionary. It’s quite simple. If you’re doing the same thing every day and don’t like it, then do something different. The problem is that we sometimes forget that we do have control over our lives. We forget that we can control our schedule by skipping class or by doing something else at the gym. Like I said, external forces rarely control your schedule. It’s usually more of a mindset problem. More often than not, we’re just afraid of change. We hate doing the same thing every day, but there’s comfort associated with it. You just have to experiment and see what works and what does not. Give it a try. What is a small change you will make to your daily routine?