The Science-Backed Reason to Shake Up Your Habits
March 6, 2019
I vowed I wouldn’t get stuck in a routine.
And yet—there I was, taking the same train, walking the same path, bounding up the same stairs. Even though I know it’s important to keep my brain fresh and my ideas flowing by mixing up my locations and commute, it’s just so…easy…to do the same thing over and over again, isn’t it?
That’s where Betty Liu comes in. As the executive vice chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, she’s got a busy agenda–but she doesn’t go through her day like a robot. In fact, she said she tries to mix up her commute every day. "I make sure to vary it up as much as possible. You will not see me day in and day out take the same train every morning for 20 years," Liu recently told Business Insider. "I would drive myself nuts if I always took the same route every day.”
So Liu either drives or takes the train, or gets off at a new stop and walks. The results are powerful: "It's the idea that change is OK and change actually helps you grow. It's easy to continue to do the same thing over and over again and get in a rut,” she said. “Seeing different faces and being in a different place just gives you a different perspective."
She’s onto something. Research shows that shaking up your routine actually helps “rewire” your brain and create new creative connections through neuroplasticity. “Through neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, it may be possible to carve out a fresh and unworn path for your thoughts to travel upon,” Psychology Today explains. “One could speculate that this process opens up the possibility to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo or to overcome past traumatic events that evoke anxiety and stress.”
Of course, routines can be calming and comforting, too. There are plenty of benefits associated with them, from lower stress levels and better sleep to better health. When you have a routine, you aren’t running around worried about what you’re doing next and when: You’ve got that locked down.
But after a while, routines can also feel restrictive. That’s why little tweaks are the perfect way to inject some novelty into your day and keep you feeling fresh and creative.
If your day is feeling a little too same-same for comfort, there are plenty of ways you can shake up your morning—and see the benefits through the rest of the day. Here are a few I’m adopting in my own life.
1. Remix Your Commute
If you’re like me, you have probably honed your commute down to the second, maximizing your time and energy to get to work or school as quickly as possible. But try to imagine that your regular mode of transportation wasn’t an option: What would you do? One of my colleagues takes the ferry to work every morning. Sure, it costs a little bit more than a regular train ride, but it’s much more scenic and exciting. Taking a different route can make you see new sights.
2. Try a New Soundtrack
3. Change Up Your Mug
You’re probably (definitely?) slurping down some coffee or tea in the morning. But everything we see and use triggers a certain emotion—so see what happens if you change up your mug, or grab a travel cup to-go. You might give yourself a little boost without even realizing.
4. Build In a New Pit Stop
I walked by a Pret a Manger cafe for months without ever going on, until one recent morning when I needed coffee like now. The entire place smelled like croissants, the employees were in great moods, and I walked out smiling. This small change kept my mind fresh—and made me appreciate those slowed-down moments when you can take a two-minute breather to stop and smell the butter.
5. Flip Your Shower Schedule
Think you need a blast of hot water to get going in the morning? Maybe you do—or maybe you could prep for your day the night before and become a (gasp) night showerer. You could fill those free minutes in the morning by reading a few pages of a new book, taking a second to prep for your morning meeting at work, or simply slowing down to reflect on your upcoming day.
6. Try a New Alarm
As a very deep sleeper, I set at least four alarms in the morning—one on a classic analog alarm clock, and the rest on my iPhone. But for Christmas I got one of those “wake-up” alarms with a light that mimics the rising sun. Sure, I still need my back-up alarms, but the gentle burst of faux sunlight provides a nice change on waking up on a Monday morning.
7. Say Something New
Who do you see every morning? Barista, security guard, school crossing guard, work BFF? These small interactions may not seem that significant, but they can create ripple effects. So if you’re stuck in the same banter: Traffic was awful again, ugh or Wow, that weather, huh? it’s time shake it up. Ask how their weekend was (and actually listen to their response) or offer up something different and unique about your own day.
8. Cook With a New Ingredient
We all get into cooking ruts every now and then (shout-out to my fellow eggs and toast fans!). But a fun game to play on your next trip to the grocery store: What's a new ingredient I can buy and experiment with?
It can be as complicated as a new type of protein, or as simple as a new seasoning (anyone else obsessed with Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Sesame seasoning?). Whatever it is, find a small way to spice up your tried-and-true meals.
9. Find a New Go-To Emoji
Texting up a storm all day? Take a look at your most-used emojis and challenge yourself to use a new one. Maybe the wave 👋 can help shake up your convos, or the alien 👽 (as an X-Files diehard, it's a personal fav), or even the rocket 🚀. It'll create a new topic of conversation in that group chat, too.
10. Try a New Color
Last but not least: Try adding a pop of color to your look—even if it's just via a belt. Or, swap your chapstick for a bright lipstick one day. There's a whole field called "color psychology," and the shade you pick can help pivot your mood, too.
Even if your routine or habits are working for you, it doesn’t hurt to make a slight change. And hey, you can always go back to your regular ways tomorrow.
Read next: The Importance of a Daily Routine
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