Monday, August 1, 2016

Habits of Variety

I noticed recently that I've been trying to live my life according to two conflicting principles. On the one hand, I am always trying to give my life the structure of good habits. I journal every day, I write a blog post once a week, and I am currently working on the habit of washing my glasses every morning. I like not having to make the decision every day; instead, I made the decision once and act on it again and again, preferably without having to think about it.

On the other hand, I want to fill my life with a variety of different experiences. I suspect that life seems to go by faster the more each day is filled with familiar things one can experience without noticing: unlike our first few months here in Leiden, when everything was new, the last year has flown by at a terrifying rate. And sometimes a lack of variety can be dangerous: eating the same thing all the time can lead to vitamin deficiencies, and exercising only some muscle groups can lead to imbalances.

I haven't yet fully sorted through how much I want to do intentionally and how much I would like to mentally automate. But it occurred to me that it's also possible for a habit to promote variety in one's life. For example, a friend of Clara's planned her meals around whatever organic produce was on sale that week. That simple rule allowed her to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from week to week without having to specifically plan out a rotation.

photo by Carol Moshier
Then I realized that I had developed some habits of variety myself without realizing it. There are several ways to bike from our apartment to the opposite side of Leiden, and instead of going the same way every time, I fell into the rhythm of going one way when on my way to work, another way on my way to Dutch class, and a third way for Bible Study, even though it didn't make much difference to the travel time. That way I'd keep visiting different parts of our beautiful city without having to plan it.

I also exercise using an ipad app that takes you through a different combination of exercises every time you use it, and which is designed to gradually ramp up in overall difficulty as you get stronger. In the past I've gotten bored by exercise routines that are basically the same week after week, but this method has let me practice both consistency and variety in my physical fitness.

In each case, the habit is tied to a regular trigger that varies: which produce is on sale, or what day of the week it is, or what exercise the app tells me to do next. I think that's the key to making the behavior both habitual and varied.

Here are some other areas of my life into which I'm thinking of incorporating more habitual variety. Suggestions are welcome!

Fun spending:

It's inefficient to spend money on the same fun activities every week if the fun gradually diminishes. What are some ways I can make sure my money goes toward a variety of experiences, while still keeping to a tight budget?


I would love for chores to be one of those habits I do without thinking. I wash the dishes every day, but how often am I supposed to dust behind the refrigerator or clean out the junk drawer? It's hard to make a habit out of things that are only necessary once in a while, so how can I make sure I'm getting to everything regularly without thinking about it too hard?


At this point in my life I've accrued a lot of friends from all over the world, but it takes more effort to keep in touch with the ones who are farther away. (This is especially relevant to me now, as I prepare to move to a new home over four thousand miles away.) What are some ways to habitually reach out to more of my friends, and not just the ones it's easiest to talk to?

What are your ideas? Do you have any habits of variety you've found helpful?


  1. Do you use Google calendar? (or something similar?). I have my events calendar on there, but also a different colored "to-do" calendar. Whenever I think of nagging tasks, I enter them into a day (as an all-day event) when I think I can get to it. It allows me to brain dump and then it's not on my mind anymore. If I can't get to it on the assigned day, I just drag it to a new day, and then delete it when completed. You could set them up to repeat however often, whether it's reminding you to clean behind the fridge or contact some distant friends. I have a third calendar for meal planning too, and switch around days as needed, or look back at previous months for meal ideas. This blogger has a free course about it (and some other great info about habits on her blog):

    1. Sounds like a nice system! I like that you're scheduling these tasks along with your other events, so you can see conflicts coming; in the past my reminders have often come when I'm already busy, and then those non-urgent just get pushed to the back burner. I like your idea about meal planning in the calendar too! I'm signing up for the course you linked to.

  2. Hey guys! For a while my husband made it a point to do something once or twice a month, but we couldn't do the same thing within 3 months.

    1. That sounds simple and effective! I imagine that this way, you'd also spend time thinking back to the fun things you did in the past, to check whether it's been three months yet. If so, how nice to have that extra savoring as a byproduct!

  3. Actually, in some ways, being on a budget could help enforce variety. I've only just started Groupon, so I don't recommend it yet, but looking out for seasonal deals for adventures could be a good way to keep variety going and save money. Especially when you find things that are always changing. This is particularly easy in a big city like Texas or, hopefully, Minneapolis. I keep an eye on what museums are doing events for Free Thursdays or what events are being hosted at the parks near my home or work. Sometimes I have to venture further abroad for free stuff, which keeps me changing. Although...not to give the wrong impression...I'm a total homebody.

    As for relationships, I have an official "Respond In Kind" policy, which means it's tickling the back of my mind in a frustrating way that I haven't made a 5014 miles video to answer y'all's last one. That's useful as long as the other person and I can get a routine going at the start. I also try to email or otherwise contact someone when I see something that reminds me of them, even if it's just an incredibly short message. I find that the more I do this, I'm reinforcing all the things that remind me of them, which makes it feel like we're more in each other's lives even far away.

    1. I hadn't thought of things like Groupon—thanks for the tip! I would also like to get more comfortable with sending people short no-expectations messages; I'm afraid of people being like "What am I supposed to do with this?"

  4. I sweep a few times a week and dust once a week, so that the chore is less likely to turn into A CHORE. But there are still times when a certain task needs to be done, like scrub down the fridge. I schedule it and choose a podcast or audiobook. I find that doing these things every few months instead of once a year makes them less demanding, so I try to do it when it kinda needs to be done sometime, as opposed to when it REALLY needs to be done.

    1. Yeah, scrubbing the fridge more often really is win-win: it's easier if it hasn't been too long, and you get to enjoy a clean fridge! So many of the moving-out cleanup jobs made us think "Wow, it's so nice now! Too bad we won't be the ones to enjoy it." :)


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