Rituals and routines are rooted deeply into how we conduct our lives. Throughout almost every stage of our childhood and all the way up to our adult lives we were conditioned to embrace rigid adherence to habits and rules we ourselves have set. They give structure and discipline, they give purpose.
But on the other end of the spectrum there is this redemptive power that starting anew has. And while routines can easily tangle us into boredom or plateaus, inducing change almost always allows for progress.
Breaking the routine then, and starting anew can lead to deeper insight into ourselves, better perspective and on some level even catharsis. But then the question arises:
“How do you restart something that had never been turned off?”
There is this quite intriguing concept of reevaluating common practices when it comes to routines, reigniting the craving for structure, and on some level turning the pedestrian talk you have with yourself off and allowing for a more meaningful conversation to take place.
And as all things in nature, in order for this to happen a major restart needs to take place.
Allowing the restart to take place
There is this common reflex we all share when it comes to routines being questioned. We go right into defensive, trying to get back on track.
You stop exercising and overeat once, and you suddenly feel the need to “tighten things up” on Monday.
You pull a rough all-nighter and you feel as if you have let someone down.
You leave work projects to pile up on the desk and there is this feeling of guilt.
And no matter the scenario I try to provide here, one thing is fairly consistent- we all rush back into the routine feeling our need for structure satisfied.
The question finally boils down to this – “if such a small restart can give you motivation and provide cravings for getting yourself back together, imagine what a major one could do?”
And on the surface it may really seem counter intuitive, but it all suggests that whenever the routine is about to subside we should but give it a leg and help it drown.
Stopping the habit and routine wheel from spinning it allows for liberation. No wonder athletes rebound after an injury and come back to win time and again. If we followed common sense and applied math to this scenario it wouldn’t be the case.
What follows next is a short guide on embracing the other end of the structure and discipline line, and hitting the lows like a pro.
The need for repetition in our daily life
The way you and I have our breakfast is a nice indicator of the power that a routine holds. Not only does it affect how you perform throughout the morning and midafternoon on the nutritional side of things, but it also sets the tune for other behavioristic patterns.
Michael Phelps’s breakfast is not only a calorie-bomb affecting how his body performs during practice time, but it is also a ritual preparing his mind to come in tune with what is about to follow.
If our minds are able to recognize the action, they can then predict what has typically followed and perform optimally, because, well, we like repetition, and perfect practice makes perfect. Hence an applied routine during breakfast time sets our mind on what is about to come. We are aligned both mentally and emotionally, ready to perform at our optimal.
But in the mist of performing a certain way after a series of habits and routines, sometimes we are unable to realize that we are in fact chasing our tails around the maypole, buried deeply in routine work.
And I wish the equation was as simple as routines plus repetition equals Olympic gold, but alas, not so.
If you share certain distaste for hypotheticals this article is already moving in the wrong direction. Let’s track back some then. Suppose that your routine is pitch perfect and no alteration is needed whatsoever. Well done (tips hat).
The thing is that no matter how aligned things are the need of a restart still weights down.
Setting up the restart
The goal is to break from the routine, gaining some deeper insight into why you do things a certain way, realign priorities and maybe even experience catharsis. At this point in time the craving for creating and feeding up a new or improved routine would be as strong as an itching that almost never stops.
But in order to make this shift from a structured and routine fed life to experiencing catharsis and then starting anew, you will need to address two areas.
First and above all, we are biological beings- this means that besides behavioristic patterns we are run by chemical processes for the most part.
So in order for the change to be effective we’ll need a mix of the two.
Behavior wise things are really not that complex. You stop routines altogether and give yourself a mini vacation from rigid adherence to rules. This liberates more than you might think.
What follows is a tap on the shoulder that you give to yourself, giving the permission to slow down a bit and be OK with going as low as you can for a while.
Not getting up early, eating that non-healthy-only-god-knows-what-is-in-it-breakfast, watching TV shows till your eyelids weigh down, eating junk food like you are at some all-you-can-eat festival…
Right about this time, albeit feeling somewhat liberated, your body will start to protest and emphasize the need for structure.
Now this is where most of us start feeling guilty and kill the feat altogether. Albeit the behavioristic change took place, almost nothing has changed chemical (read hormones, neurological patterns, chemical responses) wise.
And this is where heavy artillery steps in.
Now the most effective, fairly innocuous with regards to your health on the long run, and legal (mind you!) ways to inflict a change on the chemical side of things are overeating and overdrinking.
No wonder people indulge in these low cravings after a major rebound is needed. We all recognize the stereotype of a depressed man drinking at the bar, or the emotionally fragile woman eating ice-cream after a breakup.
If you think about it, it seems that albeit not knowing, we all inherently possess the need of a rebound and a fresh start. And no wonder we tilt towards both behavioristic as well as chemical change.
Overeating or drinking some booze liberates in the sense that it brings you fairly low in terms of putting your emotional guard on hold, impairing your cognitive skills and energy levels. It also plays some with your emotional compass leaving you vulnerable, allowing for every insight to be deeper, more effective.
Right around this time the pedestrian talk usually subsides and more meaningful conversations start to unfold in your head. Great, write some down, or have someone to talk to. Conversation, both with someone or aimed inwards, provides for deep insight.
Give this cycle a couple of days and it should do the trick. But what trick, you ask?
If things unfold as described above, you will feel a strong impulse to get back in shape. This is mainly due to the lack of routine in your life, which in a way gives both structure and purpose; and also due to the fact that you were far better off before this stunt took place (cognitive skills and emotional calculus far more coherent before than what they are now – thank you food and booze, by the way).
If the impulse to get yourself back together is not as strong as predicted, you can smooth things out by starting to visualize what it is that you want.
Your perception, hopefully broadened, will start to notice a huge discrepancy between what you visualize in your head and how things currently are. This, unmistakably, causes an avalanche in terms of motivating you to patch things up together.
Now that you are determined to start fresh and bring everything back in order, the way is also linear only this time reversed. Behavioral change though is now harder to apply since it is conditioned by chemical processes taking place.
Overeating, for one, starts a downward spiral of addiction. Dopanime is released as a result of indulging into more and more food, and it becomes hard to backtrack.
“…If activated by overeating, these neurochemical patterns can make the behavior tough to shake—a result seen in many human cases”
– notes Paul Kenny, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Fla.
People with insulin resistance have a lower dopamine release response to sugar intakes-possibly leading towards further overeating and a downward spiral towards diabetes.
This means that eating habits must be aligned at once. It also hints that in order to escape the downward spiral of constant need of dopamine production triggered by food, we should both increase insulin sensitivity as well as find other triggers for dopamine to flow in abundance.
Enters some science…
The science behind all this
There are really two ways to stop this maypole from going on and on, one of which is fitness. It helps in both dopamine release as well as increasing insulin sensitivity. It is a behavioral change as well, starting the inchoate process of structure and habit creation. Fitness, hey presto!
I’m discussing ditching food over alcohol consumption since couple of days of overeating may trigger far more of an addiction when compared to drinking heavily for three or four days.
The hormonal changes taking place are very potent with alcohol consumption but it is only a fraction of the addiction you are about to witness with overeating. Unless you already have some problems with booze, that is.
Drinking heavily can cause a steep rise in blood sugar. When blood sugar rises, the pancreas responds by producing insulin to lower the blood sugar. But if the blood sugar rises too steeply, overproduction of insulin can actually lead to low blood sugar, a condition called hypoglycemia.
Another reason why insulin sensitivity should go up after this stunt.
Drinking heavily will also lower testosterone levels which usually lead to bad mood, feeling depressed, low energy levels and overall retrogression when it comes to your peak state.
Fitness partially addresses this issue.
When it comes to incorporating behavioral change couple of things might help a ton. One of which is sleeping schedule. Sleeping certain hours not only affects habit forming and behavioral change, but it also brings your chemistry back in line.
Researchers at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City found that reward centers in the brains of people who slept less than four hours a night were highly active after viewing images of unhealthy food. Conversely, the reward centers showed no reaction to unhealthy food when the participants had adequate amounts of sleep. They published their findings at Sleep 2012, the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).
This means that your food cravings will be easily addressed if you devise a pattern on when you go to bed and when you wake up.
Setting small goals plays as big of a role as any when you make this rebound too. This though, in its entire technicality, is all up to you. Keeping the goals small ensures feeling progress and this, when compared to the lows you experienced during this stunt, is the crucial ingredient.
Hence fitness is such a great fit – it provides for a constant stream of progress perception wise.
Structure slowly starts to develop and induced with positive hormonal and chemical responses it brings you at your peak state. This leads towards reassurance and further increase in both drive and self-esteem. One’s own identity is also strengthened a great deal this way.
This stunt should normally take up to a week at most; probably less for most people. What you should expect though is being more open to reevaluation of common assumptions about yourself and what is more importantly your daily routine and goals.
It will also increase your craving for discipline and structure, which under my opinion is always a good thing if you are even a bit into personal growth.
My advice is to follow the steps described above and rinse and repeat whenever the need for this cycle is apparent. I for one, do this almost every six to eight months.
- Shah, J.H. – Alcohol decreases insulin sensitivity in healthy subjects
- High Sugar Intake Linked to Low Dopamine Release in Insulin Resistant Patients