There’s no such thing as a one size fits all approach to how we live our lives. We’re all different people with differing likes and dislikes and so, stipulating a single way to do anything is pretty much pointless. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, I get that. But, have you ever thought about what REALLY works for you? In other words, when did you last experiment a little to see whether there are better ways of doing what you already do?
For most of us the answer is usually along the lines of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it‘ or ‘I’m far too busy to go playing around‘. And so, in those well worn phrases, we lose any hope of ever genuinely playing around. ‘Playing’ isn’t something that we as adults do anyway, is it? I mean, we’re all far too serious for that. And especially around work, heck, can’t be seen to be playing around!
But have you ever watched kids play? It’s quite often a whole journey of exploration for them. They get together to play a game and then promptly change half the rules and do things a little different to last time. And along the way they find a new order of things that they have never seen before and it’s, well, kind of fun suddenly. They’re not afraid to try new things and usually not as worried as adults if it doesn’t work out. Heck, it’s become so ingrained in many of us that we have to succeed at everything we do that we no longer take those little risks, change things a little or see how a variation plays out because we either don’t want to be seen to fail at something or because we feel we don’t have time to lose. And this becomes a trap that we keep ourselves in because … well … because.
And so it is, that we manage to continue in our comfort zones, with whatever we are busy with, doing things the same way, over and over, even if we suspect there could be alternative & better ways. We know it works, so let’s stick with it. Yet somewhere deep inside, we have a yearning to improve things and every now and then a thought comes to mind to try things a little different. Until the phone rings or someone complains about the fact we’re not doing things the way we used to. And without finishing the experiment we fall back to our comfort zones even if we know they’re not optimised by any stretch.
It’s Time To Get In the Lab & Play!
Comfort zones are an amazing thing. The brain has worked them out for us so that we minimise how much energy we use to get anything done. And any effort to challenge them feels uncomfortable. But have you ever thought of how flexible your thinking is when it comes to creative problem solving if you are wary of going beyond the known & familiar?
So I’d like to issue a challenge to you, to get into the habit of breaking those comfort zones a little at a time, every day. Make your life a living lab.
Let’s start with tomorrow:
- Which route do you take to work?
- Can you vary it?
- How much longer might it take you if you did?
- Why not try?
Ever gotten to work and wondered how you got there? It’s because you are doing the same thing time and time again that, even though you may be perfectly alert in the moment as you drive down the highway, when you get to work you can’t recall much about the journey because you weren’t paying attention to what was around you as you drove. And this is true because everything is just so familiar, so you filter it out.
But try a different route tomorrow and see how much more you remember about the route.
- You’ll likely notice things you don’t see on the other route. You’ll find some of these interesting and it’ll trigger a few thoughts.
- You may pass a shopping mall and remember the one clothes shop you used to go to and it will trigger an idea to go there after work.
- Or you may pass a park that was recently upgraded and you’ll think to take the kids there on Sunday.
The point is, that the longer we persist with a single way of doing something, the longer we allow our comfort zones to be the order of the day and the less observant and participative in life we tend to be. It’s as though we tune out. And what you don’t see you don’t miss. And so the cycle perpetuates with our own, unwitting permission to do so.
So ask yourself to what degree you spend every day at work in an endless series of comfort zones?
For instance, do you always park in the same parking bay?
- If so, and assuming your company has open parking and so allows it, try parking in another bay.
- And think about the discomfort you feel as you do so: ‘Ooh, there’s something weird going on suddenly, why am I doing this?’
- It feels odd right? But why should it? It’s just another parking bay. Yet somehow we feel odd by doing it and we may even have people ask us what the heck we think we’re doing parking over there instead of right here where we usually park.
- And so some subtle peer pressure brings us back into line.
So, if nothing else, and as a little experiment, when you next park outside your place of work, park somewhere else. And every time you return to park, park somewhere else instead. And see if you can last longer than 3 days, which is what I have seen people manage when challenged in this way!
The Deeper Implications?
Having done this little experiment, ask yourself to what degree you go about your work tasks every day in a comfort zone approach.
- How often do you challenge yourself to do things differently?
- How often do you choose to sit somewhere else to write that report to see if perhaps you feel a bit more inspired in doing so?
- Or perhaps you can work in an adjacent building and suddenly you bump into people you’ve not seen in a while?
- Or you always hold your meetings in the same room and they feel the same old same old? So why not try that new meeting room on the second floor? It suddenly feels like a different meeting up there. And people contribute more because they detect a different vibe.
Or how often do you chair the meeting when in fact you could ask someone else to chair the next one?
- How would that liven things up?
- And what insights would you get by doing more observing & listening and less talking & directing?
Or what if you decide to sit at a different table over your lunch break and engage in a different set of conversations?
Or how about changing where you go for lunch completely?
Or use the time to walk around the block with a colleague while you eat?
Or in your personal life … how does it feel to go on holiday somewhere different this year when you’ve been to the same place each year for the last few years?
Or you cycle the same route every Saturday morning and suddenly one day you take a different route, or even do the usual route but in reverse?
Or that favourite restaurant you visit each week for supper is undergoing renovations and you’re forced to find somewhere new … and wow, what a lovely little restaurant you discover and how enjoyable the evening was and how the conversation was so much sparkier and your plans for the next holiday all just came together in a moment?
In each of these examples, by doing things slightly differently, you will notice different things, make different connections in your mind and, quite often, end up in a different place to the one you usually end up in. And there can be great value in the new outcomes like a much fresher feeling from familiar experiences or unexpected insights that inspire fresh thinking on a difficult topic. But you’ll never know what you’re missing until you’re prepared to challenge the repetitive nature of your comfort zones.
It would appear that the variations are endless yet we continuously walk the same paths, day in and day out and wonder why we don’t get the same buzz as we used to or why we’re not as creative as we used to be.
And if we are so utterly unobservant about our drive into work, what do you suppose we miss around us everyday at work that could fire off our creative side? What new perspectives or insights are we missing by always doing things the same way? In other words, are we really exploring the full capabilities of our own creative talents if everything we do is done the same way time and again?
So think for a second, if you’re not prepared to even park in a different parking bay first thing in the morning when you arrive at work, what’s the chance that you’re going to approach anything else that day in a different way? And so, just perhaps, today is going to be just like every other day.
Yet if you can fire up that wicked little bit of energy first thing every morning that sees your car suddenly pull over in a different bay, perhaps, just perhaps … you will have sparked a revolution in your thinking for the rest of the day that will keep you constantly alert to how you might try to do things differently, even the small things. And on the slightly modified journeys you will embark on, you’ll be far more likely to experience a new day, a new way, be more observant, more participative, enjoy a new colleague, a new venue, new results, new resolve and new perspectives. And all of this can happen while going about your same old same old job!
So, don’t be afraid to play a little, every day. By making small changes to routines or long standing traditions, you never know when you might stumble upon a new insight and, suddenly, you’re not sitting so comfortably after all … because you’re off your chair with excited passion, changing your world and that of the people around you. Isn’t that something worth trying?
Please feel free to comment or use the email / social media icons below to share this post!