By: Luke Vandermeer
How many times in your life have you heard someone say that they’ve fallen into a rut? That life seems to take on this Groundhog Day effect of being almost completely the same, give or take a few minor differences? Have you ever been stumped when someone you haven’t talked to in a while hits you with a “So, what’s new?” and you can’t find an answer?
Humans aren’t called creatures of habit for no reason. Our lives are designed to be repetitive in many ways, which can sometimes be a good thing. Having a regular schedule for work, school, extra-curricular activities and so on allows us to manage our lives in a consistent way so that we can hopefully maximize our days. If we’re content living our lives that way though, where does the rut come from? When we’re hit with the `”what’s new” question and feel we can only answer “not much”, it usually carries a negative feeling along with it, almost like we’ve let ourselves down. We failed to have something new and exciting in our lives to talk about, and if we do this often enough we might even consider ourselves to be in a rut.
What’s our answer to this? Sadly, for most people it’s to either swap a habit or do more of it. We might turn the tv off from that Netflix binge and read a book, but it doesn’t really break us out of our routine. It may give us a new novel to talk about, but does it really fill that void that makes you have an answer ready the next time someone pops that dreaded question? Even worse, some of us may do even more of the things we consider ourselves guilty of having stolen our time. A nightly movie might turn into a Game of Thrones marathon, or that late-night snack might turn into a full-out cooking ordeal.
How about this though – why not make that book you’re reading one about learning a new language? Instead of perfecting the art of making a late-night sundae take an online cooking class?
It’s natural for us to want to learn new things, but often we’re stuck in the day to day routines whether we’re happy about it or not. That’s our life, that’s how the world works. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Not to dwell on pandemic talk, but the beginning of 2020 created the biggest rut our generation has ever seen. We were all thrown out of our regular routines by force, and in many ways left scrambling for some sense of normalcy. One thing changed for many of us, however. Suddenly taking on those “break the mold” ideas we always dreamed of but never took action on were the best ideas going. It was time to learn how to bake, it was time to work out, or maybe it was time to do that jigsaw puzzle that’s been sitting in the closet for years collecting dust. It took a world-wide event to do it, but we were thinking outside the box and taking the advantage of unexpected downtime to do something with it.
There’s no doubt that some of these habits will stick around for good, in large part due to the remote access that needed to be implemented so that people could take part from their homes. We made home gyms for ourselves rather than keeping a membership somewhere. We signed up and became familiar with online cooking classes, which by now seem almost second nature and so a much easier option for a hobby than before. To those of us that are continuously finding new ways to explore new ideas and interests, nicely done! For some of us though, the “new normal” may have blended itself back into more normal than new by now. Staying home seems more like the thing to do even if we can go hang out, we feel less guilty for binging that latest season on Netflix, and unless our cooking skills have gone to that next level in the last couple of years take-out may seem like an easy fix for dinner. Nobody’s watching anyway, right?
If you find yourself more on the latter part of those contrasts, when you take a step back you may not be happy about it. Why would that be, you ask? It goes back to the same feeling we get when we have nothing to say about what’s new in our life. The creature of habit takes over and we form a sort of tunnel vision, especially with the roller-coaster ride the world is giving us these days.
In a world so uncertain of the future and what will happen anywhere, even in our own lives, it’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness, and so give in to a certain amount of submission. In a way we get tunnel vision, and if we feel the rest of the world is doing the same thing it must be ok for us to do it too, right?
While taking a much-needed break from our hard-working lives is sometimes definitely needed, the word ‘break’ defines itself as impermanent. A break is a separation from the normal, implying that there is another way of living that we will eventually go back to. If your break has become the norm, it could be time to revisit some of those goals you’ve had, possibly even since a child. Sure, it may not be easy at the moment to hop on a plane and go tour that country you’ve always wanted to see, but what’s stopping you from going online or picking up a book to research and plan? Depending on where you want to go, speaking a different language could be a huge asset. Time to learn!
The takeaway – it’s easy, especially in the world these days, to get trapped with a sense of tunnel vision to our routine daily habits. Life may seem more difficult in a lot of ways, and when this happens our sense of control might feel taken away. We can either hunker down and stick to the same things over and over (and over), or we can take the opportunity of increased downtime to branch out. We may not be able to do that physically yet, but we can certainly prepare our minds and bodies for the day that we can.
Photo by: Luis Villasmil