Making the mundane more interesting

a tree against a stormy skyIf you look up the word ‘mundane’ in the dictionary it means:

lacking interest or excitement; dull.

Lots of activities in most people’s lives could be described this way. It’s the things you have to do, rather than want to do. It’s the routine, and the necessary, the obligatory.

Some people get a great kick out of routine activities. They like the repetition, the process, they find it comforting. Some like some of them – there might be a particular thing that is enjoyable – for me its peeling vegetables, there is something about releasing the fresh new layer under the tired external skin that I find quite thrilling although I’m sure even that would pale if I were doing it more often or with a larger number of veg.

For most of us most of the time mundane activities are just that – mundane. They are the things you might find yourself doing on autopilot, the things when you might use the time to think about something else whilst your body just gets on with the thing that has to be done, the bits you would edit out if you were describing your day to someone else.

So what for you is mundane? What activities do you have to do again and again that you just find dull. What for you is monotonous, repetitive, uninteresting and yet necessary? For me its things like travelling on trains, which I do a lot, doing the washing or the washing up and pairing socks (which I particularly hate). Or you might find there is something that is only sometimes mundane. It might be an activity that is sometimes exciting, fun and engaging, and yet sometimes the dullest seeming thing on earth.

my dog smiling at the cameraDuring my year of doing things differently, one activity kept appearing for me again and again and again. In my case it was walking the dog. I do this twice a day everyday that I am home, for between 20 and 60 minutes each time depending on my schedule, the weather and just how much the dog is bouncing off the walls. Now I love my dog, don’t get me wrong and a lot of the time I love walking him. I’m lucky. I live next to a wood, close to a moor and within walking distance of a waterfall, a stone circle, plenty of fields, pubs, ponds and other stuff. Beautiful places to walk. Most of the time I look forwards to going out, stretching my legs and breathing in fresh air.

Sometimes I don’t.

Sometimes I just want to sit on the sofa watching crap telly. Sometimes I want to stay in bed, hiding under the duvet and pretending to be asleep. Sometimes I want someone else in the family to go and walk the dog so I don’t have to. Basically, sometimes I find dog walking mundane, dull, uninteresting and unexciting. Sometimes I even begin to hate the dog, resenting the time he steals from me with his constant need to be walked.

IMG_0156So how do we react to mundane things we don’t want to do?

Well, this is one way I used to behave. I’d look at the dog, I’d know I had to go and walk him, and I’d sit there beginning to feel miserable about it. I’d think about all the other things that doing this thing stopped me from doing. It might be that I was really in tune with my work and I’d have to break that flow, or that I was really busy with a huge list of things to do and this would put me back, or it might be that I was resting up – maybe watching telly or reading a book – and this would stop me having my time and that wasn’t fair.

Basically I’d feel resentful. And this feeling might seep in an hour or so before I actually took the dog out anyway. An hour of being not in flow, of being unproductive and of interrupted ‘me-time’ anyway – before adding on the time for walk itself. Totally pointless.

Now sometimes I might catch myself and remember I have a choice about how I feel. I’m not enlightened enough to be able to instantly shift my mood simply by recognising it as one thing and then making it be something else, oh no (I don’t think many of us are, that’s why it’s so annoying when someone tells you to ‘cheer up’). But I can sometimes recognise my mood and then take action to shift it. For me, this is when doing something different each day really came into its own. It was the perfect way to mood-shift in relation to mundane activities.

me drinking a gin and tonic whilst dog walkingI couldn’t change the fact I needed to walk the dog, but I could decide to do the dog walk differently.

I could decide to find something new in the way I approached walking the hound which would switch dull into interesting, which would engage me in a new way. Instead of being bored on autopilot I could use the time to shift my mood rather than simply follow my usual pattern of becoming more and more miserable and resentful. And from the moment I started to think about how this walk would be different I felt invigorated, charged with a new sense of excitement rather than of boredom.

Quite a dramatic transformation.

During the year, as I said, I kept coming back to the dog walking. I did simple things like changing my route – I discovered new places to walk to even just starting at my own front door, tried walking my usual routes the other way round, tried not using paths at all but hacked through the undergrowth (not really recommended). One day I walked up the stream – actually in the stream – which is great fun providing you don’t have a hole in your wellingtons. I took a gin and tonic with me too on one memorable occasion…

dog in the woods in the snowMy favourite was going out in January one lunch time after a heavy snowfall the night before. I decided to myself that I wasn’t allowed to cross other people’s footprint trails so had to make each step into new virgin snow at all times, making my own unique trail that never cut across another. This started off quite easily, but lead me to some rather intricate dances as I backtracked or tried to find new ways of getting from A to B without crossing the lines. It was also compounded by the tracks the dog was making – I had to be sure he didn’t run around me in a complete ring, or his tracks would have needed crossing! At one point the only option was to slide off a bank into a snowdrift and I can remember it now – the sense of excitement at sitting down in the snow (I did have waterproof trousers on so there was no real risk to my clothing) and pushing myself off to drop 5 foot into a mound of snow covered bracken. The wood was so still and silent, no one else was around and I found myself laughing out loud at what I was doing. I remember that my laughter echoed slightly so I experienced that slightly odd disconnect when you catch yourself as others might see you – or in this case, hear what others might here.

Remember this was a day I didn’t want to walk the dog. When the jaw dropping beauty of the woods in winter had failed to seduce me, and instead where I had felt fed up and resentful of the fact I needed to suit and boot up and get outside. I’d probably inwardly moaned for an hour or so before going out about the general unfairness of life, specifically that I had to waste my time going out and doing this thing. And yet twenty minutes later I can be standing waist deep in a snow drift laughing my head off – invigorated, fresh and alive. How? Simply by approaching the walk differently and finding something new in it or even not having a route at all (the day I let the dog decide where we went and simply followed him).

my dogs arse as he jumps off a rock in the woodsSometimes I focused on trying to get the dog to do new things (I particularly remember my none too successful attempt at creating a rural dog agility course).

And sometimes I wouldn’t be on my own but with the kids and I’d get them to join in (like the day we took pictures of each other ‘sleeping’ in trees, on paths, in bushes to make funny photos). If I was alone, it might just be about me doing new things (trying to take photos of my hair blowing in the wind, or the way the light seems to fall across the land).

Basically, I recognised that there are an infinite number of ways in which I can make taking the dog for a walk more interesting for myself. I might start out feeling down, but if I choose to do something different, I can just as easily end up laughing out loud.

my hair blowing in a strong windI don’t think there is an option to eradicate all things lacking interest or excitement from our lives. The banking still needs to be done, the washing up won’t sort itself and the dog just needs to be walked. But we don’t have to settle for dull – honest.

And it’s tiny.

It’s a tiny, tiny, weenie shift. A shift in the head. A decision to look for the new, the different, the as yet undone.

Try it the next time you are faced with the mundane – what could you do differently?