Stuck in a Rut? Break Free With This One Simple Trick

I blame it on the bagels. Every Monday morning around 9 a.m., there they were, an assortment of ring-shaped breads next to two flavors of cream cheese on the office kitchen table. I always chose the everything bagel, with poppy seeds and onion, and slathered copious amounts of jalapeño cream cheese all over it before heading to my desk.

And thus began my work week. Every week. For months. The first few Bagel Mondays were great (who doesn’t love free food?). But soon, I grew tired of the predictability of my days. Was this all the excitement I had to look forward to, a plateful of unremarkable bagels at the start of each week?

When my suggestion that we mix it up and introduce new breakfast items to our Mondays was met with disdain from my coworkers, I couldn’t take it any longer. I began to skip out on lunches, opting to explore the marshlands near our office during my break instead. I would walk the paved path through tall grass, passing bicyclists and low-lying water, and feel the knot in my stomach begin to loosen. Some days there were storks. It was lovely.

Of course, it was never really about the bagels; I was yearning for a reprieve from the monotony of my routine. What once excited me was starting to feel mundane. What happened?

Hedonic Adaptation: The Reason We Can’t Seem to Stay Happy

This phenomenon is well documented in the field of positive psychology and is known as hedonic adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill. Simply put, hedonic adaptation is the tendency to return to your baseline happiness, regardless of any good (or bad) changes in your life.

We can’t help it; it’s the way we’re wired. Our bodies are constantly moderating, adapting to our environment. It’s the reason the water in the hot tub felt piping hot when you got in, but ten minutes later, feels tepid. It’s the reason that first bite of ice cream tasted so flavorful, but now seems dull. And, as I found out, it can be the reason a job that once excited you becomes a daily grind that bores you.

How Do You Make Happiness Last? Novelty and Challenge

But there is hope! The trick to stepping off the hedonic treadmill? Breaking your routine. Getting out of your comfort zone.

Doing something different and unexpected prevents us from getting used to life, thus combating hedonic adaptation. Research conducted by Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky, leading experts in happiness, supported that “...variety and surprise spice up life in ways that sustain WB [well-being]...”

In an interview with Business Insider, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, confirmed that novelty and challenge can increase happiness. Rubin said:

“...we feel more energetic, more productive, more creative when we try something new, when we challenge ourselves a little bit, when we kind of go out of that comfort zone. That atmosphere of growth can really boost our happiness."

Further research suggests certain novel behaviors that increase competency (such as solving a difficult math problem or learning to drive) may decrease happiness in the moment, but increase it long-term. So if you’re feeling stuck in a rut, try mastering a skill. That’s a great way to gain happiness that has staying power.

Your Challenge: One Day a Week, Try Something New

So I’ve got a little challenge for you: Pick one day this coming week to to break your routine. To kickstart your happiness boost, here are 10 ideas for trying something new.

  1. You know that restaurant you keep saying you’d like to try? Finally go there!
  2. Visit a museum.
  3. Take a different route to work.
  4. Talk to a stranger.
  5. Go for a run through your neighborhood.
  6. Sign up for a foreign language class.
  7. Cook a dish from your favorite country.
  8. Join a gym.
  9. Try a new class at your gym.
  10. Sit in a park and sketch your surroundings.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone Now Will Pay Dividends Later

Routine can be a good thing; it helps us form healthy habits and maximize performance. But some routines are made to be broken.

As simple as it may seem, those walks along the marshes during my lunchbreak helped me infuse a sense of adventure into a life that was starting to feel humdrum. I attribute those and other small feats to helping me work up the courage to take the leap and leave that job.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is scary, but it’s worth it. Sure, we may return to our baseline happiness, but those breaks in routine are what spark growth and memories that last long after the hedonic adaptation sets in.