Human beings, like most animals, are fairly predictable. Which is good, because with less to think (and worry) about, your brain can switch to autopilot and take a much-needed break. The downside, however, is that if your brain is left on autopilot for too long, it falls into a slump, diminishing your creativity, motivation, and ability to solve problems effectively.
The solve? It’s easy, thankfully: Switch up your routine from time to time. Doing so exposes you to new triggers and forces your brain to pay closer attention to what you’re doing. This, in turn, fires up your neurons and creates new connections—known as “neuroplasticity,” or brain flexibility—which helps keep your mind active, healthy, and full of new ideas.
Small changes make a big impact. “Even seemingly minor changes can help train your brain to be open to—
and get ready for—bigger shifts,” says Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and author of Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success. “You don’t have to do a complete 180 and quit your job or move across the country.”
Ready to remix your routine? Check out this list of eight simple ways to break your daily patterns, embrace the unexpected, and add adventure to your everyday life:
1. Mix Up Your Mornings
Change one thing about your morning routine to start your day with a fresh perspective. It can be as simple as eating breakfast at home instead of on-the-go, swapping coffee for tea, or listening to music while brushing your teeth. Better yet, get up 15 minutes earlier than usual and go outside before breakfast. Take a walk, people watch, listen to the birds—do anything except think about your to-do list for the day ahead.
2. Change Your Commute
If you can, try a new route or a different mode of transportation on your way to or from work. If you typically drive, take public transportation. If you like to bike, walk instead. What do you hear? What do you see? Pay attention to new landmarks, storefronts, and people.
3. Switch Up Your Lunch Break
If you tend to eat at your desk, try dining al fresco, eating with a group of coworkers you don’t normally socialize with, or grabbing a bite at a restaurant you’ve never been to before. If you’re stuck at your desk, do your best to eat mindfully: Chew slowly, paying attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of your food.
4. Mix Things Up at Home
Does your partner always cook dinner? Are you always the one who does the laundry? Try reversing roles. For dinner, have a picnic (in the park or in the living room) instead of eating at the table. If you’re a parent, have your kids help with household chores and put some music on to make it more fun.
5. Experiment with Exercise
Mix up your movement! If you’re a runner, try a yoga class; if you love yoga, go for a bike ride or see what spinning is all about. If you’re a gym-goer, try using an unfamiliar piece of equipment or going at a different time of day. If you enjoy group fitness classes, challenge yourself to stand in a new spot in the room each time you attend.
6. Be Mindful About Media
If you watch the same television shows night after night or always listen to the news, turn the TV off and read a book instead. If you’re not a reader, ask a friend for recommendations or listen to an audiobook. If you love listening to music, explore the genres and artists you know the least about.
7. Flip Your Script
If your default response to requests is yes, start turning down opportunities if they aren’t in your best interest or if you’re overextended. (This will give you more time to change up your routine!) If you’re prone to saying no, push yourself to give new things a shot. You never know when you’ll find something you love by just giving it a chance.
8. Take a Trip
Travel is the ultimate routine disruptor—and you don’t need to go to a faraway place to reap the benefits. From day trips to tropical getaways, simply being away from home is enough to trigger new neural connections: A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology shows that the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that we encounter in a new place fire up the synapses in our brain. “Travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that’s novel and complex,” said Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., clinical neuropsychologist and founder of the Brain Health Center. “Your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level.” In fact, says Nussbaum, “even the stress that comes with travel is good because it positions the brain to be more attentive and more engaged.”
Go ahead and try at least one of these eight suggestions. If you need a little extra nudge, just remember these wise words from novelist Paulo Coelho: “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.”
Over the last 10 years, Janet Ungless has developed a comprehensive expertise in health and wellbeing as a writer and editor. With a particular focus on sleep, meditation, and wellness, Janet has worked with a host of digital platforms to help consumers live healthier, happier lives. Find her on Twitter @jungless.