In our world of synchronized calendars and countless scheduling tools, breaking from standard routine can seem like a kind of sacrilege. Indeed, maintaining a routine keeps us from getting sucked into a vortex of YouTube videos and social media that could easily throw your productivity out of whack. In some cases and may be yours, that is the routine. But, on the other end of the spectrum, couldn’t too much routine inhibit positive habit changes and stifle creativity? Let’s check out some ways to avoid stagnation by shaking up your personal and work routines.
Give Up Control
If you deviate from your routine, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve lost control of the day. Yet, when it’s done with intention and self-awareness, breaking from regular routines can be a powerful way to stimulate new thinking, break bad habits, adapt better to change, and be more collaborative in a team environment. By giving up control of how you always do things, you can create space for new ideas and a more receptive outlook.
Make More Mistakes
Embracing failure has become the zeitgeist of startup culture. If you aren’t taking risks, chances are you’re not doing anything exciting. As Miles Davis famously said, “If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake.” That means reframing your thinking so that deviating from routine isn’t considered falling off the wagon so much as taking the wagon down a different path. You need to be experimenting, exploring, and trying new things all the time.
Success time after time is a sign of a red flag. There’s a certain point at which, in the life of a team, or the life of a person, there’s not much that can be learned by more success. There’s a point at which your real learning and your real transformation to living limitless, as a person or as a team, happens after an unexpected mistake.
Seek Out the Unfamiliar
Our brains tend to take shortcuts by gravitating toward what’s familiar. Most of the time, our routines are so ingrained that we don’t even think before acting. Nearly half of our daily habits typically happen in the same time and place, according to research from the University of Southern California’s department of psychology. Researchers suggest that the best way to break from routine and seek out new ideas is to literally put yourself in unfamiliar places and situations.
Such novel experiences help unleash your imagination by forcing the mind out of its tendency to rely on categories and shortcuts, according to neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “Only when you consciously confront your brain’s reliance on categories will you be able to imagine outside of its boundaries,” he writes in his book, Iconoclast.
Break Routines to Break Bad Habits
Even if we don’t plan for them, bad habits can be just as engrained in our routines as good ones. You might never hold those in home business meetings when you come home from work because part of your daily routine involves opening the mail on the couch, which leads to putting your feet up, which then leads to watching two hours of television instead of setting your house up for invited guests to come over and watch a product presentation with you and your team.
This isn’t an endorsement to toss your schedule altogether, but rather a call to notice if and how your regular routine might be reinforcing negative habits. Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, “Unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”
Give Yourself a Fresh Start
According to research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, taking a fresh start can have a powerful psychological effect that leads to positive habitual change. This “fresh start effect” suggests that creating shifts in your routine can lead to a sense of starting anew, which helps to reinforce positive habit changes.
For example, the researchers found that people who wanted to lose weight were more motivated to shift their habits and routines when they perceived to be making a fresh start—at the beginning of the year, season, month, or even week—according to Google search data that revealed an uptick in how often the word “diet” was searched and gym attendance typically increased.
Embrace an Improvisational Mindset
Improv comedians, like jazz musicians, are often masters at this idea of breaking from routine and taking a novel approach. They embrace the “yes, and” rule, rolling with what comes at them rather than refuting it. The key here, of course, is a willingness to go out on a limb, make yourself feel uncomfortable, and fall flat on your face. This is the improvisational mindset.
Although problem solving is necessary, it’s just not sufficient alone. If you’re just in a problem solving mindset, your imagination is going to be shrunk. The interpretive possibilities of action will be smaller. You have to create a mindset that says yes to the possibility that something new, interesting, and creative can emerge.
Certainly routine has its benefits when used properly to add progress to your business and/or career. It keeps us on task, eliminates distractions, and gives rhythm to a hectic life. But take time to drop your routine and embrace the unfamiliar by doing new things. The mistakes along the way just may lead you to your best work yet.
This isn’t just for those who wish to grow their business. This is key to beginning a change that could create a new reality for you.
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