Your brain’s task automator. It loves to keep you in the comfort zone of what you know best.
Why the habit exists
Routine thrives on efficiency. Its job is the automation of the repetitive. It’s there for you when you need to quickly recall everyday actions and behaviours without wasting mental effort.
It works by literally strengthening the neural pathways in your brain that get used the most. Think of it like a busy highway. It’s far more effective to focus attention on keeping this operating smoothly than worrying about the lesser-used side roads. Routine functions by keeping you on the same track without distractions taking your attention elsewhere.
Routine ideally wants to turn you into a specialist, honing your skills to ensure you become increasingly proficient at more tightly defined and manageable processes.
Furthermore, the more you’re exposed to something, the more you prefer it. This is called the ‘familiarity principle’. Basically, you prefer the things you do more often, resulting in your regular patterns becomes more and more fixed.
How it holds you back
Whilst mental efficiency is the primary goal, this does mean the more thoughts and actions are repeated, the more deeply embedded they are and the harder it becomes to see any other way. In essence, you are what you repeat!
Routine ensures you prefer to stick in the comfort zone of what you do best. In neuroscience terms, we have an ‘observational selection bias’, where we notice things we’ve done before more often and it’s easier to look for similar things. This means it can be harder to stumble upon new sources of inspiration and more of a struggle to come up with innovative ideas.
Routine often puts your decision making on auto-pilot. This is great when things stay the same but not so helpful when directions change. Your point of view is largely based on the accumulation of existing knowledge and past experiences. It can limit your ability to draw upon new sources of information, meaning you are often blind to new opportunities.
How you can train it
To overcome the trap of Routine, you can consciously choose to change your mindset in the following ways:
From comfortable to adventurous
Unless your pulse beats faster with the trepidation of exploring new directions and uncharted ideas, you’ll know you are firmly planted in your thinking comfort zone.
From familiar to foreign
Embrace the strange and unfamiliar to disconnect yourself from your typical associations. If your thoughts and ideas are all too familiar, you are not pushing the limits of what your mind is capable of.
Change your environment. The same environments prime the same thoughts and feelings. New environments don’t make it easy for existing thinking habits to rear their heads, freeing you to act as an inspiration sponge.