Routines are super helpful and important when it comes to certain aspects of our life. It helps us when learning something new. We need to be consistent in our practice if we are to really master something so having a routine for practice is key. This also means that once we do something well it may become automated and in turn we become more efficient, yet another benefit to having a routine. Having a routine or schedule for accomplishing tasks can be helpful to ensure we remember to do things as well. For example, the first Sunday of the month I pay all the bills, or Saturday mornings I clean the house, or I fast on the New Moon, or… you get the picture. If it’s something that needs to get done, or that you want to get done, it can be helpful to build a routine around it so that you have a reminder of when do to it. Or if you’re lucky, you don’t even need to think about it, it just happens, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Routines put structure into our lives and structure is good, even necessary, for without it there would be nothing to hold things together, but can you have too much structure, be too attached to your routines? I think so, but the best way to find out is try mixing things up for yourself.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel abroad. Any time I travel I always find myself feeling so much more alive and curious about my surroundings. Noticing the sounds, the smells, the colors, the landscapes, the windows and the doors that I pass along the street. (I love windows and doors, especially in Spain.) It’s like I am feeling alive in a brand new way. My senses want to soak everything up. The mundane task of going to the market is suddenly so exciting because everything looks different, maybe even exotic. Every time I go anywhere or do anything, it’s like I am starting anew, figuring out my way with great potential for getting lost. It’s a little scary, well not really scary, but there’s an awareness of the unknown that dances through the brain. So why is this good for me? My brain is being forced to build new synapsis and connections. It’s actually growing and changing in a new way. For anyone who’s ever done any type of strength training, there’s a philosophy that you should do different exercises for each muscle if you truly want to build it up. You see, once the body gets accustomed to doing something there is the potential for peaking or even diminishing returns, and the brain works in the same way. If we’re talking energy and not muscles, it gets stagnant and needs to move to be alive. The cool thing is you don’t have to travel overseas to experience this.
Upon returning from our travels abroad, my husband and I went to a nearby town for a film screening. We’d been to this town many times, usually to sit in the book store. This time however, we were going to the theater to see a film screening. “This town has an actual theater.” We innocently chuckled. Realizing we’d want dinner after the film we began making plans in the car ride over. We’d never actually had dinner in this town, so I was suddenly in Spain all over again trying to find a restaurant that sounded right for us. Then as we maneuvered to find parking, we pulled into a lot that I never knew existed and parked somewhere we’d never been before, taking a different walking route to the theater. I found myself looking at my surroundings with a deep curiosity just like I did when I was on my trip. Admiring the worn windows framing the glass surrounded by blue painted siding. I had never “seen” this town as I was seeing it then. It was so startling to me that I had missed the opportunity on all my past trips to really experience this town that I vowed to continue to keep fresh eyes on life and not fall into the mundane. But how to do that?
The reality is that our brains were built to learn things well so that tasks DO in fact become routine. It’s part of how we are successful at what we do. It’s why athletes and artists are revered. It’s all the things I mentioned in the first paragraph above, the trick is to not fall into the trap of thinking that’s the only way to be. The key to a truly healthy brain, and a vibrant life, is mixing things up. Don’t be afraid to try something new even if it means you won’t be good at it. Take a day trip to a town you’ve never visited. Try a different route to the office or the grocery store. Go sit in a different coffee shop, take a different yoga class, or change the dial on your radio. You never know what you might find out there…