A Simple Trick for Being More Present

2-28-24 Being More Present

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back. I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today I want you to think about your very best day – one that actually happened.

Where are you? What is around you? Who is with you? What do you see and smell? Is there food? Is there music?

Now imagine that you get to experience that same wonderful day again. And again. And again. Imagine if you had that day EVERY day. After a while, it would feel less and less like the best day, and more like another routine. You would stop noticing the music and the food and the smells. The people wouldn’t be nearly as exciting (even if they’re people you love).

There is a phenomenon called dishabituation. And it’s what happens when we fall into routines. We’ve talked about it before here, but never like this. Understanding habituation – and how to get around it – can make it easier to recognize the importance of changing things up.

Habituation is that experience of driving home from work – a path you always take – and then sort of being on auto pilot where you know you were watching the road, but you don’t really remember the drive. It’s like that.

When you’re doing something familiar, you stop noticing the details.

But here’s the interesting thing: we habituate (or we grow accustomed to things) for a variety of reasons. Being able to adjust and get used to something can help us endure a hard situation. It’s why you can jump into an ice-cold lake and adapt to it. It’s why – if you live close to a train – you’ll notice the sounds of the train at first, and then over time you’ll be so used to them that you don’t notice anymore.

Habituation is a survival mechanism that allows us to filter out information that is non-essential so we can, instead, focus on important or dangerous signals (if they should happen).

It’s a great tool and it can really serve us well in certain situations. BUT – it’s also why we sometimes stay in bad situations too long, because we’ve gotten used to them. And it’s why some things that used to bring us joy might start to lessen over time. It’s why, when we finally have our ideal relationship or dream home or dream job, it loses its luster after a while. Because we’ve habituated; we’ve gotten used to it.

Getting used to our environment isn’t a bad thing. But there is an unexpected downside: when you habituate, you stop noticing. The experiences start to run together into one formless blob. I think back to the time that my husband and I went to our first movie together – it was the first Jurassic Park (many moons ago). I remember the theater, I remember so much about that night. But after 30 years of marriage, and many many movies watched on our living room couch – those all run together. Memorable things are novel. They’re different. They’re a break from our routine. They involve seeing something in a new way, from a different direction, or in a different environment. I’ve seen that same movie several times, but the one time I remember was when I watched it with this cute guy that I was head over heels for and would eventually marry.

It isn’t that the things in our routines aren’t special anymore; they just stop feeling special because we’re so used to them. We stop noticing things. We stop forming new memories about them because it’s just the same thing over and over.

Have you ever noticed how when you go on a trip and come home, that your bed feels so amazingly good? You didn’t even think about how your bed felt before you went out of town, but since you’ve changed your routine and had a little distance from your home and your bed, now you get to experience it almost like it’s new.

So why are we talking about this in the context of creativity?

Because when we become habituated – even to our creative practices – we may start to feel less inspired. Our joy in the experience may diminish because we’re going through the motions. We may have fewer new ideas. We may feel apathetic toward the very thing we used to love.

Creativity loves variety and change. It loves new experiences. When you step out of your routine, even just changing one small thing, you invite inspiration. Why? Because when your routine changes, you have to pay more attention. When we pay attention, we are more likely to notice what’s around us.

We’ve talked about how important it is to change your routine – to have a “set change” if you will. The reason why a change of our routine is so important is because it snaps us out of our habituation. It creates something called DIShabituation. Dishabituation is when something we’ve become accustomed to is interrupted so that we begin to notice it again.

I think what’s different in how we’re talking about this today, is that we’re not just talking about the ideas and inspiration that come from being SOMEWHERE ELSE. Of course we’ll be inspired if we go on a vacation or visit a museum. Of course, that makes sense.

But dishabituation is when we change up a thing in our regular routine which allows us to start noticing ONCE AGAIN the things that we had gotten used to and stopped noticing.

Here’s an example: Imagine that you live in a house with a grandfather clock and when you first got the clock, it was very noticeable. You couldn’t stop noticing it. But over time, you notice it less and less. Until you sort of forget it’s even there, except to check periodically to see what time it is. But then let’s say someone drops their coffee cup and it crashes in the room next to you and all of a sudden you hear, not just the crash of the mug, but the ticking of the clock, too. Your senses are now heightened, and you will re-notice things that you had previously stopped noticing.

Here’s why this is so important.

Because we will mostly be in our routines as we go through life. It would be a luxury to be able to change our environment or go on a trip every time we need a fresh perspective. I mean, it would be great, but it would be a luxury. And it’s not super practical.

So if we need a little switcheroo to invite us to pay more attention to heighten our senses, and to be able to find fresh joy in the regular everyday things, we can do that by changing slight things about our routine.

Instead of pouring your coffee and going to your favorite chair or going straight to your desk – you pour your coffee and you go sit on the porch. You will notice the taste of the coffee more.

Instead of waking up and getting right on your phone to see what’s new in the world today, you might open the book on your bedside table and read a few pages before you start your day.

You might stop in the middle of your day and sit on the floor with your cat.

You might try painting with your left hand instead of your right hand.

Sit somewhere different when you have your lunch.

Even small changes to your daily routine can help you reconnect with creative inspiration and your joy – even in the simple things. I think we’re so surrounded by messages that joy and inspiration come from somewhere else – somewhere outside of us – something that we have to go get or go seek – that we forget that so much of what we already have was once our dream.

But because it’s now become our normal, it’s lost its sparkle. And then our attention shifts to the next new thing. The next different thing. The problem is that we’re missing out on the full experience of where we already are right now, because our brain is seeking out a new and more interesting experience.

We can create those experiences right where we are. Right in your regular home. Right in the middle of your ordinary routine.

Here are 5 Ways to Dishabituate and Reconnect with Your Joy

  1. Notice that you’re not noticing. When our mind goes into auto pilot mode, it’s really easy to stop noticing what’s around us. We’re more likely to miss cues and inspiration. Train yourself to notice when you realize you’re in auto-pilot mode. Stand in your kitchen and pause, look all around the room, notice how it smells and how it looks and what you hear. Train yourself to stop and notice periodically throughout the day. See what you’re missing.
  2. Change three things about your normal routine. Whether it’s drinking your coffee from a different mug, or sitting in a different place, or rearranging your office so that your desk faces a different direction. It can be small, but commit to changing three things about your normal daily routine so that you can provide your brain with just enough of a change to help you start to notice your surroundings again.
  3. Switch projects. When you notice that you’re not feeling as in love with a project that you had previously been in love with, put it to the side and work on something else. (Now, if you’re doing this for a deadline that could be tricky, but even taking a little break can help.) Take a break from something that you WANT to enjoy again, because that time away will help you remember what you loved about it in the first place. This is why – as a knitter – I have to have multiple projects going so that I can swap them out when one of them is no longer bringing me joy. Usually if I take a break for a few days and come back to it, I can enjoy it again.
  4. Try some new music. If you enjoy having music on while you work or make dinner, try switching it up and listening to something completely different. Find a playlist that sounds interesting and give it a try. Listen to some oldies or check out the new album from someone you’ve previously liked. Or if you almost always have music playing, then try NOT having music. See how it feels to have silence or to stream an audiobook instead.
  5. Change your errands. Even if you can’t change a lot about your daily routine, all of us will have to run errands at some point. When you do, take a different route. Go to a different grocery store. Drop your packages at a different post office. Grab your drive-thru coffee from a different coffee shop. Change something about your errands so that you are not in auto pilot. Errands are one of the most tedious things, and most of the time they’re not super exciting; we’re just trying to get them done. But by making a change to how or where you run errands, you can create dishabituation; you will draw your focus back, and notice more about your car, your city, your neighborhood – just by taking a different route or going to a different store, you are heightening your senses.

Every time we can bring our awareness back to the moment we’re in, we’re not just helping ourselves in that moment. Scientific studies tell us that we can actually help ourselves be happier, and more satisfied with where we are right now and what we already have by choosing to make dishabituation (or re-noticing the things we had previously stopped being aware of). And from a creative perspective, any time we can find joy in where we are and what we have, we have more internal resources to create. Because we’re not as focused on what we don’t have or what we think we need – we are able to see the beauty in what’s already around us.

By learning how to bring your awareness back into your life and your routine, you can begin to see the extraordinary in the small, often overlooked moments that fill your day.   

This is an amazing starting point for tapping back into your creativity. And it only takes the tiniest little changes to make a difference.

What little change will you make today to start seeing what you’ve been missing?

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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