Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, my feet are clad in thin, mass-produced, green tea-colored slippers courtesy of EVA Air. And I love them. I never wear slippers back in the States and couldn’t even tell you the last time I owned a pair. But on my flight to Taiwan, nothing seemed more alluring than partaking in this delightful custom. For far too many flights, my feet have been held hostage to the routine familiarity of American footwear. They shall be swelled and stifled no longer. On this trip, I think I’ll try something a little more novel.
I have to be honest. Years prior to my departure, I never had a passing thought about slippers. Yet as I sat on that plane, I simply had to indulge. My curiosity was piqued and even if just for a short time, I wanted to experience a cultural custom rarely occurring in my everyday life. Moments like these aptly capture the joy of travel; however, on a macro level, I think this quest for new sensations transcends trips abroad.
For most of us, our everyday reality is crafted from a stream of repeatable constants: our sleep cycle, work schedule, residence, and habits. While in the throngs of routine, I often found myself feeling itchy–yearning for something unfamiliar. As I travel this month, I can feel the joy of new experiences and adventure. In many ways, it appears to fulfill my thirst for novelty. Yet while I enjoy this current state, I can’t help but see the necessity of both lifestyle elements–developing healthy routines while maintaining a life of new, diverse experiences.
Determining the balance between predictability and novelty has been a challenging battle. I love the exciting nature of change, but I can only shoulder so much uncertainty. The thought of travel excites me, but I know the importance of a local community as well. In all these desires, I seek essential components of a good life: belonging, purpose, success, happiness. As I continue to develop a life promoting this well-being, I can’t help but conclude the necessity for both routine and novelty.
We can all attest to the constant push and pull between predictability and what I call the “predictably unpredictable”. When I hear the word routine, I automatically think of mundane, boring, or drab–what many of us might refer to as the “daily grind”. At first, the structure and checklist encourages us to keep going–we’re invested in the long-term benefits even if we only see deviations from our routine on occasion.
Over time, skills become second nature such as arriving at work (and not recalling how you got there) or cooking the same meal every other week for the sake of simplicity. We require less thinking when predictability enters the equation, thus allowing us to focus on other pursuits. We may have less say over our life structure, but there’s equally less decision-making to be had. For some, this sounds desirable, but for others, this sounds like “getting in a rut”. It’s here where we are most vulnerable for change.
Novelty offers tempting alternatives to our stable lifestyle. In choosing against the norm, we often come to our own conclusions and shoulder more responsibility. Living in such a dynamic manner requires intentional decision making. The cycles in which our brains have become accustomed are replaced with new stimuli, tantalizing our every moment with fresh perspectives and a break from the “norm”. Some examples may be the birth of a child, traveling, or moving to a new city.
As I sit on a porch in El Nido, Philippines, it’s easy to recognize this as a departure from my familiar American life. Yet few people make it here without at least a little bit of planning. And I’m no exception. For me, routines made this possible. Over the past few years, my time, money, and energy were intentionally spent on things that mattered most–or more accurately, advanced my goals. My commuting methods, consumer purchases, financial investments, and quest for a simpler life were all strategies for reclaiming the opportunity to pursue things I wanted.
Of course this required dedication, predictability, and intention. Many times, it felt routine. The manner in which my weekly hours were divided appeared predictable. My grocery lists, automatic savings plan, and quest for less became second nature. In doing so, I actually had more time to focus on learning, crafting, and creating. Whether it be a website, community, or this blog. All of those things were new and exciting, yet they were nearly impossible to create without some consistency. Therefore, it seems as if routines are the backbone in which made my lifestyle shifts possible.
On the other hand, I enjoy challenging my staus quo and evaluating the lens in which I view the world. I’ve found travel to be a means through which I can do this. Removed from my daily rhythm, I’m instantly placed outside my comfort zone. Currently, the sights and sounds of Asia occupy my thoughts and question my beliefs surrounding wealth, consumption, and sanitization. Ironically enough, I seek routine on the road. I enjoy the predictability of a hot shower, three meals a day, and a reliable WiFi connection every once and awhile. Despite the many pleasures of endless stimulation, I still need to rest, recharge, read, and spend time with myself. My quest for novelty led me right back to where I started.
Therefore, the question is not: do I live a mundane or adventurous life? The question is ultimately about how do I design my routines in a way to support the novel and exciting goals in which I hope to achieve. It’s not binary, but complementary. There is no choosing–only weaving. Both elements appear critical to short- and long-term success. And in the pursuit of a healthy and fulfilling life, it’s probably more important we identify that which is routine and that which is fluid. Is a long-stable career going to help you achieve your goals? Or a freelance lifestyle in which you choose your hours? It it better to develop a healthy financial routine or let your wallet be at the mercy of marketing? Are two weeks of vacation enough or can you negotiate your way to additional freedom?
As I develop a more mindful approach to life, identifying those routine or more novel elements is critical for supporting my long-term goals. As I came to discover, many of my routines were critical in giving way to higher-order experiences. In leveraging these choices, I was able to pursue new opportunities and craft a life I love.