Routine gets a bad wrap in today’s world. We equate the establishment of habit with settling, being bored, stubbornness, and monotony. In order to get out of such ‘ruts’, we romanticize vacations and innovation. We idolize the thrill of newness, trying hard to escape the routines that we think enslave us. But the truth is, ironically, it might be the routines that really set us free.
Establishing patterns is a way of life and it is not all bad. We cannot escape forming habits. Routine is an inevitability. The challenge is to establish healthy routines, a pattern of goodness. The endeavor to avoid routine is foolishness. Our truest aim is to form customs of purpose, and schedules of value.
Here are three ways that routine helps serve the meaning of our lives. By acknowledging the value of routine, we accept the way life works and use it to our betterment rather than searching for shortcuts or feats of magic.
So, you want to be a good spouse or employee or human? Routine can help with that. The daily rhythm of our lives provides predictability. It is easier for us to be intentional when there are things we know are coming.
My wife and I pray at dinnertime everyday and she has a birthday once a year. My job is nine to five and my desk is always next to the same people. The sun comes up every morning and a new day begins. These realities allow me a chance to see the world coming and to take ownership over my choices on any given day. I can wrap my head around it.
Sure life can be unpredictable and there are always variables we cannot account for. But if I didn’t know the sun was coming up tomorrow, it would be hard for me to prepare my heart for any sort of meaningful activity. I’d be a hostage to the circumstances. Routine provides a way out. We can either be tossed back and forth by the wind and waves or we can learn their rhythm and build a surfboard.
Routine is relentless. And that can be a good thing. If I am at a job where my values do not align with my work, I am going to have to face that reality day after day after day. I can’t just hunker down and survive for a limited amount of time. The relentlessness of routine will force me to face my value system. If everything changed the next day, I could just wait it out. As is, I will eventually tire of my unhealthy patterns and be moved to change.
If we want better lives, we have to take responsibility for them. Our unhealthy patterns won’t just go away. Our negative routines won’t just disappear. We have to make the intentional choice to try a better way.
A full life is a consistent life. Consistency brings an element of comfort and peace. The deepest parts of our identity long to be who we are in every area of life. Routine reminds us that who we are is not changed or determined simply by circumstances.
Rather, circumstances are an opportunity. They are the setting in which we live out our choices.
Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, consistency shows us what truly matters, what we value, and what needs to be changed. The over-and-over-again of life can drain us or energize us. Once we find a way to live in alignment with our purpose and values, the consistency of routine is a constant reminder that we are participating in a life well lived.