My Routine: Energy Saver or Waster?

March 7, 2018

What are you going to do today?

Well, the same thing I did yesterday, the same thing I’ll do tomorrow. My routine. I’ll get up, have breakfast, get dressed, and either barely catch the bus or miss it and be late. Maybe I’ll make it right on time with my colleagues. I’ll get rid of some papers from my desk and add some new ones. Then I’ll take a coffee break and have a bland conversation about the latest episode of the show everyone’s talking about.

I’ll stay late in order to make some progress, and on Friday everyone will go out together. Of course at home, I’ll watch a movie and fall into bed imagining possibilities for my life that I don’t have right now. This is my routine.

Maybe Raphaëlle Giordano is right and your second life begins when you realize you only have one. We only hear the starting gun fired when we’ve gone through one of those experiences when we see our whole life go by in an instant.

It’s a strange experience, “magical” according to people who’ve lived through it. Why? Because it has the power to put our priorities in order. These types of experiences are important for another reason too: to remind us that our future is not guaranteed.

My routine and dreams.

Creatures of habit

Nothing shapes a person’s will or way of thinking as powerfully as routine. Like a monk, we have our habits: frequent, constant and dependable. We wear our habits every day so we’re never naked and vulnerable to life.

Both habits and customs sound like routines. Things we do pretty much the same all the time and make us feel secure. They make our doubts disappear. After all, they’re tried and true strategies for the problems of life.

In addition, my routine saves me a huge amount of energy. It’s like installing software that does everything automatically; I don’t have to think about it or design it. I only had to do it once and ever since I’ve just been perfecting it. For example, say I used to take the bus to work, but one day they discontinued that line, and I found out that the metro was faster, contrary to what I’d thought.

Think about if we had to think about these things every day: What should I have for breakfast? How should I go to work? When should I take my break? … These are questions that we already answered. So, why create a new problem? Why should I use more effort than necessary if I already have my routine?

“Most of the things that happen to us in life depend on what happens up here, in the head”

Is my routine helpful, or is it a prison?

However, there may come a time, if your routine is too rigid and you don’t take a break, when it overwhelms you. You probably know the feeling.

What used to help now feels more like a jail cell where oxygen is scarce. We think about breaking out, we even fantasize about doing it. But not doing what we do every day means climbing up a steep slope — at least at first: leaving our comfort zone. It’s like we want it and don’t want it at the same time. In the end, we end up just going with the safe option: what we always do.

But what are the symptoms of “acute routinitis”? Lack of motivation; feeling tired, blue, or nostalgic; mood swings; apathy; disillusionment… and the overwhelming feeling that we have everything — or almost everything — we need to be happy, and yet we aren’t.

We’re talking about the vague, overwhelming feeling of emptiness we often can’t determine exactly where it came from. On the other hand, all the changes we imagine, things we’ve thought about over and over, seem absurd to us. Why would we try the bus again if we already know that it takes longer? Why change our breakfast if it feels good and gives us energy for the whole morning?

It has to do with not having new goals to replace the ones we’ve already met. These new goals are only the tip of the iceberg, they’re just the beginning of a dream. So when they’re missing, our dreams may be missing too.

Maybe my routine isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe you could call it a first world problem… or maybe not, because the truth is that if combined with other issues, like loneliness, it actually turns into one of the major reasons people get therapy.

Giordano tells us in her book — half joking, half serious — that the prison that routine may turn into has so much power that it can depress a whole country’s mood.
A hot air balloon head.

Routines: good or bad?

The best way to break up routines and plans is improvisation. By doing new activities we think we’ll like, but also by occasionally doing things just because people recommend them to us. Maybe they’ll surprise us a little, and that surprise may be what we need to chip away at the lock on our “prison cell.”

Along these lines, we could also take a look at our personality, the “openness to experience” aspect. It’s an ideal trait to cultivate — at least occasionally — if we don’t want to feed our routine everyday and turn it into a monster.

Routine saves us a lot of energy, but it can also become a huge waste of time when we stop dominating it and instead become dominated by it. Sometimes we don’t take risks anymore because we feel too safe; we’ve done the same thing over and over too many times.