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One Small Change

Shake Up Your Routine to Keep Your Mind Sharp


I don’t usually go around quoting Martha Stewart, but her response to the question “What is your motto?” in a recent issue of Vanity Fair seems particularly applicable to how I spent my summer vacation.

“When you are through changing,” she said, “you are through.”

For the last month I’ve been at war with habit. Each day I’ve tried to take one of my many ingrained routines and do it slightly differently. Here were some of the most entertaining:

  • Brush teeth with opposite hand. It’s impossible to explain how difficult this is. Think you’re athletic? Try it.
  • Drive a different route to work. I felt more awake when I arrived, but that may have stemmed from narrowly avoiding an accident at an unfamiliar intersection.
  • Tune into a new radio station whenever I’m in the car. I can’t believe how popular Christian radio has become in rural Pennsylvania. Jesus is all over the dial.
  • Use the downstairs toilet. I don’t know what it is but the upstairs one still feels more comfortable to me.
  • Cut my lawn diagonally. Next I may try a checkerboard!
  • Sleep on the opposite side of the bed. When the alarm went off, I instinctively reached right, smacking my wife in the head.
  • Park in a different spot. You guessed it, I forgot where I parked.
  • Order something different at my usual restaurant. I confused the waitress but discovered a new favorite.
  • Turn my yoga mat in a different direction. Damn if it didn’t make balancing more challenging.
  • Ride in the back seat while my wife drives. It’s more relaxing, and we argue less. Now if I can only get her to wear the chauffeur’s hat.
  • Reverse my putting grip. Putting the left hand below the right actually gave me more control on short putts.
  • Trade running for walking. There’s something about the zen of a long, solitary walk that’s just as enjoyable as a run. Plus, I’ve discovered new things in my neighborhood—like Mrs. Stackenmuth.

Overall, this simple experiment made me aware of how much of life is habitual (99% claimed one expert I spoke with) and how enlivening it feels to break these little “rules.” The more habits I broke, the more youthful and devil-may-care I felt, and the more I looked for others to disrupt. It became an invigorating game—and one that may have significant long-term health benefits, according to a recent article in Brain Journal. (What? You don’t subscribe?) Researchers have found that for every additional year of education you have, your risk of dementia drops by 11 percent. This is not only a good reason to reconsider grad school, but it also underlines the importance of lifelong learning. And breaking habit, whether in your career, relationship, workout or daily routine, promotes exactly that.

Although this One Small Change experiment has officially ended, I’m going to keep at it. As usual, Martha’s right.

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Focus, Attitude, Energy, Leisure Time