A while back, after I wrote about staying productive when circumstances get weird, one commenter jokingly suggested that it’s just as important to stay weird when circumstances get productive. Ever since, that phrase has echoed around in my mind.
Sadly my circumstances have rarely been productive enough to make it relevant.
However—thanks to a life-changing global event you might have heard of—it has become easier to justify filling my days with work, work and more work. In recent months I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said to myself, It’s not as if I’m missing anything fun! as I excuse yet another day tapping away at the same keyboard in the exact same room.
Suddenly, keeping things weird has become critically important.
The issue isn’t with productivity itself. After all, I spend so much energy on increasing productivity that it would be perverse to worry about being “too” productive once the work starts flowing.
The problem is with everything else. More specifically, the lack of anything else. Looking back over the first five months of 2021, I can’t pinpoint a single moment when I last did anything new. This would be a problem for most people, but for a novelty-addicted multipotentialite it’s a nightmare.
Long periods of monotony are draining in ways which are difficult to detect until I suddenly sputter and stall. There’s no indicator that my tank is about to run dry. It just happens. Life abruptly loses its flavour, feeling flat, dull and joyless.
Science helps to explain this. Neuroplasticity is the fancy word for “the brain rewiring itself.” According to Megan Call of the University of Utah, “the more the brain is exercised, the stronger and more connected it becomes.”
And one of the best ways to exercise the brain and increase neuroplasticity is novelty. Novelty leads to neurons making more connections. And, as I understand it, “more connections means more brain good”.
In short, just as a lack of exercise leads to muscle decay, a lack of novelty leads to something akin to brain decay.
Keeping it weird is important. Injecting weirdness into my life is a form of self-care.
Generating novelty with micro-weirdnesses
Happily, this particular problem is easy to solve. Humans can produce a near-infinite amount of novelty, at will. Even better, thinking up sources of novelty is itself a form of creative imagination, with all the positive neuroplasticity effects that implies.
Even a small amount of novelty is encouraging to the brain, so when I’m running low I like to come up with micro-weirdnesses: small non-disruptive changes which I can easily mix into my life.
A few years ago I wrote about one example in detail, after realizing that simply rearranging my office had given me a burst of energy and enthusiasm. I have a fun formula for inventing new micro-weirdnesses. We just have to imagine how everyday actions could be performed differently. For example:
- Brushing your teeth with your other hand (this is surprisingly difficult, and it’s bizarre just how different it feels)
- Taking a new route on a common journey
- Sitting upside-down on the sofa (this may or may not be wise depending on the exact shape of your sofa)
- Wearing brighter or darker colours than normal
- Dancing to music from a genre you normally avoid
- Dancing at all
- Eating the food you normally save for last first
You get the idea. Obviously, brushing your teeth or eating a meal in an unusual manner isn’t going to revolutionise your entire life. But it’s amazing how much extra energy even the smallest change brings. Those brain chemicals are not to be underestimated.
This may sound ridiculous, but doing everyday tasks in novel ways genuinely makes me feel more alive. Instead of autopiloting through the day from waking to sleeping, I’m actually forced to engage with whatever I’m doing. You can’t wash the dishes with your elbows without really thinking about it!
(See also: Doing Things the Stupidest Possible Way)
How weird is weird enough?
I’m naturally inclined to believe that if a little bit of something is good then a lot of it must be better. That’s just good logic, right?!
But, as anyone who has experienced my cooking can attest, there is such a thing as “adding too much flavour”. And I have finally accepted that a lot of change isn’t necessarily better than a little change.
I, myself, am prone to suddenly moving to Australia—by which I mean that I have done this twice, which is considerably higher than average—but getting those brain chemicals flowing doesn’t have to mean ripping up your entire life and starting anew. If micro-weirdnesses aren’t enough, then the answer can be as simple as starting a new project. Or finding a new podcast to binge. Or finally acting on a creative urge you’ve been stifling for a while.
Perhaps the healthiest place to aim for is to have a regular supply of novelty, rather than a huge amount of it. A productive life with a constant injection of micro-weirdnesses which nudge my brain into a more engaged state.
Thinking back to the comment that began this whole train of thought, I can’t imagine the reaction if I’d responded: “the best way to keep things weird is to brush your teeth with the wrong hand!” I expect they’d have assumed I was joking. But it’s not a bad start.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to crawl to the kitchen on my hands and knees and sing the national anthem backwards while I make a cup of tea. It’s for my own good.
How do you inject a little extra weirdness into your life? Are there any fun micro-weirdnesses you could try? Or have you mixed things up with a cool new project recently? Share with the community in the comments!