I’ll admit it. I hate change. It upsets the balance and sense of calm that I desperately try to maintain in my life, and that tends to make me nervous. I go to the same restaurants and order the same foods. I feel a little frazzled when a detour interrupts my route to work. And honestly, I’m convinced that chaos would ensue if I went to a different grocery store.
What keeps me stuck in my routines–even when they are boring, depressing, and even frustrating?
What prevents me from taking chances and breaking out of my everyday habits when I know–personally and professionally–that new experiences are crucial to well-being?
To get to the bottom of this I had to think deeply about the things that hold me back. I asked myself two questions.
Why shouldn’t I break away from the norm?
Fear of the unknown
The unknown of new experiences can be intimidating or anxiety-provoking for many people. Like a turtle, we withdraw into the safety of our shell when we even think about something that seems dangerous. This is how we protect ourselves from risks, fears, and failures. The problem with that is when we withdraw into our shells, we cut ourselves off from potentially wonderful experiences and opportunities. In an attempt to avoid feeling anxious, we put ourselves in a rut that may cause feelings of restlessness, boredom, and depression.
Do some soul-searching and try to discover if fear or anxiety keeps you from taking chances or seeking novelty.
The worst case scenario
The dreaded worst case scenario makes every decision we face exponentially more difficult. It’s’s easy to forget that the horrible outcome we’ve cooked up in our minds is not guaranteed. Ask yourself, how likely is it that the worst case scenario will happen? And even if you didn’t want to, couldn’t you probably handle the worst case scenario? Instead of pondering all of the things that could go wrong, try to imagining the good things that could happen from trying something new.
Ask yourself, “What is the best thing that could happen if I try to get out of my daily habits?” Breaking the chains of normalcy isn’t so scary when we focus on the good things that can come from it.
The Norm is Comfortable
Comfortable is nice, but comfortable doesn’t always equal happiness and well-being. Yes, we may feel safe and secure, but that safety will only do so much for our happiness. Where would we really be if we never moved from where we are comfortable? Breaking away from the norm doesn’t require that we completely demolish our safety zone, but sometimes we do need to step outside of it to grow to our fullest potential.
Why should I break the norm (the more important question)?
Because Doing so is an opportunity for discovery.
I waited tables when I was in college, and one thing that I saw time and time again was people accidentally ordering a dish and discovering a new favorite food. That serendipitous moment always made the dining experience better. Doors open when we take chances. How exciting is it that we can purposefully break away from our everyday norms and create opportunities for discovery?
Every single one of us has the psychological need for stimulation and novelty. We’re born with it. Think about the first time you show a toddler a new book, toy, or even a bug they’ve never seen. They are absolutely fascinated by it. Well we adults need that too. New experiences help the brain develop, grow, and maintain its health. The act of finding something new is good for us because it causes the brain to release the same feel-good chemicals that flow through our bodies after we workout or bite into our favorite food.
Resilience, Strength, & Growth.
I would be lying if I said that every time we break away from the norm something wonderful happens. There are times when we make decisions that simply do not go well. However, out of unpleasant or even terrible experiences comes strength and resilience that we never knew existed within us until we challenged ourselves to do something differently. Even if you try cooking a new dish, manage to burn it to a crisp, and end up serving cereal for dinner, you made an effort and learned something in the process. Give yourself credit for that. Life is a series of learning experiences. Even the experiences that don’t go well are valuable.
Breaking the norm doesn’t always need to be a huge, life-changing event. We don’t need to end our long-term romantic relationships in exchange for novelty, but maybe we could be more spontaneous with kind gestures for our partners. We don’t have to throw out all the food in the pantry and completely change our diet. Cooking a new dish once a week can do the trick. If you find yourself struggling with letting go of all the reasons why you shouldn’t break the norm, start small. Reap the rewards of those small actions and go at a comfortable pace. Wellness is about balance–and that includes a balance between exploration, challenge, motivation, and safety.
Are you stuck and trying to find a way out? Do you feel trapped by your routine? Let The Stone Foundation support you as you try something new. We are a team of counselors dedicated to seeing you live your best and most fulfilling life. Contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit us online. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only, and should not to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola’s Counseling Practitioner Program. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention to residents of Baltimore City. She also has experience providing counseling to students at a local college for issues including grief and loss, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, anxiety, and trauma. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.