I know that I love routine. I am a creature of habit. Repetition is my friend.
I take comfort and reassurance from the routines that I have established in my life. They allow me to exert some control over my days and, as a result, over my mood, state of mind and wellbeing. These routines provide me with some certainty and reduce unwelcome shocks and unsettling incidents. For some, this monotony would provoke boredom but not for me. As I was fond of saying to an old team of mine, I am not Cilla Black; I do not want ‘surprise, surprise’.
In the last few years, I have learnt to use my need for routine and repetition as a positive; something to take strength from and not to resist. Being one of life’s natural planners, who is asking what we are having for dinner before we have put a plate full of toast in our mouths at breakfast time, means that I long to know what the day has in store. Don’t get me wrong, I can deal with the unexpected or Cilla-esque moments each day but only because the rest of my day is generally mapped out, giving me a feeling of safety that very little will happen to me that I have not anticipated.
This compulsion to plan and prepare – although a huge part of my life – doesn’t bring me any stress or anxiety. If anything it reduces it. There was a time when I thought that I needed to chill out more and try to push myself out of my comfort zone and be more spontaneous. Now that did cause me stress and anxiety. I was doing it because I felt it was expected of me – that it was a better, healthier way of living. It was for some, but not for me. It was pain for no gain.
I now fully embrace my need to plan and have routines. I have built them into my life so they are second nature. I hardly notice them. These include putting my clothes out for work every night for the next day – I do this as soon as I’m home from work – with my shoes for the next day placed in the right formation in the hall; keeping my wallet, keys, glasses and work pass in exactly the same place every night so I just sweep them up in the morning without needing to check or think about it; I get the breakfast things out just before I go to bed each night and make sure that my medication is out ready for the morning; I wake at the same time each day; tune into Radio 4; empty the dishwasher and make breakfasts for my girls at the same time; showering and dressing in the same Today Programme window (in between 7:15 and the sports headlines before the half hour).
I suspect many, many of us have similar morning routines and that this is nothing out of the ordinary. For me though, it is that feeling of control and safety that I get from following it. I have a similar post work and school run routine and my Sunday morning routine is a thing of great beauty.
It usually begins around 06:15 – like my work days. I have two nights off getting the breakfast stuff out at the weekend so I start there. I make Miss J’s breakfast – Dr J normally has a Sunday lie-in – but I don’t have mine just yet – accompanied by a piece or two from Saturday’s newspaper I have left to one side for the occasion – until certain jobs have been done; the meat from that day’s roast is prepped and put in the oven; the vegetables are peeled and panned; Miss J’s school bag is readied (with shoes placed in the hall); school uniform is pressed and folded for the next morning; all our ironing is done and any washing not already done that week (Thursday is normally my washing night) is processed. It may seem strange that on the seventh day – the day of rest – I am busy with my many jobs. For me, the satisfaction I get from feeling on top of these key tasks allows me to relax into the day and enjoy the remainder of the weekend.
I once read a piece about President Obama’s shopping and dressing routine. He – it is said – only buys two colours of work suits – grey and navy – and wears just white shirts along with them. That means that all his tie, shirt and suit combinations match. It reduced his thinking time on this daily activity significantly and meant that by relying on this routine and approach he was saving some decision-making brain power for something that mattered each day. I guess he probably faced a few decent-sized decisions when he got to the office!
Now I have always thought that Barack and I had a lot in common, although I am struggling – aside from the wardrobe tendencies – I do exactly the same – without ties – to think of anything. It resonated because he was using a routine as a strength – as a method of control, risk management, reduction of stress and lessening of ambiguity.
Not everybody needs this level of rigidity in their life and yet I am struck by how many people tell me how stressful they find getting out of the door in the morning – between finding missing keys, forgetting where they have left their jackets, losing their work pass and/or frantically searching high and low for glasses, shoes or wallets. Those who have little people can add ten more stress points that come with the school run to that list.
So what is the moral of the story; what is the point of this blog – aside from me patting myself on the back for being organised enough to have the time to write it – in Costa as Dr and Miss J shop on Aintree’s retail park?
For me the message is simple; be yourself; play to your strengths; listen to your gut. If routines and organisation help you, then embrace them; don’t resist them or fight against them because that is the relaxed/chilled way to live. If you’re not sure if routine will help you then give it a try. It may make a lora, lora difference. It does for me.