Do we love watching risk-filled sports and white-knuckle reality-TV shows because our own lives have become almost painfully predictable? Do our armchair explorations speak of a deeper desire to press beyond the limits of our well-worn daily rituals? Is it possible that our attraction to “x-treme” flavors and caffeine-and-sugar-packed drinks has something to do with our struggle to keep from boring ourselves to death?
It’s not that I’m knocking routine. After all, we’ve developed many of our routines in the service of good common sense. Routines provide structure to our lives and give us the stability we need to support grander experiments. Some routines give us comfort and help us relieve stress.
The trouble is, once we get comfortable in our routines, we may fail to notice when they have outworn their useful purpose, or when new alternatives might serve us better. This is why it’s essential that we regularly inspect our routines, asking: Is this a routine I’ve consciously chosen — or is it a rut I’ve fallen into? (For more on this topic, see the October 2006 “Bust Out of Your Ruts” issue, available in our archives.)
It’s easy to come home and watch TV every night. It’s easy to go to the same restaurant each and every weekend. It’s even easy to do the same workout for months or years on end. It’s easy to play out the same predictable roles and responsibilities at work and home. But eventually, our synapses and souls get weary of these patterns. And once they get bored enough to begin nodding off, our lives get smaller. Our visions become narrower. Our minds and hearts get more rigid than they were meant to be.
Some routines provide a kind of dangerous pseudo-comfort that limits both our willingness and ability to make deeper, more constructive change. Binge eating, drinking and smoking are all examples of destructive habits embraced in the search of comfort, numbness or distraction. Other habitual behaviors, while perhaps less obviously destructive, take up an equally large amount of space and energy in our lives. They limit our perceptions of our capabilities, and they limit our willingness to explore new options.
Adventure, ultimately, is something that resides not outside of us, but within us, in our attitudes and perceptions. That said, I think we can cultivate our internal sense of adventure by exposing ourselves to new experiences. That may mean meeting new people, reading new books, learning new skills, traveling to fresh environments or even taking some professional risks.
This month, I invite you to consciously consider other areas of your life that might be calling for exploration. What might be some fun or rewarding ways to adjust your work habits, social patterns, family roles or the ways you spend your personal time? Where are you choosing good routines that really work for you, and where are you falling into ruts by default?
Once a month, pick one routine and mix it up. You might make a healthy dish you’ve never tried, take an exercise class you’ve never taken, follow a path you’ve never explored, or engage your partner or family in an activity you’ve never experienced together.
Stretching in these small ways prepares us to take wider leaps. From there, it becomes far easier to heed the call of the bigger adventures and opportunities that present themselves in our lives. It also becomes easier to rise to our highest callings, which almost always lie beyond the threshold of daily convenience.
As 20th-century essayist Wilferd A. Peterson advised:
“Explore your mind, discover yourself, then give the best that is in you to your age and to your world. There are heroic possibilities waiting to be discovered in every person.”
Here’s to your next adventure.