I love to run, but usually in a climate-controlled environment, on a treadmill, with music blasting in my ears. However, on a recent trip, I wasn’t able to get to a gym, so decided to hit the pavement outside instead. I thought that running outside wouldn’t be much different, and certainly not any less enjoyable than my “norm,” but boy, was I wrong!
Usually, I do intervals on the treadmill and I love them – they give me an energy boost, and most importantly to me, they keep my mind from going numb doing the same movements over and over. Having grown up as a ballet dancer, intervals are my way of mixing up movements to music, almost like dance. Because I love them and they are good for my mind and body, they are my “go-to” routine.
Five minutes into my warm-up outside, I instantly felt challenged. Every step took more effort, I immediately began to feel the variance in terrain and incline in every stride. My iPhone (playing my all-important “jams”) became increasingly heavy in my hand, and frankly, very annoying. Some enjoyment came from the beautiful tree-lined path and the fresh air, but after a few miles, my knees and feet were screaming that the pavement was WAY too hard. On top of that, without the intervals to break up my run, it felt agonizingly boring. I realized that breaking out of my routine was not fun. At all.
However, the next day, I ran outside again, just to challenge myself. I added a few of my own intervals – they weren’t timed out perfectly, but gave me some variety and an energy boost. I consciously tried to run lighter, making each step more intentional because of the different terrain. Instead of drowning my thoughts out with music, I tried to enjoy being outside, let fresh air fill my lungs, and thoughts of gratitude into my head (yes, even grateful for the hard work). After a few days, I was thankful that my travel schedule forced me to break my routine. My body, and my brain, had to work harder, and I was challenged to push myself outside my comfort zone.
As a left-brained, creature of habit, I love and crave routine. However, I recognize (sometimes begrudgingly), that breaking up the monotony, temporarily, feels awful, but yields great benefits in the long run. It also forces us to re-evaluate what we’ve become used to doing, because sometimes our habits aren’t helping us at all – in fact, they may be hurting us.
On a more serious note, have you ever watched a reality television show, (“Hoarders,” comes to mind), where people are living lives of decadence, depression or mental illness, but they just don’t realize it? They are drowning their happiness in habits that provide them temporary emotional comfort, but little other value. Routines, habits, and more harmful “go-to” comfort rituals can give us a moment’s peace, but can also cause major problems for our health and sanity.
For me personally, six years of my adolescence were spent enslaved to an eating disorder – a habit, coping mechanism, and serious illness that I depended on to get me through emotional pain and difficulty. And while the obsession with my weight, calories, and perfectionism was a temporary relief, it never made me any more are peace, and it never offered lasting protection. After working hard with a treatment team and the support of my family and friends, I recovered and found a way to break free from a very dangerous way of thinking that promised “safety” but never delivered. Some routines and patterns of thoughts and behavior can be very dangerous if we let them go without self-reflection.
Routines give structure and order to our lives, but some require a second look. Taking a moment to re-evaluate your own status quo can help you re-charge, push your limits, and grow as a person.
Take a moment to reflect on routines you have and how you challenge yourself to change things up – Even if your routine is not having a routine! Try setting a schedule for a day and see how it feels. If you are working on getting out of a bigger “rut,” such as depression, negative self-talk, an addiction or eating disorder, get lots of support from a treatment team, your friends and family. However hard the work may be to break a routine, even if it is one that isn’t harmful, challenge yourself to do it.
Changing up, or briefly interrupting, a routine or a pattern in our lives reminds us that we have freedom – Freedom to choose what and how we think, how we move, what we believe. Growth, as a person, comes through challenges and change. When we challenge ourselves in the little things, we make the bigger, inevitable challenges of life a little easier to face. Something, someday, will force you to break up your routine, and if you’ve already practiced coping with change, you will face that challenge stronger, and come out on top.