At the end of this long weekend, as we dive into what is essentially a new season, I feel inspired to share a few quick thoughts on the power of routine. This moment seems a valuable opportunity to become more conscious of our daily routines, as so many of them shift from ‘summer mode’ back into ‘work mode’. Though it remains business as usual for many, so much of our western society runs on the momentum of the school year. We can scarcely avoid its effect. So perhaps this is the perfect chance to take stock of some of our routines, both individual and collective, and to consider a bit of tweaking and trimming.
The more we examine our lives, the more we come to see the staggering influence routine has over us. I feel it can be our greatest ally or our most dangerous enemy. Like anything else, I believe it exists in balance, and we are free to do with it as we see fit. The more aware we are, however, the more effective we can be in intentionally developing healthy habits in service of growth and well-being, both for ourselves and others.
Sculpting and practising new routines can be very difficult. It can even be scary. For many of us, routine is a blind comfort that we don’t even question. It seems to us as though it has always been there, and we would feel naked and lost without it. But maybe there is some value in rocking the boat a bit. Why not stretch and test ourselves with a few experiments? Perhaps we are capable of more than we imagined. One positive flip-side of developing new routines is the sense of accomplishment we can derive, aside from the greater positive impact we can have on others. Beyond that, simply discovering a strength or a skill in ourselves that we didn’t see before is a reward in itself.
So where do we begin? Well, it helps to be aware of which habits we have taken on unconsciously and which habits we have chosen to exercise. This can be the first sorting station. Is there some behaviour that we repeat simply because we have always done it? Can we remember why we do it? Is it serving anyone or anything? These are questions we can ask ourselves to get closer to the roots of our routines.
Beyond that, we can further examine our routines, whether conscious or otherwise, and discern which are self-serving and which are in service of others. This can be a sloppy process, and is not necessarily cut and dry. I feel, from my own experience, however, that the more we serve others, the more we ultimately serve ourselves. (Beware – it may not work so well the other way around…) If we simply do something good for someone else that nobody will ever find out about, we will automatically feel the good we’re doing for ourselves alongside. Another writer referred to this as ‘enlightened self-interest’ – a fitting term, I feel.
This project of exploring our routines and their foundations need not be a major overhaul, though it could end up taking some much further than they imagined. In my case, I felt compelled to go deep, exposing well-cemented selfish patterns (work ongoing…) and bringing their folly to light. It becomes hard to continue investing in such habits when their fruitlessness is clearly seen. Throughout this process, I have identified and eradicated many extreme habits and stances, including a negative view of routine itself, which I once held firmly.
For the longest time, I was trying to escape from routine altogether, evading what I felt to be something imprisoning me. The more I grew aware of the influence of routine the more I wrestled with it. Now that I have accepted the balanced nature of the power of habit, I strive to develop healthy habits and continue to identify and eliminate old patterns that no longer serve anyone. Regular ‘check-ups’ can be helpful.
I have found that the so-called ‘mundane’ routines so many of us lead can dull our senses. This is one of the dangers of routine. It can blind us from the beauty and interconnection of life, simply because everything feels ‘the same’. We see the same people, go to the same places, and do the same things, and our senses become dull as a result. When we meet new people, in new places, doing new things, we perk up and become sharp, exercising our attention – we become alert and awake. This is not necessarily an anxiety-based wakefulness (which many mistake it for), but there is undoubtedly an element of vigilance at work. This heightened awareness, once habituated, can then be turned inward to observe ourselves and the various dysfunctional patterns and habits at work.
This is precisely what happened with my first year of cycling and traveling around Europe. After habituating this heightened state of alertness, having travelled widely and steadily, my attention was turned suddenly inward (due to heartbreak), and I finally surrendered all of my schemes and routines. I had to exercise this surrender again and again (even still I recommit), emerging afterwards to continue aiming for the lofty ideal of healthy habits in service of love.
We need not necessarily expect to accomplish anything specific with our routines (they are cycles, after all), though I feel it is important to work toward something. Understanding the subtle difference here is important. Redeveloping our routines for maximum efficiency and effectiveness is not necessarily about a finite, concrete outcome. Nevertheless, in assessing and reshaping our routines, understanding our intentions becomes paramount. Expecting a particular result can actually become an obstacle here. Instead, we can find ourselves a less-tangible (though no less bright) guiding star and carry on working in service of our dreams.
Working from this little image above, perhaps we can blend the two, honouring the power of routine while still seeing the beauty of ‘the new’ always around us. The ideal may well be to routinize as many healthy habits as possible without losing our awareness of their ongoing novelty as we move through them – we don’t want them to become empty rituals. With this approach, we can free up more space in our lives – more space in our hearts and minds – and we can offer this free space to those in need, through simple acts of service and love.
I don’t really know anything, mind you – I’m just spit-balling here. I’m simply expressing myself honestly in the moment, with the intent to incite and inspire, through relatively gentle means. But maybe a shake would do us some good, too. You should look inside and be your own judge. Test yourself, if you feel called.
For instance, I just finished a 12-day juice fast, not eating any solid food the whole time – just juicing vegetables and a bit of fruit (…not blending…JUICING…a big difference). It proved to be a great test and cleansing process, and I feel so clear and clean after, even more ready to recommit to my lofty ideals, unafraid of the failures I may face along the way. I continue to trust patience and persistence to guide me.
However simply it may be, perhaps it’s time we all have a look at our routines (and our intentions) and readjust them for wider service of the greater good.
PS…Love is always the answer.