We were kicked out of our apartment on Friday.
Forced to set up camp in an empty studio nearby, we gathered together some essentials – crib, air mattress, toiletries, towels, basic kitchen utensils, and books – and made home in our temporary residence.
It wasn’t that bad of a space, really. It had a view of the western sky, which on that particular evening lit up with the bright red glow of the sunset. Big windows let in a pleasant breeze. The shower worked.
But it wasn’t home. Things were different. Our usual way of living was disrupted.
There was more noise. With the windows facing the alley and the nearby train station, the noise of cars and trains rushing by echoed in the empty space of the studio. I wasn’t able to get the same peace and quiet that I’d grown used to.
Our evening activities had to change. Because of the small space, our daughter’s crib was in the same room as us. While we normally stay up for a while after she goes to bed, that wasn’t an option. If we made too much noise, we’d wake her up. I had to think differently about how I used my evening.
The oven was smaller. When we went to bake a pizza in it, the pan didn’t fit in the oven. We had to switch pans. I realized just how well our kitchen worked for us in the other apartment.
Sleeping was different. The air mattress wasn’t what I was used to sleeping on. I tossed and turned throughout the night. I woke up the next morning tired. I was thankful for the comfortable mattress we normally sleep on.
With each disruption, I gained a new awareness of my patterns, habits, and preferences. I became an observer to my way of life.
Not all disruptions are as big as moving apartment. A month ago, for example, I changed the default welcome page on my web browser.
It used to display a list of links to frequently viewed websites. But whenever I’d open a new tab, I’d click on one of those links without thinking – even if I’d originally meant to go to a different site. The default response caused distraction – costing me time that I had intended to use for work.
So I set my web browser to open a blank page instead. For the next couple weeks, as I’d open a new tab, my hand moved the mouse to where the link used to be for my email or other site. But the page was blank. My only option was to click to the address bar and type in the site I wanted to visit.
The interruption in my pattern made me aware of what I was doing. Each time, I had the chance to decide whether that behavior was worthwhile or not.
So many of our actions happen on autopilot. They’re habits deeply ingrained into our minds. We’re not aware of what we’re doing. We just do.
In some ways, this is a good thing. If we had to constantly think about every little action, we’d get overwhelmed. With too much to decide, we’d become paralyzed and decide to do nothing.
The trouble is, there are many habits that aren’t helpful. To make things worse, we often aren’t even aware of them. They slip by our notice.
Since we’re not paying attention, we’re not able to change them.
One powerful way of focusing your attention is to disrupt your patterns. Force yourself out of the familiar and push your mind to think about what’s happening. In that awareness, you can see things in a different light.
There are a variety of ways you can create that awareness.
Mediation. As you sit, direct your attention to your breathing – something you normally don’t pay attention to. Naturally, your mind will want to go off in a multitude of other directions. Focusing on breathing is a different pattern. And by noticing where your mind wants to go, you gain awareness.
Reading. In particular, read books that support a different viewpoint than yours or view life through a different lens. You notice what conflicts with your opinion. By asking yourself why it offends you, you learn.
Hanging out with different people. If everyone thinks the same as you do, it only serves to reinforce your current beliefs. But by being around those who have opposing viewpoints or work in other industries, you can start to see that what you take for granted as truth is not considered true by many others.
Rearranging your space. Normally, it’s helpful be able to find things quickly when you need them. But by moving things around, you can add an extra awareness to what you reach for when you’re on autopilot. Even small tweaks can make you pause and think.
Adjusting your food. For a short period of time, place artificial restrictions on your diet – remove sugar, remove grains, be vegetarian. See how you crave certain foods. Notice how your body feels – good or bad. Then when the experiment is over, make the needed changes to your regular diet.
Traveling. Everything becomes different. You don’t speak the language. You don’t see things the same way as those around you. Things aren’t in the same place you’re used to finding them. Tasks and activities that used to be ordinary back home, now require thought and focus.
The ability to be an observer of your own behavior gives you power. Armed with new knowledge and understanding, you can act in a deliberate and informed manner.
What about you? What patterns in your life can you disrupt?
A day later, we were able to move back into our apartment. The building maintenance had finished their repairs – fixing the shower, patching the paint on the walls, and a doing a number of other overdue items. We moved our belongings out of the studio down the hall and back to our place.
Home again, life started returning to normal. But this time, I had added awareness.