how little acts of non-conformity make life better (Sunday life)

Posted on April 10th, 2011

This week I do things at the wrong time

lee-price Photo by Lee Price

I take disproportionate delight from eating non-breakfast food at breakfast. This morning I ate mashed pumpkin with garlic. Sometimes I eat grilled sardines on lentils. Once I ate lamb chops.

In the comfortable, middle-class world I inhabit, such deviations feel like perverse acts of rebellion.  My grandmother, for 65 years, used to put out two Weet-bix in a bowl every night ready for breakfast in the morning. Bless Grandmother’s gentle soul, but my non-breakfasts say booyah to that!

Doing things at the right – or conventional – time can make sense. Turning up to weddings at the time specified by the bride and groom is always good. And getting your bikini line waxed is best done mid-afternoon, a week after your period, when the skin is least sensitive.

But this week I played with the idea that doing stuff when you’re not meant to is a tidy way to inject joy into life. At a purely pragmatic level doing things out of step with the masses is efficient. In the book Buy Ketchup In May And Fly At Noon, Marc Di Vincenzo makes the case for eating out at restaurants on Tuesdays (when other people don’t; Tuesday is better than Monday because produce often isn’t delivered on weekends). The best time to learn maths is after class and, says Di Vincenzo, buy tomato sauce after summer (prices go up before barbeque season).

But there are other benefits. I interviewed American author Gretchen Ruben a while back. She wrote The Happiness Project, a hugely popular and rather rigid guide for getting happy. After rattling off a number of rules, she places the qualifier: and every now and then do the opposite. So, don’t exercise in the morning, work on a Sunday, be totally cluttery for a day. Indian philosopher Guru Dev says the same, “Do the opposite of what you’d normally do”. Why? It injects freshness, and the jolt of going against the grain gets you to look at things differently.

Chris Guillebeau the crazy kid behind my favourite life-hack blog The Art of Non-Conforminity, says going against the grain enables you to live the life you want. “You’ve got to scare yourself a little to get change,” he says. He’s part of a movement worldwide that’s seeing people doing things the wrong way around. It’s a movement, I tell you!

One of the most popular wisdoms I’ve shared in the past is this: when things go to the blahs, sleep with your head at the other end of the bed. Simply waking up with a different view can realign your day differently.

Which is what Zen practitioners are alluding to when they speak of “fresh eyes”.

I read recently that business and creativity coaches have caught onto this concept and are calling it “vu déjà”.  Which is the inverse of seeing something in the same way. It’s seeing what you always see, but in a different way. Seen from a different angle, or a different time slot, things can seem like they’re being seen for the first time. Which is what eating lamb chops at 7.30am does.

So does having a bath at 10am on Saturday, which I did last weekend as an experiment to ricochet me from a listless rut.

  • Ditto going to the zoo on a Monday morning.
  • And visiting a bookshop at night.
  • And going to the movies during the day, which I did on Thursday (starting my writing work for the day at 8pm). The feeling when you walk out and it’s daylight shifts things a gear, everything feels a bit disorientatingly… special.
  • One of my favourite pastimes is going to Woolies at midnight. It feels slightly wrong and lonely, but, equally, much more fun than going on Saturday morning.

And herein lies the real beauty of stepping out of (the time) line for me.It quashes Perfect Moment Syndrome, a term I think I made up when I worked in women’s magazines, mostly for the resulting acronym. PMS afflicts those of us who think life should operate a certain way. That birthdays are always happy, a week in Thailand is meant to be relaxing and a long-awaited date with your partner at a special restaurant will bring you closer together. When you shake things up, and do things from the inverse out, there is no such expectation. It’s so wrong it’s right.

Doing things at the wrong time…any that jolt you awake?

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  • Natalie

    That was surprisingly inspirational.

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  • Lou

    Great post again! thanks Sarah!

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  • Elmo

    I am so not a rule breaker so the craziest thing I do is wear my wedding rings on the opposite hand. Yeah, I need to live a little.
    Fun article, Sarah!

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  • http://www.poemsandnovels.blogspot.com maggie may

    I loved this post. And needed it. THanks.

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  • http://taf.tumblr.com Teresa

    Fuck yeah going against the grain!

    Funny, I do the sleeping upside down thing on the bed too, have done since I was little. Really not sure what it is. (Sleeping on the couch works too.) Now that I live with my boyfriend, I can only really do it when he’s away because being woken up by a foot in your face isn’t the right kind of “shake things up”, for either of us.

    I too rejoice in 24 hour supermarkets.

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  • http://www.easythrillsemptypockets.blogspot.com/ Lauren

    Going out dancing on a Thursday night and then staying in on Friday. It’s all round better financially, clubs tend to play music with actual words and not just doof doofs, there’s not that tension from the assumption that everyone must be looking to be picked up so things are a bit more relaxed, people are friendlier, bar tenders take more time to prepare your drinks and the trains stop running at midnight so you have a set curfew. Though every now and then I might need to remember to shake up my shake up, and go out on a Saturday as well.

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  • http://twitter.com/eskimojo eskimojo

    Funny, when I read the headline eating non breakfast foods was the first thing that popped into my head as last week I copped a load of shit at work for eating stir fry leftovers for breakfast.

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  • Contented Single

    I find this one of the joys of being single, doing what you like, when you like, without being inconsiderate of course.

    So I totally get the non-breakfast food at breakfast. For me I sometimes just have dessert for dinner. It’s not often, but if I’m looking for some comfort food, and want something sweet, instead of having a big meal and a dessert, I just make myself some dessert. Doesn’t fit in with the non-sugar thing you’ve been following, but I’m mostly into eating well, and it’s usually a stack of buckwheat pancakes or a crumble that I cook up. Feels decadent, a rainy night after work, in PJs, sitting on the floor, eating my pancakes.

    As a single, and as someone that likes to do things alone, I often do things that people would find rather different. Eg, going out to a nice restaurant alone. For years I went salsa dancing on a Sunday night, or some random week night. Always heaps of South Americans out. Which, has made me think of something. As someone that has lived in several countries, as much as we like to think we are a laidback, beachloving nation, heaps of countries have it over us on the pleasure front, in my opinion. I think, here, there is a lot of obsession about right job, buying the right house, we are even working longer that the rest of the world – a lot of conformity there.

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Yeah, it’s def a bonus of single life!

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  • Mia

    That reminds me of one of my favourite lines from Billy Connolly’s biography. “Let’s tour the seaside in winter!” he decided on a whim. His managers shook their heads, but he sold out everywhere and it was one of his most successful tours. I love that. :)

    Great article!

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    I love it as a quote!

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  • Nov

    I really wish you would credit your images to their rightful owner. I’ve had to stop reading your blog because I find it really detracts from the integrity of your writing.

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    Kate Reply:

    I know it’s not, but that actually looks like you in the bath Sarah!

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    Paul Reply:

    I thought that too! But isn’t her foot broken or something?

    Sarah, what happened to your foot recently – did I miss a blog about some karate class experiment or the like?

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    Kate Reply:

    Hey Paul – maybe it really is! Let’s assume that the foot in the bath which is stretched out is the broken one. Now let’s work what happened…could it be from a karate class or pehaps dancing alone in the dark and coming into contact with a coffee table?

    Nat Reply:

    It’s actually a painting, which is pretty incredible! The artist’s name is Lee Price – more of her work is here : http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/lee-price

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    Teresa Reply:

    Wow that’s awesome.

    Madison Reply:

    Agreed Nov! It’s so utterly disrespectful to not credit the image source. Surely it’s the same as someone printing your article somewhere else and not crediting you.

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    Lola Reply:

    Paul, really? Are you going to be that annoying guy? I would certainly like to hope that the writing speaks for itself and the photograph is just a complement. And the truth is you probably wouldn’t read the post unless it had a photograph because as internet users we scan and pick out things, prefer to look at pictures and don’t like reading lots of text in one big block.

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    Lola Reply:

    Eek! sorry I meant Nov.

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    Teresa Reply:

    I don’t think it’s “annoying” to be that person to point out that you should credit image makers. I know many photographers and it is an endless source of frustration when their images are basically stolen, used without credit.

    This is a good guide to what to do http://www.designspongeonline.com/2011/03/how-to-credit-just-check-the-poster.html

    If you can’t find a source, at least link back to where you found it, or TinEye search it, or say “source: unknown”.

    Nov Reply:

    It isn’t a photograph, it’s a painting. This isn’t just a snapshot (though even if it was, it is still someone else’s and should be credited!), it’s hours of intensive labor and one’s intellectual property just being thrown around like it means nothing. Why is it so hard to give credit where it is due? What if it was your work?

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    Brittany Reply:

    I know in the past Sarah has said she uses the Commons?

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    Bek Reply:

    Not sure if this is a retrospective addition but when you hover over the image the name of the artist does come up :)

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  • http://www.livingsavvy.com.au Jo – living savvy

    I have just come in after serving up lunch to the children which included lots of fruit, they had a cooked breakfast of scrambled eggs and I put out there “Hey, how about cornflakes for dinner?” No takers unfortunately, I will keep trying though, I have years ahead of me in working with them to flip things up a little.

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  • Jane

    Little children are great non-conformers, but mine also loves routine, so shake ups have to be small scale around here. I try to always question my instinctive reactions to her non-conformity – who makes up these rules anyway?? So it’s gumboots under her party dress, eating spaghetti carbonara with her fingers and discos in the morning if that’s the way she wants to roll.

    For myself, going to the movies in the daytime, alone, is my all-time special treat. But I am rigid about one thing: gotta have a choc top!

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  • Kate

    3 great articles in this weeks Sunday Life – Mia, Sarah & Ita.

    Some people like the conformity and structure of norms, which become their routine. It feels safe. But I was on the verge of a panic attack after reading about Sarah’s grandmother and her weetbix. I absolutely suffocate in conventional relationships and once a job becomes comfortable, I’m outta there. We’ve all seen couples sitting in a restaurant just staring into space because they don’t have anything to say, or know of someone who has had the same job and sat at the same desk for the past 10 years. Sometimes it’s so right, it’s wrong.

    At breakfast meetings, I order coco-pops and a lime spider
    Go shopping in my pyjamas
    Buy easter eggs as soon as they hit the shelves
    Build sandcastles at the beach (and no, I don’t have kids!)

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Kate, you are truly a grand shaker-upperer!

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    Kate Reply:

    Yaya for eating lamb chops at 7.30am. Challenge the status quo as much as you can Sarah. Living in a topsy-turvey world is great fun.

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  • Anika

    Sarah I burst out laughing when I read about your nan and the weetbix. My nan is exactly the same (i thought it was just her), although she does manage to mix things up by interchanging her bix for Albran every other week!

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  • Paul

    It’s not just trying off-peak things, trying off-gender activities is also fun.

    Today after some manly tasks (re-hung the bathroom door, oiled some handles, tightened up some screws) I sat down with my tracksuit pants and the cord thing which had come out (hate them anyway!). How do you get the bloody thing back in!?

    I found a nappy pin in my St Johns First Aid Kit (yes, I’m the organized type) and used it to re-thread the tracksuit cord. Less huffing & puffing than hanging doors but entirely satisfying for a boy given I worked it out without ringing mum.

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  • Paul

    @ Lola – haha, um yeah, wrong ‘that guy’. I can still be quite annoying now and then, just not today.

    Crikey people, it’s Sunday so let’s all just relax, we can burn Sarah at the stake monday to friday.

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  • http://guusjes-appeltaart.blogspot.com/ Guusje

    i♥!

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  • http://www.twitter.com/velvet_hologram Natalie

    I find I need to shake up my routine every few months, otherwise I feel like life becomes a rut & then I start to feel frustrated, which only tends to build.

    I get the non-breakfast foods as well. I’ve always found cereal to be incredibly boring, & most traditional breakfast foods I can’t eat anyway. So now it’s cauliflower mash, ham, or whatever I feel like, really. I’ve had chicken salad for breakfast.

    Lately I’ve thrown out the idea of ‘meals’, so I’ll go snack on a slice of ham, or a handful of lettuce, or a chunk of cucumber, or a few slices of cheese. Whatever I feel like, whatever time of day. Sometimes I don’t want a big meal, sometimes I do. I just go with how I feel. There are times when that is easier than others, cause the structure of ‘meal times’ is something I need. That tends to be when I’m feeling a little stressed!

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  • Amy

    Interesting! I’ve always done these sort of things, because I can’t stand when things get too stale. I love to shake up my own perceptions of the world, there’s nothing better! Some of the things I like to do are:

    - drinking a cup of tea or a glass of wine in the bathroom, while I’m getting ready for work or for going out
    - changing around my bedroom so my bed is in different positions – I love the feeling of waking up and not knowing where I am for a few seconds!
    - having a bath but instead of lying the “correct” way, I lay in there sideways, with my legs dangling off the side (eg knees hooked over the edge)
    - skipping dinner and going straight for dessert
    - walking around the house naked
    - dancing in my living room at 11pm at night, when I know I “should” be winding down and getting ready for bed

    :)

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  • Brittany

    My work involves working every weekend, and having thursday friday off. Sometimes I work from 5-9pm. And I really wish I knew that I had every weekend off! I think craving the stabilty and safety of the ‘norm’ is a very valid feeling.

    What I feel is important is giving ourselves permission to do the things we think are best :)

    As an aside, in high school I was served many a steak for breakfast by my mum that I would drizzle honey all over.

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  • D.

    This is a bookmark-worthy post! I love it! My favorite sentence: “In the comfortable, middle-class world I inhabit, such deviations feel like perverse acts of rebellion.”
    I agree with you completely. And it’s not just about the right moment for something, it’s also about the right place. Change the venue, change everything you please, I say!

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  • Patricia

    I could never ever change, that I shower at night before bed. I always have,
    Strange this subject came up, because this past week, I have been making porridge for my late night supper (9.30/10pm), with a dollop of yoghurt on top. Now that is…..topsy turvy. I won’t keep up the porridge thing (hope not) started that because I was getting peckish.

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  • Patricia

    Actually just finished my oats/porridge before my last comment :)

    That reminded me of your post, and I thought yes that is something a bit out of the norm of daily routine.:)

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  • http://jacksjye.blogspot.com Jacksjye

    I would give it a try” doing things inversely”. Great post, Sarah. Thanks! Can’t wait for your next post.

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  • http://www.viendamaria.com Vienda

    I was actually thinking about this the last few days, so it seems that there are other’s questioning these concepts too. It’s funny how society/ tradition has taught us to expect certain things at certain times “because that’s the way it is” instead of questioning what is exactly the best in this very moment which is unique and unlike any other moment? For sure eating vegetables for breakfast is about 1000x more nutritious than eating sugar coated cereal and perhaps some protein from a lamb chop or two will give you the push into a fabulous new day that you need. I love to eat and do and live exactly the way that feels right in that very moment because that’s what living in the moment means to me.

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    Adam Cordner Reply:

    I agree, the breakfast cereal thing is a funny tradition. Personally I have never craved cereal at any moment, instead I will devour leftover curry if it’s still in the fridge. I think the cereal example is a great insight into things we accept and never question, like desert, why wait until after dinner?

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  • http://happyhealthyhot.com tegan haining

    I love having leftover dinners for breakfast! Aaron got me onto that…left over slow roast for breaky…or homemade sugar-free cheesecake on carb-loading days!! Simple easy…and definately done when you are single!!! x

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  • http://www.the-twelfth-hour.blogspot.com Sarah M

    Sarah I actually read this article in the Sunday Life magazine on Sunday morning while I munched away on my vege breakfast at the new cafe at the Pass in Byron. Normally I just read the article’s on here but there was something about reading it in print form that made me incredibly happy. It was just one of those zen moments you can’t explain. Haha I’m such a dork!

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  • http://www.mikewilde.com mike wilde

    I swim in the evening to avoid the crowds.
    I train at two in the morning if I am not on an AM schedule.
    It doesn’t ‘give me energy.’ Thank God !!
    It calms me down.
    I pay scant attention to conventional wisdom.
    I read in other languages even if I don’t know the languages very well.
    That way I learn the language while I’m reading it.
    A life confined to one language provides a very limited world view/perspective at best.
    It reinforces our middle class ennui/self righteousness.
    Giddins – One culture = No Culture … sorry kids !!
    I risk life and limb regularly .. although have slowed down on this as recuperation takes up valuable time.
    I try to experience a little physical pain on a regular basis.
    Keeps it real in relation to my evolutionary past !!!
    I mix up my sleep patterns and have done so my entire adult life.
    I eat whatever I feel like .. love cubans, (cigars) but have slowed ’cause they will do damage.
    I follow my heart .. always ..
    and have paid the price accordingly.
    Because I do all these things I don’t need to rebel.
    I do need the same things that everyone else needs in terms of companionship and validation .. we are all wierdos and vulnerable. at heart .. and that’s why I love this planet.

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    mike wilde Reply:

    p.s. Prestige is for Pussies .. a necessary evil and too dependant on social consent.
    An anonymous life is far more valuable and true to where we all end up .. dead !!
    The same goes for ‘Fame.’
    Generally a trap .. having said that .. all power to people that can pull it off and retain their sanity, balance, whatever.

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  • http://cassette.cc Erika

    It’s like on Eat Pray love- that amazing moment when she picks out her favourite things to eat in silence. It’s the middle of the day- and she chooses a boiled egg, asparagus, cheese etc.

    Why not indulge in what you love the most? They say fuel is food, so when your body needs it, it should be rewarded.

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  • Emm

    I love the painting. Thank you for turning me on to a new artist. I’m going to look for more of this persons work.

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