We are all creatures of habit. Don’t believe me? This morning Facebook came out with yet another change to its layout and the comments are: “If I was Facebook’s mom I would ground it for a month.” Or: “HATE: the new Facebook Newsfeed,” or “How do you like the new Facebook layout? So far I can’t stand it! Boooo Hiss Facebook, Boooo Hiss!” Unfortunately, while habits can make our lives easier in many cases, it is also a recipe for a life of boredom, routine and a diminished creativity and brain capacity. When you know the facts, you might consider that Facebook is doing us all a favor.
Now I like my routines as much as the next person. Getting up every morning and going to bed around the same time every night has proven to be an effective way to enhance my sleep. Exercising regularly and eating sensible meals are always good habits to maintain optimum health. Meditating and journaling daily is an essential part of keeping me balanced. Without our routines, most of us would spend far too much time agonizing over what to do and how to squeeze good behaviors all in. Best of all, habits—good habits that is—help to keep us on track and moving in the direction of our dreams.
But what about the downside—and yes, there is a downside. When we get too dependent upon habits and routines, they become a rut. And once that rut is set—for most of us anyway, it might as well be set in stone. Not only does our body atrophy when it is stuck in one-way of doing things, but so does our minds and our perceptions. It has been widely reported that most people think between 60-70,000 thoughts a day. Unfortunately, about 90% of those are similar to the thoughts you had yesterday, and the day before and the day before that. Wonder why some things never seem to change in your life, no matter how you try? There is a VERY good chance you keep thinking the same things repeatedly. As Albert Einstein said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.”
There are actually at least four areas where mixing up our lives on a regular basis are GOOD for us.
#1 It’s critical for good mental health. That’s right. There are dozens of scientific studies that prove that the best way to keep your brain young and supple is to challenge it with “new” and interesting activities. Exercises like learning a new language, taking music lessons—or learning the latest change in Facebook all help our brain. According to research, our minds are highly adaptable and “plastic.” In other words, if we don’t use it we’ll very likely lose it. Which would you prefer?
#2 For anyone who yearns for a creative life, change is essential. From personal experience, I know that whenever I’m stuck in a rut it is very difficult to write or come up with new ideas. Anyone who’s ever experienced writer’s block or burn- out is suffering from the same thing. Human creativity thrives on new experiences, new thoughts and new ways of being. It’s even been said that all of the troubles in the world come from a lack of imagination for something better. If you want to be more creative, mix things up in your life.
#3 Mixing things up helps keep our perspective on life and the world stay flexible and open. Ever met anyone that’s never gone anywhere or experienced much? Unfortunately, many people who are stuck deep in ruts often become very myopic and unable to see other people or cultures point of view. Prejudices like racism, sexism and religious intolerance are all aggravated when there is a lack of exposure and understanding about how others live. Mixing it up keeps us open to different ways of doing things and often helps us see that most people, however different on the surface, are very much the same as you and me.
#4 Mixing it up on a regular basis helps us to appreciate what we have. As some of you know, Thom and I like to get out of the desert heat every summer by renting houses in “cooler” locations. One of the best things about these out-of -town trips is that we are in a very different location and constantly relating to our world in a new way. For example, the home we rent in the mountains doesn’t have a dishwasher—so for a month we wash our dishes by hand. When we finally get back home—our dishwasher becomes the amazing appliance it was when first invented. Little things like sleeping in a different bed, sitting on different chairs, doing my writing at a different desk—all have the potential to remind me of how blessed my regular life is. When we do return to our home, it is always with a sense of deep appreciation. Don’t feel like where you live or what you have is so special? Try camping in the wilderness or going to a third-world country for a week or two and you will come home and realize just how miraculous your life is. Most American’s live better than the kings and queens of just about any country or culture until recent years. Most of us are amazingly fortunate, but we forget that when it becomes routine.
It is tempting to want to keep things uncomplicated and easy day-in and day-out. When we get busy or stressed, the last thing we want is for something to be different or “out of order.” Unfortunately, we can get so attached to our routine that it ends up as deep a rut as any. Or as a guy named Vance Havner said, “…a rut is nothing but a grave—with both ends kicked out.”
When you think about it—we need Facebook to shake things up now and then. They know it—and we know it too. In order to live SMART 365 it is wise for us to remember that change, or mixing things up, is one of the best things that can happen to us. Anticipating change as a benefit is healthy. With that in mind I wonder what great thing Facebook will try next?
“Little men with little minds and little imaginations go through life in little ruts, smugly resisting all changes which would jar their little worlds.” Zig Ziglar
“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.” –Edith Wharton