There has been a lot of chatter lately about the importance of preserving your mental energy for the most important tasks. This energy conservation movement has led many people to cut back on the small choices they're making every day, ranging from what they're going to wear to what they're going to eat.
After all, why waste precious mental energy trying to decide whether to wear the red shirt or the grey shirt? The solution -- wear black shirts every day. It worked for Steve Jobs.
And why use limited brain power trying to decide between the turkey sandwich and the chef salad? By planning your menu weeks in advance, you can devote every ounce of aspiration to the decisions that really matter.
While there's a lot to be said for conserving your time and energy -- just ask Mark Zuckerberg -- eliminating spontaneity can have consequences. A mundane routine is boring. If you're not careful, you can get stuck in a rut.
Being stuck in a rut can kill your creativity, stress you out, and zap your productivity. Doing the same thing over and over again causes your days to blend together. Five years from now not a single day will stand out more than any other.
So how do you create a routine that conserves your mental energy without getting stuck in a rut? Here are three strategies:
1. Examine the bigger picture. The busyness of life can keep you running from one activity to the next. If you never step back to consider whether all those activities are really how you want to spend your time, you could miss out on building the kind of life you want. Devote at least 10 minutes each day to examining the bigger picture in your life.
Are you really living according to your values? Are you engaging in worthwhile activities? Do you feel like your work has meaning and purpose? Set aide time to think about how to create the kind of life you want to live. Creating time to reflect on your life could be the key to reaching your greatest potential.
2. Schedule leisure time. Most people fill their schedules with work, and leisure only happens when there's time leftover. But it's impossible to live a rich and full life without doing things that give you joy. Forget about productivity once in a while and give yourself permission to goof off.
Schedule time to have fun each week. Whether you love to go for a hike at sunrise, or you feel the most alive when you're driving your motorcycle, engaging in leisure will keep you from getting stuck in a rut. Do whatever causes you to lose track of time and you'll open doors to creativity and innovation.
3. Challenge yourself. While staying inside your comfort zone can reduce your anxiety, it's also the fastest way to get stuck in a rut. You can't grow better if you don't challenge yourself to try something new. That doesn't mean you need to take giant risks. Tiptoe outside of your comfort zone if you must -- but be willing to take steps that will help you grow.
Look for new ways to challenge yourself personally and professionally. Take a class, introduce yourself to new people, face your fears, and invest in personal development. Dare to become just a little bit better today than you were yesterday. Doing so will ensure you're growing, rather than staying stuck in one place.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.