Human beings are creatures of habit. We crave routine and normality, which make us feel comfortable and secure. We read articles by successful people that teach us the importance of routines and developing habits. For example, articles such as 22 habits of successful leaders by Forbes, 20 habits of highly successful and effective leaders by Inc, and The 5 productive morning routines of highly effective people by Trello, we encounter them on a daily basis. We feel inspired by them. We work diligently to create a routine or habit for ourselves and stay consistent with it.
Good routines and habits create amazing results. I have routines and habits that I follow that help me stay productive and focused. However,
Have you ever wondered what happens when you don’t have routines? Are routines the most effective practice to help us reinvent ourselves and to discover new potentials about ourselves?
In this article, I reflect on my experience and share with you the power of losing routines.
What happens when you lose your routine: My story
About two months ago, our entire family made the craziest and bravest decision to relocate from the United States to South Korea for two years. For nearly two months, we have been staying in a hotel room in Seoul. During these two months, I have completely lost track of my habits and routines. Some days I wake up, feeling disoriented and asking myself, Where am I and which day is it today? I’m in a foreign country where I don’t understand the language, I’m not adjusting well to the local diet, and many things just don’t make sense.
However, in this transition of feeling displaced and disoriented, I discovered something magical and empowering.
That is, how space can redefine our state of mind. I found:
You can see this change clearly in my writing. Among the 14 blogs that I have published so far, half of them were about my weaknesses, the mistakes I made as a college professor, and my vulnerabilities. For example,
It almost feels like talking about mistakes has become a recurring theme in my writing. And I feel quite comfortable at disclosing my weaknesses and sharing what makes me vulnerable, without worrying about how others would judge me. If you think I am always like this, you are wrong. This is not the “normal” me that I am familiar with. However, I am loving it. It is has been quite intriguing and liberating to discover a new me as a result of a geographic reorientation. My state of being and state of mind have also been correspondingly reoriented.
How do routines confine us?
When you follow the norm, very few people question you. When you break the norm, you have to supplement your action with a “Why”.
For example, in education, learning through an authoritative figure or lecture has almost become a norm. When you divert from that, you have to justify your action with a why. I still remember when I shared with my students that I use Snapchat like they do, they they looked at me a bit surprised. Why? Because not many professors use it as a pedagogical tool. On the other hand, when you follow the norm, your action is automatically justified.
In my personal life, I have been a vegan for many years. As vegetarian has become more popular in the US, I find that I don’t have to justify my diet or lifestyle choice any more. Interestingly, in South Korea, vegetarianism or veganism is not a common lifestyle. I am reliving my old life again to some extent. I have been asked by quite a few people, why I don’t eat this or that? Am I going to be malnourished? Where do I get my protein? etc. On the other hand, when people see my boys eating a hotdog, their thumbs are up.
I hope my story has inspired you a little. My call for action for you is this: Try something crazy. Go somewhere that’s exotic to you. Challenge yourself by breaking away from your routines. Breakthrough can only happen when you break something. Embrace the spirit that Lu Ann Cahn (@luanncahn) advocates in her book, I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day. Remember magic only happens outside your comfort zone.