In her book Mindfulness, Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, tells the story of a generation of cooks who would cut off each end of a pot roast before putting it in the pan. When a family friend inquired about the odd practice, the family did some investigation work and found out it started that way because the pan the original cook used over 50 years back was too small to hold the entire thing.
In the chaos of everyday life, routines can be comforting. They are also the best way to pick up a good habit and can reduce the decision fatigue that accompanies the many different choices we face every day. But as the example of the family of cooks shows, sometimes our routines are not doing us any favours. Here are four ways you can benefit from breaking it.
1. Better focus
Do you find your mind wandering before your 45 straight minutes of work are up? Rest assured, it's a fairly non-fatal phenomenon.
Our brains are constantly seeking novelty. Breaking your routine can provide the stimulus it needs, improving your engagement with the new and not-so-mundane task at hand.
2. Better memory
Although repetition is commonly associated with retaining information, turns out that changing location stimulates the hippocampus, which stores long-term memories. Take a rickshaw instead of the car, work in a different spot, or go out for lunch break. Benedict Carey, author and report on medicine and science at The New York Times, says that changing your work environment and daily movements maximises the brain's effectiveness and allows you to retain more information.
3. Greater creativity
Remember that time you were staring at the computer screen like a zombie, your fingers refusing to type your big ideas into words, but then you took a break and came back and suddenly the creative juices started flowing? That wasn't just chance.
When you go outside of the standard flow of work, you're actually exercising your brain's neuroplasticity. That's just a cool word for your brain's ability to connect the dots between thoughts. The more “plastic” your brain becomes, the more flexible it is and the more creative thoughts and connections we're able to come up with.
We tend to follow routines to the extent that we don't even realise when they no longer benefit us. Take a step back, find out what works well for you, re-evaluate, make some tweaks, and reset yourself on the course to achieve your goals.