5 Ways to Give Your Daily Routine a JoltNone By Steve Calechman
The idea of a "routine" carries with it some resignation. It sounds safe, conventional, and often boring, but it's useful. It gives each day structure, letting you know what to expect and focus on at any given moment. That predictability and order remove stress. "You feel like you have a sense of control, that you can solve things and bring them to a conclusion," says Matt Rossano, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University.
But Rossano adds that a routine should only take care of the main structure—getting ready for work, getting to the gym—in order to save your energy for what matters: the details. "They demonstrate that part of your routine is still important and you're still engaged in it," he says. Sometimes, though, the entirety becomes too comfortable. You do and view the same things in the same way. There's no challenge, fear, or push to learn something new.
You don't need to make wholesale changes—the routines are fundamental—but some occasional disruptions are called for. Here are five tips for unsticking the places in your life that can get stuck.
Bring in New Pictures
Personalizing your workspace is positive, but it's a safe bet that nothing has changed since your first day, even though a lot in your life has. Hitting "refresh" helps you and your co-workers. "It's like a haircut. It gives a different visual," says Paul L. Marciano, Ph.D., human relations consultant and author of Carrots and Sticks Don't Work. That inevitably inspires people to stop. Conversations can start; bonds might be formed or deepened; and, research has shown that daily interactions help well-being. If it's a photo of your dog, great. If it has something to do with a team and you live in enemy territory, there's nothing wrong with sparking some good-natured trash-talking to deepen connections!
Give Your Partner a Gift
Relationships find a certain rhythm in weekly shows and favorite meals, but a sameness can creep in and the dynamic can become too familiar. Every so often, you want to break that cycle by giving your partner something special. It could be an object, an experience, or just some time. Whatever it is, the main component is that it's something that the person wants. Initially, you may be stumped at what the object should be, but pretend that you're on a game show and the final question for $25,000 is, "What has your partner mentioned that would make him or her excited?" Now you'll come up with the answer, and it will come off as anything but unimaginative, says Pat Love, Ed.D., relationship expert and author of The Truth About Love.
By giving this unexpected gift, you're showing that you've been paying attention and that pleasing your partner still matters. That makes someone feel like a priority, and since so often falls away in a relationship, the act carries a certain novelty. And, if what you're giving is something you don't particularly enjoy, be it watching a night hockey game or Amazing Race, that aspect is not lost, making your partner feel even more special, Love says.
Play with Time and Place
Try two other things at work. Once a week, notice five new things about people around you. This might offer another opening to a conversation—"Great shoes!"—but also, by making yourself pay attention, you're taking in different stimuli, too. Another day, do four tasks in a row, each in fewer than 30 seconds. You'll be forced to find new ways of doing old things, and might realize some tasks don't take as long as imagined. These changes may carry forward, or not, but they're both quick ways to get out of your comfort zone that don't require any long-term commitment, says Deborah Teplow, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Wellness Education.
Intensify Your Gym Workout
Some aspects of the gym are fairly set—the time you can go, the people you're around. Your program shouldn't be one of them; but, let's say you're weight-training—you're likely doing the same exercises at the same weight. The results are no results. The easy solution is learning new exercises, but the even easier solution is to take what you're already doing and do slightly more, says Lou Schuler, editorial director at the Personal Trainer Development Center and author of Strong.
He recommends the following four-week structure. Week 1: Bump up the weight on each exercise; five pounds is adequate for most people, but check with your trainer first. You might have to do fewer reps, but you'll quickly feel either more challenged or that you haven't been pushing yourself enough. Week 2: Increase the weight a little more, trying to work back up to your original number of reps. Week 3: Same thing. Week 4: Back off to about 60 percent of your Week 3 amounts. When you restart the following week, you'll most likely come back stronger.
Sometimes, Do Nothing
The brain can't run at top speed all the time. It needs to wander; when it does, research has shown that flexibility and originality get a boost. Teplow has a suggestion: Bring lunch in and wait until later in the afternoon to wash the container. Along with the break from your desk, the warm water is soothing, and the repetitive motion, much like knitting as a hobby or sweeping as a chore, doesn't require any thought. It becomes meditative. When you return to whatever you were trying to do, you'll come back with a clearer head. "The speculative can be unleashed," she says.
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