One way or another, routine gets us through

Routine tasks, but not like the ongoing, hopeless routine of Sisyphus, can help get through the day.

By Paula O’Kray

The other day as I was driving to work, I realized I was feeling a bit tired and not very motivated. “It’s OK,” I thought, “I’ll just get through the day and it’ll be fine.” I knew that even though I didn’t feel particularly energetic about my day, the routine of it would get me through, one step at a time. Some would call it “just going through the motions.”

“Thank goodness for routine,” I thought. Where would we be without it?

That got me thinking a little harder about the role of routine in our lives. Routine is really a marvelous tool, when you consider how deeply it affects our lives. It’s a very handy mechanism, for a lot of reasons.

There have been many times in my life that routine has pulled me through some rough days. Days when I’ve been sick, or recovering from an injury, routine can help me feel like life is getting back to normal. You might be on the couch for a whole week or just a day, but the moment you start doing something that’s part of your regular routine, you know you’re getting better, and that makes you feel better. It can change your whole perspective on the situation you’re dealing with.

If I’m trying to deal with a problem, whether it’s how to fix a toilet or helping my adult children with a difficult issue, routine can be a relief and a break from working on a solution.

Let me give you an example. I have the kind of brain that will grind away on a problem until I have figured out several options as a solution. And when I say grind, I mean grind. Without any distraction, my determination to solve the problem becomes monstrous—and the distraction of routine in my day can derail that obsessive train of thought and release some of that stress I didn’t even realize I was generating for myself.

Even my dog understands this. When I spend too much time doing paperwork or “research” on the internet, Mr. T will come up to me and gaze into my eyes with a look that clearly says, “Isn’t it time for our walk, Mom?” And he’s always right. The fresh air and being out in nature is always a welcome relief for me and an amazing change of venue from the cerebral to the physical. Mr. T is a very smart boy and always looking out for me.

Once in a while, when I’m dealing with some depression, routine can be a comfort. I may not be able to relax with a book or find relief in music, but the simple gesture of making myself a basic meal and sitting quietly with a nice cup of hot tea can really do wonders. Taking the time to do little things like this for your mental health can really bring you back and help make you feel like yourself again.

We all have experienced the comfort routine can bring after a loved one has passed. In fact, the act of returning to routine after a great loss is one way to know that you are healing and processing your grief. Little by little, step by step, coming back to a regular routine can be a way of tracking your progress back to health.

The grief of any loss can be tempered and remedied with routine. The loss of a job, a home, or even a marriage can be soothed with routine. It buoys us through a rough patch when life is throwing lemons our way.

Which brings me to this: It’s very interesting to note that breaking routine has its benefits, too, and can be just as therapeutic.

Sometimes when life gets a bit mundane, and one day starts to blend into another, you need to mix things up. That’s when breaking your routine can add a bit of fun and excitement to life.

Try this out the next time you feel like you’ve lost your mojo. Check out an event where you might meet someone new with an interesting perspective. Listen to a band you’ve not heard before or try out a new genre of music. Exploring a new hobby is usually a good time whether or not you’re any good at it. Visit a new park, that new restaurant you’ve been hearing about, or even a museum. It can help shake things loose, help you see things in a new light, and spark creativity.

I’ve done this many times. In fact, I used to visit artsy locations in a different city every month or so, to recharge my creative arsenal. It’s really amazing how little it takes sometimes to get some fresh ideas and breathe some new life into how you see the world around you.

What a versatile thing routine can be! Routine is always there for us. It’s something we can return to when things get to be a bit too much, and routine is something we can abandon when things get, well, a little routine!

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