I reckon on the whole self help books promise you the world – want to make more of your life? Get happy? Get thin? Get over yourself? Then they disappoint. A week or so after reading them I’ve forgotten the new shiny principles I promised to follow and the inertia of life has returned. Basically I’m back to doing the same old thing – and making no more of life than before.
Last year I decided to do something really, really simple. I did something different. Rather than reading endless self-help books and still feeling stuck I decided to do something practical instead to shove myself out of a rut.
So in 2013 I spent a year where each day I did something new or different. Sometimes it was something completely new, sometimes it was doing something I always did but just in a new way, and sometimes the new thing was not doing something I would usually do in a particular situation. I wanted to explain what made me start. Why did I begin doing different daily?
I remember the first time I heard the idea that you could choose how you felt about things, that our emotional state was a choice and not a given. I thought it was crap. Rubbish. How on earth could that be the case? If someone was mean to me, I was angry and upset – and that was their fault, not mine. Course I could be happy – if something nice had happened to me or I’d got lucky in some way. The idea that I had a role to play in how I felt was not only ridiculous, but seemed almost offensive.
Five years on and not only do I believe it, I’m the one spouting these words at others. And not only those words, loads of words.
Here’s another sentence I struggled with initially – ‘you have infinite choice at every moment’. If you are anything like I was, you’ll be laughing out loud now, and you’ll certainly be wondering if you did the right thing in looking at this blog. But yes you did, and yes, it’s true.
However limited your options might seem to you, you have an infinite number of choices in front of you at each and every moment. That means it’s entirely up to you both what you do at any moment of the day or night. It’s also up to you how you feel at any moment of the day or night too. I know it may not be what you want to hear, let alone want to accept (it took me five years to get my head around it). But it is true. Everything is entirely down to you.
It was doing something different each day that finally made me understand this. The thing is, as humans we are massive creatures of habit. We quickly find a set of things to do and a set ways to do those things. Then we just do that, full stop. We don’t really think about stuff, we just follow routines. Sometimes we inherit these routines, or they are shaped by the society we live in and the people around us. Often we create them ourselves.
Think about your average morning. Do you have a routine? A time you usually get up? Do you wash and do your teeth straight away or wait until after your breakfast, the paper, catching up on your computer or phone, watching the news? Do you eat the same kind of things each morning, go to the gym, fit in a visit to the loo all in the same kind of order each day? If you do, then you are not alone. We need routines. They mean we get stuff done. They remove the huge range of mind blowing choice that’s out there so we can manage ourselves and actually make it out the house in an hour, 30 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever our personal routine dictates.
The problem is routines also have a downside. We get stuck. We forget we ever had a choice and instead we think the routine is there forever.
When you order a takeaway, do you usually order the same dishes? Probably. And you order those ones because you like them best, right? But how do you know you like them best unless you’ve tried more of the items on the menu? How do you know you prefer that type of takeaway if you’ve not tried all the other cuisines that are on offer?
In your living room or at your table or around your house, do you have a chair that you usually sit in? Probably. And you sit there because it’s the most comfortable or has the best view. But how do you know it’s the best place to sit unless you’ve tried all the others? Maybe the time of day matters, and a different place would be better in the morning light? Maybe a different type of seat would be better for some tasks? Maybe a new view, a new perspective is just what you need to see things from a different angle.
Do something for me – cross your arms. Ok, now uncross them and cross them the other way, so that the other arm is on top. Now how does that feel? Most people find it a bit awkward, unnatural. Doesn’t feel quite right. Yet there is no real reason for us to have a preference. There isn’t a tendency for right handed people to cross one way and left handers another. We simply do what we have always done and it feels right. It’s just a comfortable habit we have got into. Our bodies like the comfort of routine. Crossing our arms one-way or the other doesn’t really matter. It makes no difference which side your habit prefers. Nothing radically changes when you break that habit (I know – both sides now feel equally comfortable to me, and the world is pretty much just the same).
But when we challenge other habits, it’s different. Breaking some routines, changing the ways in which we do some things can be transformational. Like stopping drinking alcohol, smoking, incessant negative thoughts – the dead obvious ones for sure, but also a whole host of much, much smaller things that hold sway over our daily lives. What we eat, what we read, what we consume in all ways. How we talk to people, how we relate to bosses and those we work with, how we are with our friends and families.
Doing something different everyday can help shift us out of our routines and make us more aware of what we are doing and why we are doing it. At it’s most basic level is just about having an excuse to push yourself a little. In a more fundamental way, it’s about becoming more mindful – making deliberate choices rather than living life on autopilot.
Remember, doing something different daily is not about big, huge things that mean you have to completely change your life. It’s mainly tiny little things that all us normal people can do. In the early days of my year of doing different daily I was criticized a lot for some of my choices (thanks, various members of my immediate family). They felt some of my choices were too small, too insignificant, too pathetic to count.
Doing different daily isn’t about size or scale, it’s simply about waking up a bit, moment by moment, and pushing yourself an insy winsy tiny bit each day.
It’s not about being radical – you don’t have to spend each day living according to the actual rules in the Bible (see A J Jacobs The Year of Living Biblically) or having sex everyday for a year (see Charla Muller 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy). All power to the people who can do such stuff, but I’m not one of them. I’m way too lazy and anyway, I have a family, work and a whole load of other stuff to be getting on with that wearing long flowing robes, giving sermons on the mount and having constant sex would interfere with.
Doing something small but different each day isn’t a radical act, but you just might find it has radical results. You don’t have to change your life to do this, but it by doing this you’ll certainly change how you feel about your life. Oh, and doing different daily isn’t about you following a list of things of the things I’ve done either.
You have to make your own choices each day about what you do differently. I hope this blog will give you a heap of ideas of where to start looking for the elements you can start to shift and change.
Over the next 12 months I’m going to blog my way through the different things I found out through my year – the science behind doing stuff differently, how to make the mundane more interesting, pushing productivity and much, much more.
Why not come along for the ride?
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