Breaking The Chains That Bind

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. – Samuel Johnson

Most people can relate to what it feels like to be on auto pilot. We have our normal routines that we use to navigate through life. We wake up around the same time every day. Perhaps we eat breakfast. Usually it is the same two or three things. Or, perhaps we forgo breakfast all together. We shower, throw on some clothes and head to work. We drive down the same road, stop at the same intersections and get mad at the same bad drivers. We walk into our places of work and say hi to the familiar faces. We ask how their weekend was and how their days are going. We participate in small talk between tasks before heading home. When we get home, we scramble to cook something to eat or order something out and try to find a few minutes to relax before turning in for the night. All of this in preparation to repeat the cycle again tomorrow.

As uninspiring as all of this sounds, we have developed the ability to function on auto pilot for very good reasons. In-fact much of our survival, and other species survival, is grounded in the ability to develop and maintain routines so we can live and thrive without exerting too much cognitive energy. There is a host of research on this topic. My favorite books on the subject to date are Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

One of the key insights from these books is that to snap out of our deeply rooted routines and begin thinking critically about our actions, we need a fairly drastic change of context. This change of context is sometimes realized by moving to a new location, a change in your relationship, a new addition to your family, a training camp, or any number of other things that forces you to adapt to a new reality. Part of my approach to happiness is to leverage these life events to make thoughtful adaptations to your routines in order to live a more purpose driven life. A life determined by your own free will. That is why a little foresight and planning can lead to massive improvements in your level of happiness and life circumstances.

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In my personal case I have often used moving as an opportunity to rethink my life style. For me, that was an easy and often recurring opportunity because I haven’t lived in the same place for more than two years since I became an adult. Between my time in the military, attending college, and now my working life I have easily moved a dozen times. For others, they can leverage going to school, starting a new job, moving, having a child, or any other major life event as a catalyst for change.

It won’t take long after one of these life events to begin developing new routines or continuing old routines. That is why in my methodology I recommend planning for major changes before executing them. With some forethought you can make a few tweaks that radically expand your happiness and life circumstances.

In our most recent move, my fiance and I sought out a place to live that limited our commutes to under 20 minutes by car (within 15 miles), was within a mile of a discount grocery chain, a short distance to public parks for recreational activities, and cost less than 20% of our after tax income. As a result of living close to where I work, buy food, and pursue my recreation while keeping costs low I am reinforcing my web of goals.

Happiness Web

Because I live so close to work I often ride my bicycle to work which allows me to be more athletic. Living close to parks makes it easier for my friends and family to enjoy activities there. Finally, with all of the saved time and money I can take a few hours every week to volunteer, and use the saved money to donate to my favorite charities while increasing my savings.

If you could rework some of your routines or change the context in which you live, what changes would you make? Now ask yourself, what are you waiting for? If you had to, how can you get there faster?

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