Why 'Doing It Again' Feels So Right Right Now

New is great—but sometimes, predictable is better.

Posted May 15, 2020

In these days of quarantine and now pseudo-quarantine, the expectations we place on ourselves overwhelm me. Please understand, I’m as much for creative endeavors as the next person, but I’m not doing anything wildly new right now. I’ve haven’t learned a new language, written a novel, or trained the dog to roll over. In fact, I felt disappointed in myself when I realized that I just wanted to read, walk, and be quiet. And then, repeat.

So, when I found an article about the “pleasure in doing something over and over,” instead of insisting on ever new activities, I relaxed. An article in the New York Times from November 11, 2019 explained that we are wired for the new and flashy because they might be dangerous and thus need more attention until we know they are safe. According to Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, we may think we always want variety but after some time passes, many of us just want something predictable. As he says, “Repetition can become more pleasurable.”

Think about it. Do you like listening to a favorite song? Do you have a favorite food? A favorite place or flower or scent? It turns out that often, when we are in a new experience, we are often distracted because of its novelty. We may be unable to fully appreciate it or catch nuances and beauty. To revisit allows us to pick up more from the same experience. I’ve been fortunate to work on and off in Hanoi, Vietnam, for 20 years. Each time I go, much is familiar, so I focus on what I may have missed before, or I listen to the comments of newcomers, who have fresh eyes and enthusiasm. I fall in love all over again with the same city.

In addition, a repeat encounter might be more pleasurable because we and the experience may change. Each year when spring comes, it feels like the same experience but always quite different. I’m surprised at the vibrancy of flowers and colors. I’m pulled in by the landscape that changes from brown or snow-covered to lush green. With the virus, it feels even more vivid because I’ve been in the same place for so long. The small changes of a single and then many flower blossoms magnify the sense of having not noticed in previous years.  

 Quinn Olbrich, used with permission
Payette River (Idaho) in spring.
Source: Quinn Olbrich, used with permission

So next time you’re after the newest, most exciting event or place, stand still for a full minute and look around. What smell, sound, sight, or touch have you missed, even though you’ve experienced it many times before? What is worth doing again, because it seems so right?