We live in a society fixated on excitement, creativity, and constant change. We like new flavors, new fashions, new-and-improved gadgets of all kinds. And yet many of us choose to lead lives defined by deeply entrenched habits and routines.
Could it be that our fixation on variety and novelty is fueled by our real-life tendency toward mindless repetition?
Do we love watching wild reality-TV shows and white-knuckle sports events because our own lives have become almost painfully predictable?
Do our armchair explorations speak of a deeper desire to press beyond the limits of our well-worn daily rituals?
Is it possible that our attraction to “x-treme” flavors and caffeine-and-sugar-packed drinks might have something to do with our struggle to keep from boring ourselves to death?
I’m not knocking the value of routine. After all, we’ve developed many of our habitual tendencies in the service of good common sense.
Routines provide structure to our lives and give us the certainty and focus we need to support grander experiments. Many healthy routines are essential to our vitality. Daily rituals give us comfort and help us relieve stress.
The trouble is, once we get comfortable in our routines, we may fail to notice when they have outworn their useful purpose, or when new alternatives might serve us better.
This is why it’s essential that we regularly inspect our patterns, asking:
Is this a routine I’ve consciously chosen — or is it a rut I’ve fallen into?
It’s easy to come home and watch TV every night. It’s easy to go to the same restaurant each and every weekend. It’s easy to do the same workout for months or years on end. It’s easy to play out the same predictable roles and responsibilities at work and home.
But, eventually, our synapses and souls get weary of these patterns. And once they get bored enough to begin nodding off, our lives get smaller. Our visions become narrower. Our minds and hearts get more rigid than they were meant to be.
Some routines provide a kind of dangerous pseudo-comfort that limits both our willingness and ability to make deeper, more constructive change. Binge eating, drinking, and smoking are all examples of destructive habits embraced in the search of comfort, numbness, or distraction.
Other habitual behaviors (like obsessively checking social media, or constantly overscheduling ourselves) might seem less obviously destructive, but they can take up a surprisingly large amount of space and energy in our lives. They limit our perceptions of our capabilities, and they restrict our willingness to explore new options.
Creative acts, ultimately, take place not on any external canvas, but within us, in our attitudes and perceptions.
That said, I think we can cultivate creativity by exposing ourselves to new experiences. That may mean meeting new people, reading new books, traveling to fresh environments, or stretching to embrace some new skills.
This month, I invite you to consciously consider other areas of your life that might be calling for exploration.
What might be some fun or rewarding ways to adjust your work habits, social patterns, family roles, or the ways you spend your personal time?
Where are you choosing good routines that really work for you, and where are you falling into ruts by default?
Once a month, pick one routine and mix it up. You might make a healthy dish you’ve never tried, take an exercise class you’ve never taken, follow a path you’ve never explored, or engage your partner or family in an activity you’ve never experienced together.
Stretching in these small ways prepares us to take wider leaps. From there, it becomes far easier to heed the call of the bigger adventures and creative opportunities that present themselves in our lives. It also becomes easier to rise to our highest callings, which almost always lie beyond the threshold of daily convenience.
As 20th-century essayist Wilferd A. Peterson advised: “Explore your mind, discover yourself, then give the best that is in you to your age and to your world. There are heroic possibilities waiting to be discovered in every person.”
Here’s to your next exploration, and to creating a life that both excites and satisfies you.