The Gratitude Challenge’s fourteenth topic is “Routine”.
Routine is a somewhat ambivalent thing. At work I do not want it, but when it comes to journaling and meditation, or practising my instruments or sports, it’s good to have.
In a way I want to have a routine in my schedule, but the contents of the routine items should always be different. Interestingly, the English Wikipedia does not have a page for “routine”, but suggests “schedule” instead, which it defines as a basic time-management tool to formalize or develop a routine.
I want to practice drumming and the piano preferably every day, but I want to have variation in what I’m practising – and the same goes for physical exercise. If the task is repetitive, I easily get bored. A friend of mine has a daily coffee-making routine where he carefully grinds beans, heats the water to a certain temperature, levels the coffee powder and slowly presses the best out of each bean. It tastes great and I guess for him it serves as some kind of meditation, but the whole procedure from preparation to clean-up takes more than half an hour for a single espresso and it’s the same steps every single day. I would go insane.
As I wrote in my post about change, most people probably like to have a certain level of routine. There’s a reason why the saying “man is a creature of habit” exists in several languages. Just working in autopilot and doing what we always do gives us some headspace to focus on other things. If every second in life we needed to make fundamental decisions, we would probably not be able to achieve much in a day. Then again being present in the moment and not purely acting in autopilot is something you would want to achieve as part of your meditation practice. Scrutinizing behavioural patterns that might not serve us (anymore). Questioning believes we might have gotten a bit too comfortable with. So, what is the right amount of routine? Where does it get complacent and restricting?
I like the word’s literal French meaning “experience gathered along the way”: As we repeat something many times, we get experienced in it and with experience often times comes greater enjoyment or at least greater insight. Doing something repeatedly can be good. But we would be well advised to regularly ask ourselves if what we are repeating is still appropriate and healthy. A routine also does not necessarily imply that we cannot be present. I’m currently trying to develop a routine where I perform a body scan each time I sit down to connect better with my feelings. I’m also trying to develop a routine to “pray” prior to a meal, not for religious reasons but as a reminder to be aware and conscious of my body, my feelings, the food I’m going to eat.
It probably really depends on the routine – and where you stand in each moment – to decide if you want to develop, keep, or get rid of certain routines and habits. Questioning ourselves – even the most fundamental believes – can be unsettling, tiring, disturbing, discouraging. We probably only dare it if some painful event shakes up routines and habits. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for having the chance to go through the pain and fear of questioning long-believed routines, patterns, and habits, as I see a lot of potential for growth and a lot of positive changes already happening. I’m grateful to be more connected with feelings and emotions again that can indicate in a more honest way what’s wrong or right than my rationalizing brain. I’m grateful for my rediscovered routines of meditation, journaling, music making. I’m grateful for being brave enough to get rid of routines that are unhealthy for my relationships or my self-esteem. I’m grateful for being confronted with early childhood triggers for which I now feel equipped and empowered to recognize and overcome them. I’m grateful for having the chance to make being present and aware not an exception but a routine.