Eat Your Popcorn with Chopsticks

We effortlessly perform the same morning ritual – rushing the kids off to school, gulping down the usual coffee, taking the standard route to work. When visiting our favorite restaurants, we gravitate toward the same menu items instead of trying something new. We listen to our favorite musical artists on repeat and then binge-watch our favorite shows.

Following proven (and safe) routines is only natural. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to stick to the tried-and-true. When our ancestors discovered a safe route to find berries without getting eaten by a tiger, it made sense to stick to that plan instead of taking a dangerous risk for the sake of novelty. But today, our repetitive patterns can rob us of our creative potential… and even our happiness.

Two weeks after buying that new car, you barely notice the aspects that once made your heart thump with excitement. Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation. It’s the principle that our enthusiasm for something new (location, food, purchase, relationship, etc.) reverts back to the previous baseline once we get accustomed to it. As routine sets in, happiness wanes.

The same forces can weigh down our creativity. The first day in a new office is loaded with fresh stimuli, electrifying our creative energy to new heights. But sit at the same desk for years, and the creative voltage can easily dissipate. This is why people often have their best ideas in the shower, on vacation, in nature, or enjoying live music … When we break free from our normal surroundings, we unlock creativity.

While a change of venue can help, switching the scenery isn’t the only worthy approach. In fact, you’ll experience a direct creative boost when you do things in fresh, unexpected ways. To this end, try wearing your watch on the opposite wrist. For dinner, eat your dessert first and your salad last. Try a new genre of music or pick up a magazine that you’d ordinarily never consider. Even the smallest changes can elevate your creative output.

In a recent study, researchers split a group of 68 participants into two groups. Each group was instructed to slowly eat a bag of popcorn, but one group was asked to do so using chopsticks. At the end of the experiment, the chopsticks-using group reported a significantly higher level of enjoyment than their traditional counterparts. The simple change in procedure yielded a big boost to their happiness.

Musician and poet Tuli Kupferberg famously said, “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” So let’s change up our routines in order to unlock both creativity and happiness. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand. Reverse the order of your daily chores. Watch a brand-new TV show. Order something new from the menu.

…And don’t forget the chopsticks.