Carless, I make trips to the local zero waste recycling depot and the grocery store. I bag up my old newspapers, empty bottles and flattened cardboard into my collapsible shopping bag on wheels. After I drop off my recyclables, I head to the grocery store to fill it up with items necessary for the next few days.
The recycling center is on a street that doesn’t directly access the street the grocery store. In fact, to get there via the streets, it would mean backtracking back to the main road and then walking one more block and then two blocks up, essentially going around an empty lot that is completely overgrown with trees, shrubs and ferns.
For pedestrians, there is a footpath that cuts through the overgrowth and exits right onto the street of the store. This shortcut had been worn down one trip at a time until it has become a winding track free of debris. The more it is used, the easier it gets to be used.
This repetition mimics the way our minds work. According to The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps by Tony Buzan, “the more you use your brain to think about something, the easier it is to think about it. This is because the biochemical resistance to that particular thought is reduced. In repeating a thought pattern, you are more clearly defining the map of that thought in your mind.”
As you are making mental connections, you are creating physical connections in your brain. Think “what fires together, wires together.” You are building on ideas, links and the database stored in your head. Think of it as adding a new bridge between two close but unconnected sides of a river.
In short, you are removing the obstacles, the flora and creating a defined trail that speeds up the thought pattern. Buzan goes on to explain that this is how habits, rituals and even learning occurs. What you do, how you do it or the way you go about figuring it out increases the probability that you will do the same the next time.
So, repeating things makes the process easier but over time that becomes ruts, doesn’t it? Yes — and no. Ruts, as defined by a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. This isn’t an easier way mental connection but rather a default that has started to hinder you or curb creative input. Not all repetition falls into the ruts category — unless it locks you into a way of thinking or habits that prevent you from feeling creative, learning new things or furthering your personal development.
So, if you feel like your life is coasting on auto-pilot, plodding along with little effort and wearing down the same path day after day, you may need to forge a new path. One way to snap out of it is to focus on what is you value and what you want from life. Looking to write a new book? Find areas of your day where you could alter your habits and squeeze in 500 words. Want to explore your culinary skills, research new recipes and put your meal idea on your weekly agenda.
Make a new path and avoid life’s little ruts.