Our relationship with routine is sometimes contradictory. On one hand, we obsess over the daily rituals of successful multimillionaires and our favorite writers and artists, seeing ourselves one day in their shoes as we frantically absorb their work habits in the hopes of making something for ourselves in this world someday. On the other, we resist trapping ourselves in our own mundane routines, unhesitatingly nabbing the next opportunity to break our monotonous nine to fives with our last few work leaves.
We’re slaves to one routine or another, as necessity demands. We find ways to escape the sameness of a day-to-day landscape, even for a while, cycling in and out of work and vacation. We’ve been taught to fear the unexplored life, the dulling, ordinary work so often associated with routine that curbs our potential to explore the world and grow, to shun it. And rightly so.
Nevertheless, routine exists as part of us. Whether forcibly or freely imposed, it gives the unruly tangle of our lives some kind of structure, some not too unrealistic semblance of control. At times when we feel our lives on the verge of falling apart, sometimes we seek out the comforts of simple, repetitive routine.
So I came to realize, after a brief struggle with alcoholism, day after day of binge drinking, needing more and more alcohol to function normally, that what I needed was some kind of catharsis from an excessive lifestyle, some Big Bang revelation of the century to nudge me in the right direction and solve my problems. I reassured myself that all I needed was a form of release from all the years of pent-up emotion, with a belief that: tomorrow will work itself out.
I thought I was creating a space for the actualization of my realizations. Instead, I woke up one morning with the same hangover, the same problems, and the same sense that I hadn’t budged from square one. My throbbing head spelled it out for me, and I knew my aimless lifestyle wasn’t going to cut it. I needed routine, something I could force myself to focus the entirety of my energies on. I found work.
It took months until I finally settled into a new routine, intermittently reverting back to old habits along the way. I’ve learned to devote my complete attention to long hours of work, getting up early in the morning to exercise and then going to bed early. This time there was no Big Bang, no profound realization, no poetic moment. It was a quiet catharsis, the blissful, anticlimactic way life usually works, everything (mostly) falling into place and the rhythm of my own life finally stabilizing. I have created a space for myself in my mechanical routine to deal with my problems, and it worked.
We’ve learned to associate routine with the mundane, the undesirable, almost the nadir of working life. But we often fail to recognize the therapeutic effects we may sometimes derive from it, the significance of this seemingly banal aspect of our lives.
Sticking to the predictable and doing the same thing over and over isn’t necessarily condemnation to a life of boredom. Immersion in strict routine, long fulfilling days, and devoting time towards reaching productive goals and personal health gave me the release I needed which an aimless, excessive lifestyle couldn’t. The routine of work provides structure, sometimes a kind of foothold, a foundation we can anchor ourselves on. We’re afforded some amount of stability, and sometimes that’s what we need to concentrate on what needs fixing.