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Variety is the spice of life

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

“Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour”, to use the full quote from William Cowper’s “The Task”. I like the addition of the second line because even if someone doesn’t like spice, they probably like do like flavour.


Variety is suggested in certain aspects of our lives. A variety of exercise is recommended in order to both have a mix of aerobic and strengthening activities and to work the different muscle groups. Apart from keeping meals interesting, a variety of foods is important to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need from all the food groups.


Thinking about variety with reference to food and flavour reminds me of Morgan Spurlock’s experiment in the early 00’s where he ate nothing but McDonalds for a month. The point was to find out what damage it would do to his system (spoiler alert, it was a lot) but I remember thinking at the time how boring it would be to eat the same few things over and over. How numbed someone’s tastebuds would become and how indifferent their brain would eventually be to the prospect of food.


What are your rice cakes and bananas?

It’s the same with activities and life in general. Constant repetition, tedious monotony, invariable humdrum, constant repetition, with nothing fresh or inspiring will numb your appetite for life, and is the equivalent of plain rice cakes for me.


Doing different things keeps your brain engaged and stimulated, as well as making life more interesting. With the caveat that ideally anything new or unfamiliar is also appealing; there are certainly new things that I could try that would be disagreeable and I think of these as bananas. I’d really like to like bananas because they are so versatile as both healthy food and part of otherwise delicious looking desserts, but I just don’t like them. And so for me, pleasant variety is the spice of life, monotony is the rice cake of life and unpleasant variety is the banana of life.


I know that not everyone will agree with me about the rice cakes and bananas, so please feel free to e-mail me at coaching@fionagillies.co.uk with the subject “Bananas” with what your equivalent for monotony or unpleasant variety would be.


What new thing are you going to do?

Adding variety doesn’t mean making huge changes. Taking the idea of “spice” fairly literally, I like to try new recipes. There is an assortment of ways that a new recipe can add interest: sampling a new ingredient, using a new combination of ingredients, dabbling in a new technique, and of course the mystery of whether it will actually work out well or result in hastily assembled beans on toast for dinner. When a new recipe is a hit I’ll do it again. And again. And then it becomes part of my repertoire and it’s time to try a new dish.


What hobby have you always wanted to try? Or is there an aspect of an existing hobby that you could learn? What’s the first step to take?


The same, but different

“Variety” doesn’t mean chaos and continuously doing things differently. Routines have their place in our lives, and can be helpful in reducing anxiety and stress.


Still, even routines can have variety: we eat meals at similar times each day, but unless you’re doing a strange fast-food related experiment there is almost certainly some variation in what you eat. Other ways to introduce some diversity into your routine could include taking an alternative route, listening to a different radio station, reading a different genre, shopping somewhere new, trying an unfamiliar brand of toiletries, spending time with someone different. How would you introduce some change into your routines? What can you do differently tomorrow?


How variety is important for someone who is supporting a partner with mental health challenges

Routines can be essential for general mental wellbeing as well as taking medication, attending appointments etc when you are supporting a partner with mental health issues. Because of the amount of routine, the challenge to avoid this becoming being stuck in a rut, or numbing your own taste for life is even bigger. The day I realised that I'd slipped into making us both the same lunches almost every work day was the day I bought something different! It wasn't huge, it didn't take any more effort, it was just something new. What one thing can you do slightly differently tomorrow?


When my other half was signed off work with stress, my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at https://www.fionagillies.co.uk/pivot-pointers.

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