Lately, I’ve had some problems with my morning routine. I slowly bored myself with the same old healthy habits. What once felt refreshing and restorative morphed into daily drudgery.
Quite frankly, it’s a great problem to have. Many people struggle to even start building healthier habits. Complaining about boredom when it comes to the monotony of consistent exercise, meditation, and reading makes me sound entitled.
However, it’s a real problem. And I know I’m not alone.
Some Saturdays start very slow as I struggle to push myself through my routine.
“Stop watching YouTube videos! It’s time to meditate.”
“Just one more.”
“No. Now! I mean it.”
“I don’t wanna. It’s boring.”
“But we downloaded the guided meditations to keep us interested.”
“Well, it’s boring!”
“Enough is enough, damn it. It’s time to meditate.”
“I hate you!”
As I argued with myself like an exasperated adult with a petulant child, I knew there had to be a better way.
This problem presents an interesting dilemma related to habits and life change. On one hand, we naturally gravitate towards new and shiny things. That new sofa, television set, or Porsche feel incredible in the first month. We always feel motivated to start that new exercise routine or diet.
But then we adapt. We acculturate. Our new toy or process becomes normal. The luster fades as we sink into a new satisfaction set point. Not only does our 50-inch plasma screen fail to excite us, but the former 24-inch CRT screen becomes borderline unwatchable.
Something similar can happen to habits. Starting a new exercise routine, meditation technique, or study schedule feels motivating and empowering…for about a week. But as our routines sink into the background of our lives, they morph from enticing activities to “more shit on my to-do-list.”
But habits hinge on environmental cues. Habit formation is much easier when we regularly engage in an activity at the same time, in the same place, and in the same sequence of preceding and proceeding events.
In short, habits arise from consistency, but consistency breeds boredom.
So I retreated into my mental conference room.
“We’re having a motivation problem. Meditation and exercise are boring.”
“But we have to maintain our cues to maintain our habits.”
“Do we? I mean you meditated yesterday at 5:30 and today at 10:00. Maybe the timing doesn’t have to be perfect.”
“I wonder how much wiggle room we have, then.”
“Well, we’ve been meditating consistently for a year and exercising for much longer. Maybe we can afford to switch things up.”
“Maybe we have to switch things up.”
“In-home meditation is stale. It’s morphed from an energizing habit to an energy sink of procrastination.”
“What do you propose?”
“Let’s go outside.”
“Why not. Namak has so many parks and public spaces. We can meditate in a new space every day if we wish. We can listen to the birds, vibe with the din of the Cicadas, and let the breeze tickle our face.”
“You may be onto something.”
“Plus it gets us out of the stuffy studio.”
“I love it. Let’s start tomorrow.”
In the past week, I’ve meditated in at least five different spaces from public squares to unopened cafés, to convenience stores. Tuning into the sounds of nature has rejuvenated my spirit, lifted me above my oft-overcrowded headspace, and raised my moment-to-moment mindfulness.
Most importantly, the novelty excites me.
“Where will I meditate next?”
Unfortunately, this excitement will not last forever. Sometimes it rains. Plus Namak is only so big.
So I also plan to switch up my workout routine every four weeks. Even if I can still milk muscle and strength gains in a particular cycle, milking motivational gains may prove more fruitful in the long-term. The most effective workout routines have two elements – injury prevention and adherence. Exercisers that stay healthy and consistent reap the largest rewards.
While I once devalued motivation by lionizing discipline, my stance has changed.
Developing discipline may hinge on manipulating motivation.
Of course, this philosophy has limits. One cannot change routines every single day. Unceasing change morphs a routine into ADHD.
Balance is key. One needs enough consistency to harvest the benefits of a habit while introducing just enough novelty to reignite interest and excitement. The changes needn’t be large. Small changes in venue, time, or event order can reinvigorate a languishing routine.
This is a tug-of-war endemic to consciousness. It embodies relationships, habits, work, and leisure. We want the security of continuity (e.g. I will have a job tomorrow, I can enjoy this hobby for a long time to come). But we also seek novelty in the face of adaptation (This job no longer challenges me anymore, I don’t feel “butterflies” for my boyfriend).
The best thing we can do is surprise ourselves. Do you love lifting weights? Do a week of calisthenics. Do you mostly read non-fiction? Open a novel. Take your partner to a new café/restaurant/movie theater.
If we take the time to defy our comfort zones and buck our innate drive to adapt, our zest for life will inevitably flourish.