Have you ever woken up from your work-gym-sleep slumber and realized that every day looks the same? Have you looked back for the past five years and realized that nothing about it has changed?
When you enter the working world, it’s all too easy to fall into the Mundanity Trap: Your entire schedule, from your breakfast choice to your nightly TV show, mirrors that of the day before. Sure, there are many proven health benefits of following daily routines–it’s how we stay productive and get things done. But when you’re not conscious about what you’re acting on, it often results in a passionless, unfulfilling life.
The prevalence of the mundanity trap
Sadly, falling into the Mundanity Trap isn’t reserved for an unlucky few. A Gallup study showed that over two-thirds of Americans admit that they are not passionate about their jobs, even though we spend a lot of time at work compared to many other developed nations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute time to work is 25.5 minutes one way, which means that Americans are spending over 100 hours commuting a year. In 2017 watching TV accounted for 2.8 hours of leisure time, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.
With these statistics, it’s not surprising that many of us feel like our lives are spinning on a hamster wheel. And as a conscious-decision-making coach, it’s my job to help my clients think more deeply about their own version of the Mundanity Trap. We work through questions like: When was the last time you did something that brings you joy? How often do you “move through the motions” of your commute, only waking up once you arrive at work? And, how can you do something about it?
Here are a few simple actions you can take today to jump off the hamster wheel and into a life of passion, mindfulness, and joy:
Do something creative
Creativity is a basic human craving that most of us don’t get to engage in, especially when we spend hours staring at a computer screen or answering emails until nighttime. Incorporating creative habits into our every day can have a profound impact on our ability to think clearer and more deeply, and be more imaginative.
Even if you consider yourself the furthest thing from an artist, there are simple ways to begin injecting creativity into your life. Start by spending 10 minutes each morning free writing, or completing what artist and author Julia Cameron calls Morning Pages.
I like to recommend this practice because you need no prior experience in writing or creativity to try it–its purpose is actually to “dump all the extra stuff” from your brain to make way for imaginative thinking, which will flow into other aspects of your life.
Spend time outside
Stop and ask yourself truthfully: When was the last time you took a deep breath of fresh air?
Even if it wasn’t that long ago, chances are you don’t do this often given that the majority of us spend 93% of our day indoors. Breathing is one of the most underrated yet impactful conscious-thinking tools we have at our disposal. Ancient yogis discovered the powerful connection between the mind and the breath, and scientists at Stanford recently published a study that identified the nerve cells in the brain that lins the breath with our state of mind.
But even just a few simple breaths of fresh air can help to energize and inspire us. The Japanese have recognized the importance of this, and created a national program to encourage residents to spend more time in nature, called Forest Bathing, as physician Qing Li wrote in a 2018 article for Time. So commit to connecting to your senses outdoors more often, and bathe in whatever forest (or jungle) is closest to you.
Make meaningful in-person connections
In our world today, over 70% of Americans consider themselves lonely, according to a Harris Poll conducted by the American Osteopathic Association. At the same time, data from the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg shows that we spend on average 24 hours a week on technology and engaging in “low-quality leisure,” often by ourselves.
When we’re running on the hamster wheel, we usually forget–or don’t believe we have time–to connect with other people in a meaningful way. But humans are social creatures, and engaging in deep regular connection allows us to get outside of our busyness bubble and put things in perspective.
Be intentional about collecting moments of joy
We’ve been conditioned to be obsessed with productivity. We’re continually looking for ways to streamline processes or sift through our inboxes at the fastest speed possible. But how often do we take a step back, slow down, and do something just for fun?
I’ve been interested in this concept of “collecting” moments of joy. Whether it’s catching up with old friends or spending time coloring, when I genuinely engage in joyful activities, I can be mindful and present, and I don’t get the urge to check social media every second.
Practicing mindfulness in the small, fun moments carries over in other parts of life. It’s the ultimate conscious-decision-making tool. Those who can stay mindful and present, especially in stressful times, are more productive and better thinkers.
But it’s challenging to stay present in our multitasking society. One way to practice it is by putting your phone in airplane mode. Fewer distractions mean more mindful decision-making, connections, and reflection.
At the end of the day, when you find yourself running on life’s hamster wheel, ask yourself three questions:
• Am I able to shift or change my thoughts?
• Am I able to shift or change my situation?
• Am I able to shift or change my perspective?
And hopefully, by making those changes, you can inspire others to do the same.
Katina Mountanos is the founder of On Adulting, a space for millennials to navigate adulthood in a conscious, happy way, and By Humans, a brand and storytelling agency that works exclusively with female-led, consumer-facing organizations.