*First Published with Union Times*
As humans, we find comfort and safety in patterns, but those same routines that we stick to like lifeboats can quickly sink into dull and unmemorable waters of predicability. So easily, we fall into the same social activities over and over again. Exhausted from work and errands, we want our free time to be as simple and relaxing as possible, which means repeating our usual social habits to the point of boredom. In an age when work seems to take over as the meaning of day-to-day life, it is of the utmost importance to remind oneself that what you do in your free time is ultimately more important than what you busy yourself with during working hours. You are the sculptor of your own life. Your day-to-day experience is what you make it. … So what have you done lately to keep your activities calendar on its toes?
Here are five stimulating social habits that may just help you shake up your approach to leisure time:
One :: Change Venues… Trust me, I understand how great it is when you find a location for your social plans that meets everyone’s needs, but visiting the same café or bookstore every time you meet your friends limits the new opportunities you are likely to encounter and dulls the senses.
Moving your traditional Saturday coffee to a new café you’ve never tried before will increase your chances of meeting new people, trying new foods, and expanding your knowledge of what your town has to offer you. But don’t limit yourself to the same types of venues! Try a location that differs wildly from what you’re used to. Make carafes of coffee and take them outside to the park or the beach (if you’re lucky enough to live nearby). You might find a new energy from sipping your coffee in the sand.
Making any change can help keep your mind active and engaged. Changing location increases the amount of new information you absorb unconsciously. New factors such as different routes, unfamiliar people, new flavors, and unpredictable weather encourage you to engage in your environment in order to do some subconscious problem solving. If it sounds like too much work for you, then maybe keep it simple at first by just ordering something different at your favorite restaurant or watching a genre of film you wouldn’t normally see.
After all, encountering new stimuli helps keep your synapses firing and encourages the formation of new links between the nerve cells in your brain. Click here to check out NHS’s site on the importance of staying mentally active through a wide range of activities.
Two :: Add new influences to your crew…
Remember that person you met awhile back and thought ‘Wow, she seems like she would be great to hang out with?’ Now is the time to find out if you were right! Make a list of the people you’ve encountered and were interested in but didn’t quite have the time or energy to nurture a new relationship at the moment. Do any of them still seem worthwhile? If so, reach out!
I know it can be a bit intimidating to put yourself out there, especially if it seems like a really long time since you’ve seen this person, but speaking as someone who has been on both sides of this situation, I can tell you that whoever you reach out to will most likely be absolutely flattered and impressed that you found them interesting enough to keep in touch.
Adding a new face to your crew can bring in a lifetime’s worth of new ideas and influences to keep the conversation going. It might just be the fresh air your social circle has needed for awhile.
Three :: Include an activity or goal for the meeting…
Coffee is the modern day campfire around which we tend to gather as a society. Yet, so often I have finished my coffee dates feeling socialized but “basic.” Yes, I chatted with my friends but we didn’t do anything except spend money on lattes and annoy the other customers with our admittedly a-little-too-loud laughter. After awhile, our conversations tend to take the same shape and direction as the rest of our coffee dates, and most of the time I don’t even feel like buying an espresso as an excuse to congregate with my friends. So I began to look for ways to avoid making predictable chit chat and coffee the focal point.
Reshape the structure of your own social engagements by introducing a new focus like cooking a meal with everyone, volunteering with the a local charity, planting a garden at your friend’s house, going for a long walk out in nature, or reading and discussing the same book.
Taking relaxed group classes like paint nights (which often include drinks) has become increasingly popular in most circles, but even minor changes like bringing a board game to your favorite spot can drastically alter the way you interact with your best mates. And, speaking from experience, I’m guessing you will probably make some new friends who are curious about what you’re up to.
Four :: Invent a new tradition…
We often find ourselves in circular patterns, maintaining the same habits and customs that we have grown used to over the years. But when was the last time you pioneered a new custom to share with your friends? Perhaps you’ve never actively thought about it, but chances are, you and your friends have invented a ritual or two that have become time-tested favorites. That midnight christmas tree decorating party you throw every year? Yep! That’s a tradition. And the unspoken practice of getting milkshakes every time someone in your crew encounters a little win at work? Yep! That’s one too.
But are there any traditions that aren’t really working for you any more? Maybe the midnight christmas tree party has become old hat, or the triumph milkshakes are no longer feasible thanks to a newcomer’s dietary restrictions. Perhaps it’s time to reimagine some of your old customs and rework them to your benefit.
As much as I love a big, rambunctious outdoor feast, they require a lot of work. Tired of the rigmarole that goes with organizing a full picnic, I simply invented a new tradition among my friends. As the weather grows warmer, I’ve switched to inviting my friends to the park for a French-inspired custom called a “Goûter” (pronounced “goo-tay,” for those of you baffled at French phonetics like myself).
A goûter is a part of everyday life in France, just a simple sweet snack after school to keep the energy in balance until dinnertime. I encountered it while talking with one of my favorite people in the world, a picky Frenchman who has retained a love for afternoon treats into his adult years. Now, when I feel the usual dread of organizing a full-scale picnic, I suggest a mini-picnic at a park with one dessert and one bubbly beverage. Et voila! My own bespoke version of a goûter for a simple, yet elegant, outdoor meal.
Consider your own traditions. If any of them are no longer working for you, go back to the drafting board and begin again. This can actually be a lot of fun, especially if you get your friends involved. And, don’t forget, some of the best traditions are the ones that occur naturally. Keep an eye out for any reoccurring activities you and your friends enjoy and cultivate them!
Five :: Check out events and places you have always been interested in but never got around to doing!
I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ and thought of how lovely it would be to see the ballet live, but for the longest time I made no real effort to find interesting performances like this around me.
Awhile back, I realized that there is always a little voice running through the background of my thoughts, raising a disembodied eyebrow at my less practical impulses… like spending money on theater tickets or a trip to explore the countryside. For the longest time, I told myself that it was the adult in me trying to keep my feet on the ground, but I realized eventually that it was just a terrified little version of myself afraid of anything that traditional middle-class society didn’t deem practical.
I felt practical, but what did I actually get when I followed the rules of “sensible” society? A bunch of money spent on items without real experiential value and a lot of wasted time. In retrospect, the money I have spent on “practical” social events like coffee and basic restaurant visits could have funded a trip to coastline or monthly tickets to the theater. So! No longer am I falling for the “practical” trap. Now when I have the impulse to do something big like go on a trip, I do the research and find a way to make it happen.
The pride that comes with getting outside of your comfort zone and making your ideas come to life can really shape your personality and open new doors for you. If you have always wanted to go scuba diving, take a class at your local pool or go to the beach with your snorkeling gear. (Baby steps count, you know!) Inviting your friends to share in your adventures changes the way they view ‘what’s possible’ and the way they see you. Chances are, they’ve fallen into the practical pit as well and just need someone at their side to climb out.
After all, what are friends for? We need to surround ourselves with people we admire, but we can also be a positive influence on the people we choose to keep close. For the sake of your friends and for your own experience in life, make every day memorable. Bust up your dusty social routine and try something fresh this summer. The most exciting adventures of your life could start today! So grab a friend and get out there!