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Are You Stuck on the Treadmill? Challenging and Overcoming Monotony

I grumpily shut off my high-pitched alarm that begins ringing punctually at 8:00 a.m every morning: the sign of daunting, awaiting responsibilities, a fresh cup of coffee with almond milk, and the excitement of a new, undiscovered day in New York City. I begin my usual cycle of repeatedly hitting snooze until the very last possible minute, savoring every last second in the solace of the warm comforter that wraps me like a burrito. I roll out of my bed and begin to complete my daily routine mindlessly: get dressed, eat breakfast (usually oatmeal), sprint a few blocks to class (which is sometimes disrupted by the occasional Alec Baldwin sighting), sit (and attempt) to take notes in lectures, run on the treadmill, go to a dining hall for dinner, finish homework, and prepare myself for the next day’s alarm.

SEE: 7 Healthy Morning Habits for Good Vibes

The never-ending, on-the-go nature of college can often feel like running on a treadmill that never stops: chasing after an impending assignment deadline, a social obligation, or my own internal clock that reminds me that time is infinitely ticking… and ticking. The constant, underlying stress of being a student (or even of being a human) drives me into a continual, frenzied rush — a state of perpetual anxiety in which I allow numbers to dictate my life: due dates, miles ran, the amount of minutes left in a class.

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But danger lies beneath this focus, this universal obsession with numbers. After all, aren’t numbers just lines and shapes? Why do we allow the size of a dress, or the amount of calories in a meal, control and swallow us? Just one more mile… just ten more minutes left of class… just two more weeks until this paper is due. Life should not be a countdown; there is freedom and euphoria in letting go of number — in simply being.

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The monotony of everyday college life and life in general can be not only exhausting and boring, but frightening. When I step off the treadmill, when I stop running, I pause and allow myself to breathe for a few minutes. I stretch my aching leg muscles and listen to the sound of my own heartbeat as my upbeat, Spotify workout playlist softly plays in the background. I begin to regain a steady breathing pattern and wipe the beads of sweat off my forehead. I try to recall the events of the last forty minutes of cardio, but it is a blurred mirage in my mind. How did I get here? Not just to the gym and to this treadmill in particular, but to this moment? What did I do today? What did I do yesterday? How do I feel? Am I present — not only in this moment… but in my life? Or am I simply running… chasing… unaware of my surroundings, of the world, of me.

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Amidst the uniformity and staticness of life as a college student, I find myself having to stop every now and then to question my role in my own life. I fear being a passive and unaware member of my life — a victim of stagnancy. I’m terrified that while I am lost in my own thoughts and paralyzed by my own fears, I am going to miss out on my own life, simply standing on the sidelines as a viewer.

In these frequent moments of introspection, I remember the importance of breaking free from the routineness that plagues college life and remind myself to do these things:

1. Do something that makes your heart pound

When was the last time you did something that truly scared you — something that made your breath quicken and your legs go numb? The only way to grow, to flourish is through challenging moments of discomfort and fear. If you never take risks, if you remain in a calm circle of comfort, you will plateau. You will stay the same individual day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. Write down your greatest terrors — from spiders to confrontation — and go out and conquer them. On a recent trip to Costa Rica, my dad and I went ziplining 5,000 feet up. He has always expressed his great fear of heights, but in a moment of anxiety and excitement, a seed of confidence was planted in him. We stood side by side overlooking the vast, lush greenery of Guanacaste, and faced his fear head on as we hung off of a thin line into the air. Are you frightened? Good. Now go be brilliant. Be bold. Be brave.

2. Be spontaneous

Go to a yoga class, eat fries at a diner at midnight, take a walk in a new neighborhood with a friend, compliment a stranger, see a comedy show, get a new piercing. I find the greatest fulfillment when I create — art, dance, poetry; making something from nothing is scary and magical. Follow your instincts and the impulses that lead you somewhere or to someone. It is easy and natural for me to give into my internal homebody and remain in my room watching Netflix. But the times I have followed my adventurous pulse, the voice that encourages my spontaneity, are the moments of exhilaration that I treasure the most. When looking back at my college years, I will regret the things I didn’t do, more than the things I did do.

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3. Small changes make big differences

Minute changes in your everyday routine can make a significant difference in how you feel. Try studying in a place you’ve never been before, or combining different foods in the dining hall and see if you can come up with a new treat (my friend and I put nutella and peanut butter on waffles and it was a game changer), or sitting next to someone new in a lecture. These slight alterations in your everyday routine are anything but trivial; they can lead to discovery, and ignite the spark of a larger fire: a new friend, a new favorite study spot, a new favorite food. On days when I simply walk home from class on a different street, my eyes open a little wider and I feel refreshed, seeing things I have yet to discover. Isn’t it beautiful and exciting to experience something new?

4. Spread kindness to others

As my best friend Alexa always says, “spread sunshine!” Begin a domino effect of altruism and thoughtfulness by sharing a genuine smile with a passerby or buying a stranger a cup of coffee in the morning. These simple tasks can turn around someone’s day and inspire a chain of charity that is much needed in the world, particularly right now. I believe if you put out positivity and compassion into the world, it will circulate back to you in some shape or way.

SEE ALSO: 101 Ways to Happiness: Mindsets to Live By For a Healthier and Happier Life (#63)

5. Be kind to yourself

It is equally as important to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others. There is magic in self-care, in setting aside time unselfishly for yourself to find peace and ease within the omnipresent chaos of each day. An act of self-care can be as simple as taking a long nap, doing a charcoal face mask, stream of conscious writing in a journal, buying new fuzzy socks, calling your mom — it is distinct to each individual. Indulge in your favorite food, dance in your pajamas to your favorite band, invest time, as much time as necessary, in YOU.

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Slow down you crazy child. You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. But then if you’re so smart, then tell me why are you still so afraid?

Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” my favorite song, serves as a call to the present and to action in these moments of confusion and paranoia. Slow down. Stop running. Step off the treadmill. Look around. Look at yourself. Remember why you’re here, imagine where you want to go, and chase your bliss.

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