Especially during times of transition, most of us become creatures of habit.
We create basic routines that help guide our daily lives and maximize our productivity, and then we count on these habits to provide the emotional and physical energy we need to pace ourselves as we fulfill our personal obligations. Consider:
- We get up at the same time during the week (and often on the weekends, too);
- We take the same route to work, the grocery store and other places we frequent often;
- We have a style of fashion or personal dress code, which my husband has taken to calling ‘Garanimals for adults’; and
- We also tend to follow the same strategy and daily routine when conducting a job or internship search.
In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, investigative journalist and New York Times writer Charles Duhigg points out that our inclination to develop and stick to habits and fixed thoughts is natural. Habits are the “result of the brain’s constant mission to save effort. The number of impulses, functions, operations and outputs the brain must calculate and create just to execute an action as simple as brushing our teeth or backing our car out of the driveway is stunning…to have the opportunity to rest or to think about other things while we’re moving through our daily lives, our brains are constantly unconsciously on the prowl for ways to save effort.”
While there is a vast body of research that explains why we tend to establish fixed routines and form firm opinions and default behaviors, brain science experts also underscore the need for us to switch things up on occasion as a means to keep our brains nimble and strong and gain the greatest fulfillment from our lives. According to Temple University psychologist, Frank Farley, Ph.D.
“It’s easy to get comfortable with your usual way of behavior…But research shows that people who embrace change – not run from it – are happiest.”
Even the slightest variations in our routine and typical thought patterns exposes our brain to new information, interactions and environments, which causes the brain to release ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, and enables us to spur greater creativity, fuel our sense of adventure and our excitement about people, places, events and life in general and build our capacity for resilience when undesirable changes in our lives occur without warning (like suddenly starting a job search or career transition).
I refer to it as my ‘Do It Different’ mentality, and I call upon it when I’m feeling stuck in a rut, or like I need a quick shot of new emotional, intellectual and/or physical energy.
A few strategies that have worked for me:
- Get up 15 minutes earlier or later (and do your best not to get stressed by it!)
- Take a different route to work even if it means a slightly longer commute
- Avoid technology for a full hour after you wake up
- If you walk to work, make a point of smiling and saying hi to every person you pass
- Push yourself to be curious instead of judgmental when you find yourself judging someone’s behavior or appearance. Instead of thinking, ‘Eek, how could she wear such a ridiculous outfit?!’ try ‘Hmmm, what a curious style of dress she has. I wonder what led to that choice today?”
- When something doesn’t go your way, try reducing your frustration with a sense of wonder. For example, if someone steals your parking spot, see if you can temper your negative emotions with thoughts like, ‘I wonder if he was late for an interview for a job that could keep his family from being evicted’, or ‘I wonder if she’s rushing to get to the hospital down the block’.
- Take a moment to appreciate the ‘little’ things you generally take for granted in your daily life, e.g., your mail getting delivered; your trash getting picked up; the train or bus being on time; people working hard on a cold day to clear ice from your city sidewalks; etc. If you’re feeling especially bold, take a moment to say thank you to these folks or others.
- Ask your spouse or partner, sibling, friend or close co-worker to tell you something you never knew about them.
So, have I convinced you to give it a shot? As you search for your next job, internship or customer, are you ready to “do it different”? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Switch & Shift!
About the Author: Dara Goldberg is Founder & President of Métier Consulting, a leadership development firm that helps companies and individual professionals excel in cultivating, stewarding and continually capitalizing on positive, rewarding, productive professional relationships that will drive their success. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dara on Twitter!