In Gretchen Ruben’s 2015 book Better than Before, about trying to break and make new habits of her own, she muses that, quote:
Habits speed time, because when everyday is the same, experience shortens and blurs […] An early morning cup of coffee was delightful the first few times, until it gradually became part of the background of my day; now I don’t really taste it, but I’m frantic if I don’t get it. Habit makes it dangerously easy to become numb to our own experience.
And this is not merely an observation of a single individual, it’s an experience that is backed by science. Quoting from an article about how neurons can develop connections in multiple ways:
Areas that allow people to pay attention became most active as someone began a new task. But those attention areas became less active over time. Meanwhile, areas of the brain linked with daydreaming and mind-wandering became more active as people became more familiar with a task.
“At the beginning, you require a lot of focused attention,” Nathan Spreng, a neuroscientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, says. Learning to swing a bat requires a great deal of focus when you first try to hit a ball. But the more you practice, Spreng says, the less you have to think about what you’re doing.
We’ve talked on this podcast before about trying a new thing — episodes 308 talked about trying a new thing every day. 586 explored what happens to your brain when you learn new things. But breaking yourself out of a rut doesn’t have to be something that is as dedicated as one new thing every day. As Creative Director and designer Nguyen Le put it on Verse Co:
Learn about things that interest you, it doesn’t have to be a chore. Just put in a conscious effort for progress and to show up weekly. And the goals and things you choose can be simple.
Human brains are built for learning new things. While we may be creatures of habit, our neurons start to very literally get bored when we always do the exact same thing. So what one thing this week are you going to try that’s new?