Shake Up Your Routine: How to Break the Autopilot Cycle

Why not break out 
of your comfort zone 
and discover how much richer life can be? Here’s your guide to get started.

Even when things are going great, you can still get mired in daily patterns that start to feel uninspiring at best, and draining at worst. Why not break out of your comfort zone and discover how much richer life can be? Here’s everything you need to start.

It’s all too easy to find yourself on autopilot, simply going through the same-old motions: work, eat, yoga, sleep, repeat. And while sometimes sticking to your routine is a good thing—like showering every morning, without which you might start to lose friends!—it can also make your life (and, let’s face it, you) a bit boring. Which is why there are tremendous benefits to stepping outside your go-to box, whether that box includes eating the same bowl of steel-cut oats every morning or going to the same yoga class every other night. The path to your escape: tapping your creativity.

Now, before you start having flashbacks to those miserable, parent-mandated clarinet lessons of your childhood, take a big breath. We’re not suggesting you need to develop the musical skills of Mozart, write the next great American novel, or innovate a best-selling app. Rediscovering the creative genius inside you is actually much simpler than all of that.

“We all have many seeds of creativity in us,” says Gail Brenner, PhD, author of The End of Self-Help: Discovering Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life. “We just have to make the space for them to come through and flourish.” Of course, our yoga and meditation practices can help us do that. Read on for expert advice, techniques, and more to help you step fully into your creative flow.

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Not sure exactly how dusting off your old guitar or buying a blank canvas and some paint is anything more than a distraction? Theo Tsaousides, PhD, a neuropsychologist and author of Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success, says that creative ventures like these actually prompt our brains to produce and combine ideas, making us more likely to adapt, change, and grow in other aspects of our lives. “Creativity is the key that unlocks our brain’s potential,” he says. “In fact, when we don’t allow our brains to think creatively, we court a variety of problems that can affect everything from how productive we are to how much enjoyment and satisfaction we get out of our lives.” By letting your brain go freestyle, you could:

Combat depression.

Consider the nature of depression, a condition that affects at least 16 million Americans at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Depression often involves looking at the world through a glass darkly but being unable to change that perspective, says Tsaousides.

“But if you’re in the habit of thinking creatively and coming up with options for solving problems, it can lead to a sense of hopefulness that can help stave off feelings of depression,” he says.

Ease anxiety.

When we become overwhelmed with worry, it’s often because we fear one particular outcome, says Tsaousides. But if you’re able to imagine alternative scenarios, it helps to put your mind at ease.

Boost productivity.

Creativity involves taking risks—and, often, failing at what you set out to do. However, allowing yourself the freedom to try and to fail can help you discover what doesn’t work, which also shines a light on what does work, ultimately leading you to greater success. And that can fuel your hunger for more success, which in turn increases your productivity, says Tsaousides.

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camera, roadtrip, photography

Take the (mental) road less traveled

We all have ways in which we think of ourselves—and ways in which we believe others define us: smart, athletic, type A, scatterbrained.
“We get so attached to these labels that it can be incredibly difficult to do something outside of them,” says Tsaousides. In the Yoga Sutras, these patterns are called samskaras—mental and emotional habits through which we continuously cycle. Repeating our samskaras only reinforces them, creating little “grooves” of thought and feeling that become our go-to patterns. Yet it is possible to steer out of these negative grooves, says Brenner, by reframing how we view the world, our relationships, and—perhaps most importantly—ourselves. Try these expert-approved exercises to help you find freedom from the negative samskaras that might be hindering your realization of a more fulfilled self.

Realize that your “rules” can be the exception.

“We get used to our usual thought patterns and feelings, but it’s important to understand that staying in them is a choice,” says Brenner. So, recognize whatever your storyline is and become more aware of it—ideally, when you’re playing it on repeat in your mind. Maybe you habitually beat yourself up after receiving constructive criticism from your coworkers or boss and tell yourself you’re not smart enough to do a great job. Or perhaps you have a long to-do list but can’t seem to get started because you’ve failed to complete those tasks in the past—so why would this time be any different? Simply looking at the confines of your typical thoughts and behaviors will make you more likely to see their limits, and in so doing, come to recognize that other options are always available. “When you realize your self-imposed boundaries, that’s when you can work toward making a change,” says Brenner.

Sit with yourself.

All too often, we’ll exercise or attend yoga class just for the physical benefits or to connect with friends, which is great. But it’s also important to carve out time for quiet reflection, whether that’s sitting down to meditate every morning or simply having a cup of tea each night in relative silence. “Collaborative thinking and community support are great ways to help fuel your creativity and move you in a positive direction, but in order to implement changes, you need to get quiet so you can process that input and determine your next best steps,” says Christine Whelan, PhD, a professor at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Make small changes.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a new habit or do a complete life 180—say, by quitting your job or moving across the country—in order to tap into new thoughts and ideas. “Start by trying something as innocuous as driving a different route to work or mixing up your usual breakfast menu,” says Tsaousides. Yes, even such seemingly minor changes can help train your brain to be open to—
and get ready for—bigger shifts. It’s like building up your tolerance to change so that when something big comes along, you can handle it with ease, he says.

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Get comfy with discomfort.

Part of the work of shedding old patterns involves embracing the fact that you might feel awkward or even slightly miserable in your new, unfamiliar world. The best way to practice this acceptance is to repeatedly expose yourself to things that don’t feel easy. For example, you might volunteer to go first when presenting ideas at a work meeting even though you hate public speaking or fear that your coworkers will judge you. Or you could say “yes” when your best friend invites you to her favorite Saturday-morning dance class instead of going to your usual yoga class. When you feel uncomfortable or a little out of your element, remind yourself that your efforts are ultimately broadening your current comfort zone, outside of which new ideas await.

Repack your baggage.

“Life is a journey, and the stuff you needed in your bag to get to where you are now may not be the stuff you need on the journey going forward,” says Whelan. That means it’s time to dump it all out and really assess what’s there: material possessions, your friends, your emotions, your job, and so on. Then, ask yourself: “What’s serving me and what’s not?” And: “What’s helping me break free of my negative samskaras and strengthen the positive ones?” Once you’ve assessed everything in front of you, you’ll be in a better position to decide what stays and what goes.

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