Embracing Changes in Your Routine Can Help You Live A Better Life

By Dr. Yesel Yoon

HOBOKEN, NJ.

I’m a creature of habit. I preach routines. Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of disruptions.

No one has to look very far to find ways our lives and routines have been disrupted whether it’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic and/or social and political events. When our routines change, it’s normal to feel more anxious and stressed.

While I’m sure you are so over certain disruptions to your life, I wonder about what surprising things we can learn from these disruptions. What are some changes to your usual routines that have left an unexpected positive impact on your life? Have you recently had a moment when you thought, “Wait, this may actually be working out a bit better for me…”? 

I’m here to tell you that you’re not unusual for having that thought. In fact, what I’ll explore today is how disruptions and changes to our routines can actually become an opportunity for something better. I may even be so bold as to say that there might be a gift embedded in some of these changes? 

Not convinced? Stay with me. 

Orange neon light sign that reads “Change”

Is there such a thing as “Too Much Routine”?

I focus a lot of my work with clients on helping them build healthy habits and learn how to incorporate helpful routines. These habits and routines help to reduce stress and improve their mental, emotional, and physical health. That being said, I think there is something to be said for “too much routine”. Just as we often hear that too much of anything can be a bad thing, the same thing can go for our routines. 

  • What happens when our behaviors become so routine they lose their original power and purpose? 
  • What happens when we get so stuck in our ways that we aren’t able to embrace change and adopt more creative solutions? 

The TED Radio Hour featured an interview segment with economist and writer Tim Harford in an episode titled “Jumpstarting Creativity”. His talk “How Can Chaos Lead to Creative Breakthroughs” is about how disruptions, chaos, and change can help us become more creative.*[See note below]

“We need to gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages of having to cope with a little mess”

– Tim Harford

How might “a little mess” be beneficial at all, you ask? 

According to his talk, he shares that by adding a layer of challenge or difficulty, it forces us to slow down. He cites studies that have shown how disruptions have led people to better solve problems and have helped change people’s lives for the better. Here is one such example:

A Case Example of How Disruptions Can Lead to Better Change: The London Underground Partial Shutdown

In London, their major public transit system “the underground” experienced a partial shutdown that lasted two full days. Commuters had to find a different way to get to work. So people did what they had to do and switched things up. Two days later when the London Underground was back up and running, a substantial minority of people who changed their commute never changed it back! Even with the choice of going back to their usual commute that they’d had for years, some people realized, “The new way is better!” 

Tim Harford asks: “How many things do we do in our [everyday lives] that if we were forced to do them differently, we would never go back?”

What is your answer to this question? 

Adapting to Change

We can all use a bit more adaptability especially right now. Greater adaptability and flexibility are pathways to growth. I know that many people who are Type A, perfectionistic, detail-oriented, and over-achievers, can often get set in their ways of doing things. Typically these set ways have helped you get you where you are now. 

But interestingly enough, it’s what we think we do know that gets us in trouble. “This is the way I’ve always done it” becomes a trap. We get stuck in certain patterns which prevent us from asking ourselves really important questions like “What else could be true here?”, “What else is possible?” or “Is there some other way I can deal with this situation?”

Here are some signs that you may benefit from some disruptions to your routines: 

-Things are starting to feel stale, pointless, maybe even a little cliche,

-Things have been a certain way “just because” or “because that’s what I was told”

-You are getting less pleasure or joy out of doing the same thing over and over again, 

-You’re reading this and feel the beginnings of a “mind-blown” experience coming on. In other words, this idea of “embracing disruption or change” is a totally new concept. 

So, do you think it’s time to consider mixing it up? 

Let’s Redefine the Meaning of Disruptions

So far we’ve learned that disruptions force us to re-evaluate a plan of action and slow down. We have to adapt and re-orient our behavior to fit the new situation. 

What change and disruption can teach us: 

This can reveal what we actually need and what we value.

This can show us what works and what doesn’t work. 

This can challenge us to embrace a growth edge and see what we’re capable of.

Questions you can ask to re-evaluate and reassess in response to change: 

-Does this (what I was doing) really serve me? (Does it add to my life)

-Does it serve its original purpose anymore? 

-How would I like to proceed? 

-What benefits can I look to gain from this change?

Turn Chaos to Clarity and Creativity

As a creature of habit and someone who embraces routines (and still stands by how helpful they can be), I have so much appreciation for this notion of turning chaos into clarity, positive change, and creativity. Periods of change will always take place throughout our lives. The saying goes that “the only constant is change.” So, I hope this teaches you how to ride the wave of change and come out better on the other side. 

Personally, I have begun embracing certain changes such as not having to go into a brick-and-mortar office in the city ever since the shelter-in-place/quarantine restrictions were put into place. This has meant that I don’t have a commute and I’ve gained back that time to do things I value. For example, I can spend more quality time at home with my partner, spend more time writing, or simply have more time to myself without feeling rushed to get somewhere. Also, I’ve gotten into a new routine of talking to old friends more often than I did before the quarantine and this is all because of a major disruption that impacted so many of us.

How can you take what appears as a disruption and transform it into something that allows you to approach an area of your life in a different and more helpful way? 

***

*Note: I want to add a note that just because the title of these interviews include the word “Creativity”, this is not just for “Creatives” or people who are artistic or the like. Change can help you think more openly and flexibly in any area of your life whether you’re a “creative” type or not.

For more information and to listen to the TED interview (or whole episode), listen here.

Excerpt:

Changes happen all of the time. When our routines are disrupted, it can lead to more anxiety and stress. But what if these disruptions could lead to more creativity, positive change, and better solutions for your life? I write about a slightly different perspective about routines than I normally do and include points by Tim Harford from a TED talk on Creativity. I challenge you to embrace disruptions and see how change might be a good thing. Read more to learn how embracing change is possible.

Dr. Yesel Yoon specializes in anxiety, career burnout and job uncertainty. If you’re interested in learning more about her practice, check out her website.

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