Routine is a huge part of my life. Everything, from how I wake up in the morning, to my preparations to go to sleep… they all follow some kind of pattern. This is one of the ways in which I keep myself on track and make sure that my temperamental memory doesn’t cause me to forget essential things. Routines are wonderful tools to help us keep on top of our daily lives. They help us to stick with healthy lifestyle choices, allow time for everything, and de-stress us among the chaos which can often creep into life.
However, I have also seen routines be the cause of anxiety and stress. Not to mention that they can keep us stuck in one way of thinking about/doing something. In fact, I used to struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is a condition where you develop certain routines around everyday actions. Which, when not done correctly, can lead to extreme anxiety and an overload of stress. During this time, routines became my world… everything had a routine.
So the result of these positive and negative experiences with routine over my life has left me with a bit of a middle-ground view of routine and their place in our lives. Nowadays, I believe that routines are a great way to give your life some consistency and direction… but must allow the flexibility to be deviated from without causing your world to come crashing down mentally.
It took me a long while to pin this down and even when I considered myself as having left behind most of my OCD tendencies, I would occasionally catch the odd unhelpful routine hanging around in my day-to-day life. These would manifest as situations such as:
- Being so used to waking up at a certain time that I wouldn’t be able to stay at people’s houses because I would set an alarm for a ridiculous hour.
- Having to drink a cup of tea after waking, so that I always had to carry these things around with me.
Etc, etc… the list could go on for a fair while. These and the multitude of others made it, as you can probably imagine, very very hard to adjust to any change in circumstances. In fact, doing things differently was so terrifying to me that I missed out on a lot of opportunities, simply because I wasn’t brave enough to set out of my comfort zone.
Scientific Benefits of Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone
Well, I’m sure we’ve all heard some variation of the phrase: “ Growth begins outside of your comfort zone.” I guess it does really hold a lot of truth in it.
I had heard this phrase before going on my own adventure. Friends of mine would go off traveling to countries where they didn’t speak the language. Countries that cultivated different religious beliefs, poor countries, violent countries, countries with huge social norm differences… and they would come back, expanded. They would regale me with new stories, new viewpoints, new empathy, compassion, and a huge new understanding for humans and the wider world.
Becoming more conscientious isn’t the only reason for stepping outside the comfort zone. According to a 2018 Gallup poll encompassing 145 countries, learning something new was one of the biggest factors for how much enjoyment a person experiences in a day. Of course, that’s best accomplished when you decide to let go of the routine and try something unfamiliar.
Being open to newness even makes you “luckier,” because it will make you spot and optimize chance opportunities instead of being narrow-mindedly focused on familiarities. Psychiatrist Samantha Boardmna, M.D., says that “Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.”
How I Finally Stepped Out of My Comfort Zone
I went traveling at the end of last year and threw myself into 6 months of staying with hosts in France, where I didn’t speak French beyond the very basics. 6 months of living in another person’s house, waking up at their usual hour, eating their food, working at their usual working hours and sleeping when they slept.
It was so difficult.
To start with… I panicked.
It was like my brain would send signals that I was in danger because I had stayed awake an hour later, or I hadn’t brushed my teeth at that specific time, therefore, it would not be the right time again until the next day. Luckily, however, I was in another person’s house and my will to be respectful of their lifestyle was stronger than my fear of not having my routine.
So I changed my routine and took on the routines of my hosts.
I stayed with 4 different people/families in total and each one brought a different rhythm of life to the table. The first was horrendous and I considered just going back to my routine as much as possible… even though it would have been inconvenient for them. But, the second one didn’t take so much adjusting. By the third place I stayed, I was at peace with the idea of shifting my routine… and in the fourth place, I was even excited to see what kind of life they led.
Now I can go to a new place with an open mind. I can embrace their way of living and take lessons from it. The last place I visited back here in NZ, is where I learned to do my Three-Song-Dance-Parties (which I wrote about previously). But I only learned these because instead of getting up ridiculously early and starting work, I slept in, got up with my host, and joined her in dancing.
So take a minute today, to evaluate where the routines lie in your life. You may find them and deem them to be a positive part of your everyday living. But, if they inhibit you in any way, or if you find the thought of not having that routine scary, it may be time to take some time and challenge yourself to drop it all. Take a few weeks in another routine, stay with someone new, take a holiday, or just re-shuffle everything.
It will give you an incredible sense of freedom.
Photo: Nik Shuliahin – Unsplash; Yan Ming on Unsplash; Erik Odiin – Unsplash