It is so easy to become stuck in a rut, to do the same things you’ve always done each and every day. Those ruts can be simple ones like grabbing a cup of coffee as soon as you wake up each morning to how you spend your time.
While much has been written about how habits can make us more productive by eliminating decision fatigue, over the years I have discovered that there is a major downside to cultivating long-term habits. These habits cause you to not only resist change but to avoid exploring other options that may be available to you.
When I began this journey after my divorce, my lifestyle was fairly set. I believed that accumulating things was the key to success; that money and possessions were the only things that mattered. That lifestyle was exhausting to me. I worked multiple jobs just to pay the bills and spent any down time I possessed taking care of the stuff I’d acquired for my family.
I didn’t discover success until I changed things up a bit.
- Instead of paying for cable, I cut the cord and encouraged the kids to watch movies we checked out from the library, purchased inexpensively, or located online.
- Instead of using credit to buy the things we wanted I actively began to purge the things we owned that provided no benefit to us.
- I started saving up for larger purchases or doing without instead of buying them on credit.
- Instead of spending what little time I had free just goofing off, I began to use that time to read and learn.
And it paid off. Our expenses plummeted. It kick-started one of the major steps I used to attain my financial freedom.
But that would not have happened if I had not encouraged myself to explore and experiment with different ways of living my life. I was told that the only way I could become a stay-at-home single mother was to acquire a boyfriend, yet by opening my mind and embracing change, playing with it, I accomplished a dream that those around me believed to be impossible.
Since I left my last public job I’ve realized that I was stuck in another set of ruts. I would work and study. I would only read non-fiction, rarely allowing myself the treat that fiction would provide. I couldn’t even remember the last time I really allowed myself not to feel guilty when I sat down to watch a movie or read a novel.
Video games? Not a chance. Aside from the occasional game of Solitaire, I didn’t even bother.
If I wasn’t working or learning, I was wrong.
I am glad that I finally came to my senses and realized where my habits were leading me. I’ve deliberately began to mix things up now. Instead of a cup of coffee, I’ll drink a glass of water or orange juice in the mornings. Instead of selecting a non-fiction book, I’ll indulge in a novel.
I’m beginning to embrace the change again. It feels uncomfortable and liberating in an odd way but I’ve realized that I’d closed my mind to so many things that I need to mix it up to re-open myself again.
Last year my daughter gifted me with a small television and a Roku device. I didn’t even know how to operate the remote on the silly thing, so I hooked it up to make my daughter believe I appreciated the gift and let it sit unused.
What do I need a stupid television for, I thought. I have a computer. I don’t watch videos, so I’ve no need to bother.
I brainstormed ways to eliminate the device for ages but I hesitated. My daughter gave me the thing for a reason; the least I could do is learn how to use it. Most importantly, I didn’t want to discard the gift for fear of hurting her feelings.
It finally dawned on me how close-minded I had become. I had created a lifestyle for myself that saw no need for a television, yet I understood that the devices could be useful. I reminded myself of how much joy I received during my childhood when I played arcade games and how the old black and white television in my room allowed me to learn about a world far different than the one that surrounded me. Television has changed so much since then…could it be that I was denying myself of something beneficial due to my shuttered mind?
I sat down one evening and forced myself to learn how to operate the thing.
And by doing that, by forcing myself to explore the potential, I opened my mind to a side of the device that I had not known existed.
A couple of button-presses on the remote and I could stream a variety of music from YouTube that I had somehow missed by using the computer. A few clicks and I could watch old shows from my childhood. I’ve yet to find a modern series on the device that interests me but I felt my creativity increasing. I started writing down ideas almost nightly.
When I didn’t feel motivated, I could press a button and pull up a video that would inspire me to jump up, hop on my computer, and write for hours. When I was done, one button would shut the whole thing down so I could go on with my life.
Curious, I decided to take it a bit farther as I began to wonder at the potential benefits of distraction. When a local store offered one of those gadgets that you connect to a television to play the old video games I enjoyed as a child, I allowed myself to indulge. If anything, it would give me an excuse to spend some time playing games with the kid that I could actually comprehend.
The kid now thinks I’ve been possessed by an alien. I’ll write or work on the house a bit, then sit down and play a round of Galaga. Once I’m done, I’ll hop on the computer completely refreshed and madly start typing.
My rut, my close-mindedness had caused me to dismiss the benefits of distraction. Instead of allowing myself to take a break and do something completely unrelated, I would try to power through. I would tell myself that I was being lazy whenever I wasn’t actually working on a project.
Yet it’s that very distraction, that process of allowing myself to cut loose without guilt that has enhanced my creativity.
When I woke up this morning, the only plan I had for the day was to power through my classwork. I worked on it for a while and realized I was getting nowhere. Normally I would have forced myself to keep banging my head against the wall of this latest lesson. This time I played a video game.
Just those few minutes allowed my head to clear enough that the problem was easier when I returned to it. And I would have never discovered that if I had not forced myself to change up my routine by experimenting with a device that I’d previously dismissed.
So look at your habits, folks. How do you spend your day?
If you spend all of your down
If you’ve not rearranged your home in years, change it up. Place your furniture in a different place. Take some items out and place them in the attic to see if you need them. Take some things out of your attic and use them for a change.
If you’re used to buying a certain item, switch to a different brand or try not using that item at all.
Is there a certain color you love but refuse to wear or decorate your home with? Why not allow yourself to embrace that color?
Why are you depriving yourself of your favorite color anyway? Are you afraid of what people will think?
Life is too short to be stuck in a rut by refusing to experiment. Open up and try something new!
The results may be surprising.