This is what happened yesterday evening: I left work; I did some shopping; I went home; I unpacked the shopping; I considered making a cup of tea. So far this is all very ordinary. While my preferred routine is to bypass the shopping component of the evening and go straight home and have tea, there are times when I have to eat, and there are therefore not indirectly related times when I have to go and do shopping. This happens all too regularly in fact.
What also happened yesterday evening is that I happened to check our answerphone as I was unpacking the shopping. This remarkable act of prescience on my part led to the discovery that my Dad, his wife, and our four-year old son had been stranded in Fremantle with a flat battery. Although they were waiting for the RAC to save them the thought did cross my mind that I should drive down to Freo in case they were still stuck and wanted bringing home. Almost immediately, and somewhat more instinctively, the competing thought popped up that a drive to Freo would take up to a whole half an hour, would prevent me from immediately satisfying my tea cravings, and would also mean that I wouldn’t be able to have dinner at the customary Carter-friendly time of 6pm.
In other words, it would break my routine.
I have to say that these thoughts were beaten down almost as quickly with the more practical calculation that I would more than likely arrive in Freo after their car had been fixed and end up having to drive home for naught. However, my wife Rach, being the noble sort, suggested that I should do it anyway. Which I did. Meanwhile she would wait at home and call me if the rest of the family did manage to make it back without me.
Sure enough I got to Freo and there was no sign of them, so I figured I had no choice to but to head home. Even more sure enough, as I was about ten minutes from home the call came that the rest of family had arrived safely (if a little chilled).
It was at this stage of my epic jaunt that I realised that the whole thing had actually been quite nice. It would never normally occur to me, immediately after arriving home, to hop in the car and embark upon a fruitless drive to Freo and back – I would say it was a waste of time, or too much effort after a hard day’s work, or a pointless reason to delay dinner, or any number of worthless excuses.
The truth was it was kind of liberating. We instinctively couch ourselves in routine because we eventually come to know what we like to do, and when we like to do it. (Arguably parents are even more entrenched in routine as it’s – honestly – perhaps the single most valuable tool you can have in your Parenting 101 Toolbox.) That routine becomes habit and eventually becomes part of your comfort zone. However, it can also become a trap: before you know it everything you do throughout your entire day has become part of the routine and, by its very nature, dissuades you from trying anything new.
As with almost everything, routine is good – if not essential – in moderation, but we shouldn’t let our entire lives be dictated to by our comfort zones. Remember this: routine has it’s time and place.
So, I propose the idea of the ‘discomfort zone’. Pick something that you would never normally do. Doesn’t have to be anything big. Just something that’s different than what you would normally do at that time of day, or different than the way you would normally do something. See how it makes you feel.
When I was (a lot) younger I used to walk from my house to the bus stop every day as part of my journey to school. Every so often I’d do something like cross the road at a different place, or walk to the bus stop before or after my normal stop, or stop and get a chocolate bar on the way. Just once in a while I’d do something different simply because it broke the routine and added a little variety, however minor, into my day. It would help give a slightly different perspective to my day.
That’s all I’m taking about. Something tiny. Just something to broaden your comfort zone a little, make it a tiny bit less restrictive.
Then, next week we can all go bungee jumping, right?