Characters of habit, they call us - whoever 'they' are. No matter how hard we try, we always seem to find ourselves falling into some kind of routine. It's comforting and, quite frankly, we often need it to stop us from going insane.
Routine makes the world go round, right? Tuesday follows Monday, and Saturday and Sunday always come at the end of the week. Then it starts again. It makes sense or, more specifically, it helps us to make sense of the infinite, crazy world around us. As humans we are programmed to like structure. It makes us feel needed and important and reassures us that we are vital components in the circle of life. It lets us measure time and keeps us on top of our ever-expanding to-do lists.
Routine is like marmite, though - you either love it or you hate it. Some people thrive on knowing what they need to do and when, and they like the safety and familiarity of knowing what comes next. Some people loathe the monotony that routine brings, but they carry on through with it anyway because they're not quite sure how to rid themselves of it. Whichever party you fall under, I'm betting you have a routine of some kind.
"It's a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it."
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
The Excitement of Eggs
Sometimes we might get the crazy idea that we'll have eggs for breakfast when we usually always have a bowl of cereal. The night before we'll get excited at the thought and fall asleep feeling self-satisfied, almost like we've accomplished something. And then, come morning, we'll find ourselves pouring a bowl of cereal. Not because we don't want the eggs anymore, but because it's easier to have cereal or because it was a silly idea to think we had time to make eggs anyway.
This notion can be expanded to encompass most aspects of our everyday lives. More often than not, immediately after the incident, we actually don't mind that we have 'given in'. Sometimes there's even a sense of relief. But often there's a small, barely detectable nagging that reminds us how good the eggs would have been. "I'll have them tomorrow," we'll say.
"Maybe this is the way things are supposed to be but it doesn't feel right"
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Let me tell you something. I recently moved to Spain (a small town outside of Barcelona if anyone is interested in the specifics) to carry out my dream of being a freelance writer. So far, so good.
Before I left, I was growing increasingly bored and disinterested in my daily routine. I got up, I went to work and stared at a computer for eight hours, I went home, I had dinner, I probably watched some TV or wrote a few things, and then I went to bed. Rinse and repeat for five days a week. I imagine this resonates with a few of you out there.
Now, I liked my job - really I did. What I didn't like was the fact that I arrived home at the same time every day, I made dinner at pretty much the same time every day, and when the clock hit eleven, I was itching to get to bed. Sure, I went out sometimes after work for dinner or drinks, but for the most part my routine was as above.
The thought of moving to Spain brought with it fantastically new possibilities. I would no longer be beholden to my daily routine. Things would be so different - I could go out for lunch at whatever time I wanted, I could get up late and work late into the night, I could hop on the bus on any given day and travel somewhere new and exciting.
I could, of course, do all of these things. But the truth is I've been in Spain for a month now, and I can already see a routine forming. It moulds my days for me and reassures me that choosing cereal over eggs was the right decision. My routine now is not much different from my routine back in England - I get up at pretty much the same time every day, I stare at a computer for most of the day, then I have dinner and watch a film or do some more writing.
Same Motions, Different Place
I think I was partly expecting the excitement of being in a new place to mix up my routine for me. I was relying on it, in fact. But I've realised that the backdrop doesn't make any difference when it comes to structuring your life. In fact, I reckon I could be in the foothills of the Himalayas and I'd still be itching to get to bed at eleven.
A lot of us think that our routine is the mighty powerful one but, in fact, it's us. We are the only ones who can break away from the routine - if we want to, that is. The world around us is merely a vessel, a holding bay for routine to take place.
"If you follow the classical pattern, you are understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow -- you are not understanding yourself."
― Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do
For now though, I have to admit I'm enjoying my routine. Moving abroad is a difficult thing to do, and knowing how each day will unfold is comforting, in a way. But I also know that I have the power to change it as soon as it gets dull and lifeless.
I like new and I like exciting, but the thought of diving in head first makes me a little nervous. It's difficult to break out of a routine, so it's essential to take it one step at a time.
Tuesday will always come after Monday, and Saturday and Sunday will always come at the end of the week. And it will happen all over again - well, for as long as humans use this method to break up time. But remember that you can always choose eggs over cereal and, if you do, the world won't collapse around you. Just don't think that changing your surroundings will be the antithesis to your routine.
Now, excuse me, I have a computer to stare at for eight hours.