The dangers of routine, and how you can slow down your out-of-control life
It’s a Wednesday. You’ve handled your work for the day and you trudge out to your car feeling a bit exhausted. You begin to dust the light snowfall that has accumulated on your windshield. You climb into your car, turn the key, and start the long slog home through under the wintertime city lights. As you drive, you faintly give note to those dinner plans that you have for this weekend and wonder if you’ll make it through your date without scaring the girl off. As you sit there waiting for the guy in front of you from Oklahoma to finally make that left hand turn, your thoughts meander off into oblivion.
Suddenly, you realize that you can’t recall the last several stoplights that you passed under. You know you went through them, but where did the last five minutes of your memory go?
Maybe you’ll just chalk it up to teleportation, time-travel, or you could realize the truth: You’ve driven that route so many times that your brain has just decided to put that piece of your life on autopilot. It’s become a routine that’s so familiar that your brain just decided to take a little vacation. It’s like your brain is saying, “this drive is great, but call me when something exciting happens.”
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t just limited to your commute. Consider the life of the 9-to-5-er: Waking up every day, handling the same job, going to the gym at the same time, before returning home to watch Netflix every night… Rinse and repeat.
Over time, it’s easy to see how your job and life in general can start to resemble a commute. There may be little stoplights along the way. Maybe you’ll have to re-route (Peyton Manning… Yeah!) every once in a while to avoid traffic. But, in essence, there is little or no variation week to week; month to month; and god forbid year to year.
Without variation, our brain just gets bored. After we do the same thing or live the same lifestyle for a little while, it becomes normal. It becomes routine. To our brain, that lifestyle or activity becomes little more than muscle memory.
It’s easy to see why people’s lives just go flying by with little or no variation, surprise, and sometimes even fun. Even from an early age we’re taught the linear progression of how we’re supposed to live our lives. Here’s how it goes: We start as a juvenile, stumble through adolescence, before sitting at our high school graduation thinking to ourselves, ‘how did I get here?’ Then it’s off to lose brain cells in college before being catapulted headfirst into adulthood. All of a sudden, we’re wrestling with the qualms of finding an entry level job and struggling our way through our twenties.
Then things really get interesting; after years of drinking and partying our asses off we remember that we like the opposite sex (or the same sex if that’s what floats your boat) and that we want to have someone to share this life with. Some struggle to find love more than others but the progression continues through marriage, kids, saving for college, and ultimately retiring in a house with a GD white picket fence.
Life shouldn’t be so linear. When we know what’s coming next and nothing is unexpected or new, we fall into routines.
Many will never realize that it is elongated routine itself that causes lapses in memory. Can you remember brushing your teeth a week ago? While I will never EVER tell anyone how to live their life, I know I’ve felt like a passenger and that my life was running away from me at a breakneck pace. I wasn’t smelling the roses, or the shit for that matter. I thought to myself, ‘every moment lost is one that I’ll never get back.’ That really troubled me. I wanted to curb how fast things were moving and slow-smoke me some life for God’s sake. But how?
Tiny people, new things – How little humans have an advantage over us large humans
The other day, I was riding the chairlift on my way to the Umbrella Bar on Crested Butte mountain. Maddie, Jolene, Brandon, and I decided to wait in the singles line at the Painter Boy lift because the entire state of Texas was ahead of us in line. As I moved to the front of the queue I realized that my buddies on the chair were going two 6-year old girls from, you guessed it, Dallas.
As we took off, I decided to start a conversation with the two girls who sported matching pink outfits, Christmas bows trailing behind their helmets, and enough goggle gap to make the Grand Canyon proud. I only had to ask 1 question – “How are you girls?” and the floodgates opened.
They told me about their trip out from Dallas. But they told it in a way that is different than any conversation you might have with an adult. There was so… much… detail. Most of the detail would be considered extraneous by any adult who wasn’t tripping balls. But such is the beauty of being a child.
The two giggled as they told me their story: The first started by telling me they were cousins whose parents had bought tickets for them on two separate flights one after another. The first cousin had missed her flight by two-minutes and had spent the entire night driving out to Crested Butte for their family Christmas vacation. She said it took her (no less than) 14 hours and 17 minutes to get out to Colorado. But, of course, she didn’t mind because she just slept the whole way.
The second, bursting with excitement, couldn’t wait to interrupt.
She had caught their flight 2-hours later and that they had finally met up in Crested Butte and by some Christmas miracle, they were reunited for their ski vacation.
Their tale of planes, trains, and automobiles, along with ADD fueled tangents about Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys, and Christmas presents had all poured out of their mouths in less than 10-minutes.
Amongst their families, it’s almost a certainty that this particular memory will last a lifetime. But the girls will most certainly have the best memory of it.
For them, this was the first time they’ve had to deal with a trip that’s gone awry. God knows it won’t be the last.
Think back to your childhood. It seemed to take an eternity and a half to grow up. I recall being ten years old and wondering to myself how… much… LONGER… it was going to take to grow up. Every school day took an eternity and a half. I envied the big-kids and adults who seemed to have it all figured out (oh, the irony).
There was the first time you jumped into a leaf-pit, your first awkward day in middle school and subsequently high school, your first crush, your first kiss, your first epic rejection, your first car, and your first brush with the cops. There were your first successes and failures.
There was even that time when you hit your Homecoming date in the face with a bowling ball on accident…
Our brain’s natural state when we’re younger is like that of a sponge. It’s ability to analyze and memorize information will never operate at a more efficient level. That incredible ability to soak up information, combined with the fact that most experiences we have as a juvenile are new, results in a memory that is much more complete and a perception of time that is slower than that of an adult. After all, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
New experience was a constant when we were kids. We didn’t have to search for it. It just happened naturally. Routine simply didn’t exist.
Although our brains will never revert to that golden age that held dirt-clods and Pokemon cards in such high regard, it’s the essence of being a kid that’s important. As a kid, everything was new by default. Unfortunately, nowadays finding new experience doesn’t come as easy. It needs to be actively sought after. Habit and routine become the norm because they are easy. Finding new experience can become a rarity because it is hard.
“Blessed are those who follow their dreams. That’s the difference between listening to the knock on the door and going to answer it.” -someone else said that…
Doing something new and different causes our minds to return to their former glory. Taking a trip, experiencing a new culture, learning a new language, or getting to know a new person re-opens our mind and reinvigorates our ability to experience life as it was meant to be.
Having trouble figuring out what you might do differently? Take a trip down memory lane and see if you remember what your kid-self dreamt of doing. They always had the best ideas anyways…
There is no right or wrong way to try new things. The important thing to remember that whatever you choose to pursue, it is going to be unique to you. Some may choose to experience a new person. Some may choose to travel the world. Some will build their own thriving businesses. Some may choose to relive life through the eyes of a child. Whatever you choose, have confidence that what you’re doing is exactly what you should be doing. Plus, breaking your norms almost unequivocally makes you a better, more well-rounded person.
So… Drink some new beer; try a new bar; eat some crazy cuisine; get weird; and for f***’s sake, smell some roses because the grim reaper eventually will show up on your doorstep. When he does, you won’t want to be asking yourself the most awful of conditional questions; ‘what if?’…