Friday, April 15, 2011

A Life Filled with Routines

Recently, I wrote a column about the secret to a long lasting marriage. Link here. 

In it I suggested that the answer is ... routines. The more a couple’s behavior contains routines, the more it is coordinated and harmonized, the better the chance that their marriage will endure.

Routines bespeak commitment, effort, and work. They provide comfort and security while enhancing trust and confidence.

Anyone can remember an anniversary. Only a committed spouse will sit down with you over breakfast every day.

A good marriage is not filled with surprises. It is consistent, ordered, structured, and well organized.

Most people who have had successful marriages know this. Some others will think that the idea is tedious and trite, even a form of disguised repression.

Doesn’t the culture tell us that love conquers all, that love is all you need, and that true love will solve any problem and overcome any?

Indeed, it does.

Yet, I suspect that those who believe that marriage is all about love are not old enough to get married anyway.

The love culture tells us that routines are boring, that they feel automatic and robotic, and that they are like being dead. Surely, that is not what we want.

The therapy culture has been at war against routines, as well as their cousins, uniformity and conformity, for well over a century now.

In its continued efforts to define the good life, the therapy culture has prescribed spontaneous enthusiasm, surprises, passion, and anything that would distance us from the daily grind.

How many times have you heard, explicitly or implicitly, that routines will deaden your soul, stifle your creativity, repress your vital impulses, and consign you to terminal neuroticism?

Now it happens that a new study shows that I was right, but too limited in my scope.

It’s not just your marriage that will be improved by routines. So will the rest of your life. Routines are good for your mental health.

So much so that you can add them to all the things that the mental health industry does not often prescribe: like aerobic exercise, yoga, and a job. I should mention that most jobs are thoroughly routinized, so there’s a bit of overlap.

In the most recent issue of the “British Journal of Psychology,” Dinal Avni-Babad summarizes the findings of her study as follows: “An examination of the influence of routine behaviour on people's feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being shows, as hypothesized, that these positive emotions increase with routine behaviour. Five studies were conducted on flights, in different neighbourhoods of the city, in the laboratory performing a routine or a non-routine task, and in seating behaviour in university classrooms. In all studies, participants reported more feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being in routine situations. Thus, routine enhances feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being in many aspects of everyday life.” Link here.

From this we can also conclude that when a culture demeans and derogates routinized behavior it is undermining your “feelings of safety, confidence, and well-being….”

If the charge fits the therapy culture, as I believe it does, then we can see that it has been, unbeknownst to itself, been in the business of making you feel worse.

Who knew?

Actually, you can check out these results by doing your own research at home.

Go out and buy a dozen different kinds of cereal. You might even add eggs, pancakes, and waffles to the mix.

Every morning when you wake up, be spontaneous! Choose a new and different breakfast. But you will need to make the choice your own. You cannot choose at random; you cannot consult with a soothsayer or a Ouija board. You should give the matter some reflection and wait until the spirit moves you.

The same applies if you eat breakfast at a coffee shop. If you have a favorite coffee shop, make a point of finding a different coffee shop every day, and then choosing something different from the menu.

Will you feel more creative? Will you feel like you are expressing yourself more freely? Will you revel in your spontaneity?

Or will you think that you are wasting a serious amount of time, to say nothing of a lot of little gray cells.

Soon, you will understand that your well-established breakfast routine is effective and efficient. It even reduces your stress level because it allows you to devote more of your mental energy to more important tasks.

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