“Where have you been….??!!”
I returned recently to attend a fitness class I hadn’t been to in a long while. It was a class I used to attend every single week, without fail, for a pretty long time, over a year anyway. So, five people came up to me to ask, “Where have you been?” and I’d already been contacted privately by several others and the instructors themselves. One guy whom I used to chat with regularly said he assumed I moved out of state. Then he wanted to know, “Where have you been?”
I could have said many things; I could have told them about my broken toes and how they cramped my exercising style for a while, but that wasn’t really it. I could have said I needed to tweak my schedule because it’s summer, and I needed to get my organic garden going, but that wasn’t really it, either. I might have reassured them that I still loved the class but just “couldn’t make it.”
Truth is, I simply needed a change. I started exploring other classes at other fitness centers and other yoga classes at other yoga studios. I even dropped a few classes I was teaching.
I had a need, not to chill out and not to do less, but to do different. Do I want to return to attending this class again? Maybe. It was a great class! Do I want to keep up with the new ones? Maybe. They are good, too.
This schedule I had going was working very well for me. I was doing the right number of yoga classes, cardio workouts, and weight-lifting classes for what my body needed and wanted. I was attending classes with instructors I really liked. I saw my workout buddies regularly, and we enjoyed that.
Routines can be great things, but they can also be traps. They can anesthetize you or even hypnotize you into a certain way of walking through life that leaves out variety and curiosity, a sense of adventure, or expansiveness.
A friend of mine is very wedded to maintaining a set and repetitive daily schedule. You could set your watch (or Fitbit, whatever…) according to when she does certain things, and you’d be right on the mark. For the most part, she eats the same foods at the same time of day, does errands at the same time of the day, and orders the other things she does in a pretty predictable fashion.
You could speculate about people who live like that. You could wonder, do they have anxiety? You could wonder, do they fear things being out of control? You could suspect OCD and all sorts of things. You might wonder about their capacity for spontaneity or their ease with change. Sure, these things may be driving the behavior, yet some people simply value set schedules because they were taught to. Others are simply trying to find some sense of order in an, at times, chaotic and messy world.
There’s nothing wrong with habits. In fact, they can be very useful. Good habits can drive health when we establish a regular eating or exercising habit. Getting in the habit of positive thinking is a great habit. Replacing an unhealthy habit with a better one is great. Habits help us sustain important behaviors, and they also help us get things done without excessive planning or decision-making.
Opening the View
Nonetheless, if you are doing the same thing every day, you might want to ask the question, “Is this a trap?” If you drive the same route every single day to work or to the grocery store, what are you missing out on? You might also want to ask, “Why? Is there a good reason for continuing to do this?” or “What am I not doing or experiencing because I keep doing this other thing?”. Perhaps ask, “Am I self-soothing by allowing my life to be so predictable?” or “What might it feel like to do this differently?” Other things to consider: Is your behavior with others very predictable? Have people come to count on you to always say the same thing or act the same way? Is that really who you want to be?
It’s a good thing to keep our view open on life, on ourselves, and on other people, and to remember that we always have choices. At their best, habits will not blind us to the other ways of doing things that are possible. I invite you to look at your habits when you look at people you “know.” If you keep seeing them as the same, day after day, year after year, you contribute to them staying stuck in an old persona. Relationships can get very stale when we don’t allow others to grow by expecting the same person to show up all the time.
Once we notice how our view or behavior has become overly regimented, let’s consider how we can see and do differently. How can we set aside habitual attitudes, opinions, or actions and invite some variety or creativity to our day? Can we encounter people as though we were meeting them for the first time and be curious and excited to find out more about them?
Can we drop a cherished habit (“I always eat my dessert last”) and explore something new today just to experience it? Not to form a new habit. Not to add another “should” to our list. Just to experience something different. Can we get up earlier and meditate? Go for a walk before breakfast?
Sure, this might make some of us uneasy, but that’s really not a bad thing. It’s an invitation to expand our capacity to move without so much predictability embedded in our days. New behaviors and attitudes change our brains and open our minds. Let’s try it!