How to Get Unstuck from Your Routine

Ever felt stuck in a routine? I know I do, sometimes I feel that I’m stuck and I have no options left to do anything else and thus I end up being “bored”. The Germans have a word for this: Einstellung.

Einstellung means installation and the Einstellung Effect refers to a person’s predisposition to act or to solve a problem using the same way even though there are other options. This  effect seems to be common among all segments people without any regard to IQ, age, sex.

People adopt routines for different reasons.  Autistic persons have an innate ability to develop routines and rituals which gives them a sense of structure and order and makes it easier for them to cope with the difficulty of making sense of their surroundings, other people develop routines (addictions) which gives them a kick of dopamines  and makes them feel good, others develop routines to have a better sense of control over their lives.

In the self-improvement literature the ability to develop routines is strongly encouraged. You need 20-30 days of daily repetitions in order to develop a habit. The brain has a propriety called neuroplasticity and every time you repeat a routine the neural network that the brain creates for that routine gets stronger and stronger – the myelin sheath that covers the neuron synapses gets stronger – so that after day 30 it gets easier than before day 1 to get up, put your running equipment on, get out the door and start running. My feeling of einstellung comes from having various self-improvement daily routines, at the beginning is all great and novel but after months or years of doing the same thing it gets…boring.

autovehicle stuck

So, how can we get out from our routines? The simple answer is just to do something different, to solve a problem using another kind of solution, to see things from a different angle.

“Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Steve Jobs

For example, James Altucher has a routine called ‘The Daily Ten’. Yes, I’m giving one man’s routines as an example of getting out from your own routines. So, when you feel stuck, these are some ways you can use to get unstuck. Quoting:

10 old ideas I can make new
10 ridiculous things I would invent (e.g., the smart toilet)
10 books I can write (The Choose Yourself Guide to an Alternative Education, etc).
10 business ideas for Google/Amazon/Twitter/etc.
10 people I can send ideas to
10 podcast ideas or videos I can shoot (e.g., Lunch with James, a video podcast where I just have lunch with people over Skype and we chat)
10 industries where I can remove the middleman
10 things I disagree with that everyone else assumes is religion (college, home ownership, voting, doctors, etc.)
10 ways to take old posts of mine and make books out of them
10 people I want to be friends with (then figure out the first step to contact them)
10 things I learned yesterday
10 things I can do differently today
10 ways I can save time
10 things I learned from X, where X is someone I’ve recently spoken with or read a book by or about. I’ve written posts on this about the Beatles, Mick Jagger, Steve Jobs, Charles Bukowski, the Dalai Lama, Superman, Freakonomics, etc.
10 things I’m interested in getting better at (and then 10 ways I can get better at each one)
10 things I was interested in as a kid that might be fun to explore now (Like, maybe I can write that “Son of Dr. Strange” comic I’ve always been planning. And now I need 10 plot ideas.)
10 ways I might try to solve a problem I have This has saved me with the IRS countless times. Unfortunately, the Department of Motor Vehicles is impervious to my superpowers.

Also, you can always try and learn new things which will definetly change your daily routine and  give you the cognitive tools to see things from other angles.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Robert A. Heinlein – Time Enough to Love

Putting Yourself in Winning Situations

Not long ago I’ve read How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, a book inspired from the author’s life. It was in this book that I first came upon the concept of systems versus goals. The author’s first encounter with this concept was while he has travelling by plane:

“I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early sixties. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut, and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. He asked what my story was and I filled him in. I asked what he did for a living and he told me he was CEO of a company that made screws. Then he offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was an ongoing process. This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for the better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.

This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options. And it worked for this businessman, as he had job-hopped from company to company, gaining experience along the way, until he became a CEO. Had he approached his career with a specific goal in mind, or perhaps specific job objectives (e.g., his boss’s job), it would have severely limited his options. But for him, the entire world was his next potential job. The new job simply had to be better than the last one and allow him to learn something useful for the next hop.”

chess king winning

So what this systematic method does is that it iterates and eliminates hypothesis and solutions that don’t work, hence it’s normal to experience a lot of failures until the optimum solution is found. In order to find that optimum solution is important to not give up, stay focused and not to succumb to the fear of failure:

“It helps a great deal to have at least a general strategy and some degree of focus. The world offers so many alternatives that you need a quick filter to eliminate some options and pay attention to others. Whatever your plan, focus is always important.
My system of creating something the public wants and reproducing it in large quantities nearly guaranteed a string of failures. By design, all of my efforts were long shots. Had I been goal oriented instead of system oriented, I imagine I would have given up after the first several failures. It would have felt like banging my head against a brick wall. But being systems oriented, I felt myself growing more capable every day, no matter the fate of the project I happened to be working on. And every day during those years I woke up with the same thought, literally, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and slapped the alarm clock off.”

In my case, I have a systematic approach to the process of building startups and putting ideas into practice. I don’t spend too much time overthinking if this or that idea will work or not, what I do instead is to implement the idea as fast as possible in a 3 day sprint and then market it in other 3 days sprints. If the idea doesn’t work out I will at least have learned something from the experience and move on to the next one. It’s a win situation no matter the outcome. I’m also documenting and writing about my experiences and the things that I learn during this systematic approach, adding to my credibility, making my expertise and my personal brand known so this is yet another win.

The difference between goals and systems: if you want to run a marathon, which is your goal, your system is your running schedule, let’s say that you plan to run each day, increasing the distance on a weekly basis until you manage to run a marathon. If you want to write a book, which is your goal, your system is your writing schedule, for example, you can plan to write daily 1000 words until you finish writing the book.
You can have achievements using a system without a goal but you cannot have achievements using a goal without a system.

Also, about goals and happiness: achieving your goals won’t necessarily make you happy.

Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.

The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success 

“I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn’t ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.”