We operate in patterns, and we’re all about routines. Those who doubt that should add a dog to their life. A dog spends so much of its life studying our patterns that when they peg them, they can tell us what we’re about to do soon after we decide to do it. Some suggest that our rituals are such that they know before we do.
On that note, my primary takeaway from the movie My Dinner with Andre was to do everything possible to break the routines of life. In that movie, one of characters talked about opening the door with his left hand for a day or two just to break that routine in a way that might lead to other breaks. The gist of this is that we have so many patterns and routines that some of the times we sleep walk through life.
In an attempt to break one of my routines, I mowed in a different pattern. I was hoping to break the tedium of that otherwise tedious task. I spent so much time wondering if I was saving time mowing in a different pattern that I focused too much energy on trying to save time. In my typical routine, mowing the lawn seems to take minutes. This experiment seemed to take hours. The difference between the two is that I normally sleep walk through routine mowing, in much the same manner I sleep walk through all of the routines I’ve developed over time. We develop so many routines, as we age, that life has a way of slipping by quicker. How many times do we say, “it’s July? What happened to June?”
We wake, we eat two eggs, toast. We add a glass of OJ, and we top it off with a delicious banana. “Is this banana as delicious as yesterday’s banana could’ve been?” I asked myself one Tuesday morning. On Monday, I purchased a bunch of sparkling yellow bananas shortly before breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into its brand-new solidity. While eating Tuesday’s banana, I realized I completely forgot to appreciate Monday’s banana for what it was. I looked forward to that first bite, while in the store. I thought about it a couple times on the short drive home, but by the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized that I accidentally slipped Monday’s banana in the routine of eating breakfast that day. When I bit into Tuesday’s banana, it was delicious, and I appreciated it, but I couldn’t help but think about how much more fresh and delicious Monday’s banana might’ve been if I remembered to appreciate it.
One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid falling too deep into routine is a grueling workout. I’m not talking about a simple workout, because some of us workout so often that working out becomes nothing more than a part of our routine. I’m talking about a grueling workout that leaves the buns and thighs burning, and when the buns are burning, the brain cells are burning just as bright. This idea led me to believe that working out might be a cure all.
When our Mondays melt into our Tuesdays, the best way to break the routine is to push our body beyond our otherwise lazy boundaries. If we’re feeling excessive fatigue, we can burn our brain and body bright with a long and grueling workout. I’ve expressed variations of this cure so often that those closest to me say it before I do, mocking me for routinely advising that this is the ideal way to fight routine. The footnote I now add, based on personal experience, is make sure you’re happy first. Before we start going to the gym three times a week, with at least one grueling workout mixed in, we need to make sure we’ve tended to life’s matters and we have someone who loves us at home. We also need to enjoy the job we have, because after a couple of long, grueling workouts we will become acutely aware of our life choices, and we will probably arrive at some painful critiques.
Some call it hyper-vigilance or hyper-awareness. Hyper-vigilance is the ability to notice things most don’t. Those who have it, call it a gift and a curse. Yet, even the most hyper-aware person can have their senses dulled by routine. I’ve snapped at people on a Tuesday for something that didn’t bother me on Monday, and the only difference was I had a grueling workout in between. My various computer chairs were comfortable for years before I disciplined myself to rock hard buns. I loved the life I led before those rigorous workouts led me to recognize how unrewarding my job was. I knew the basic functions of my job were equivalent to data entry, but it never dawned on me how unrewarding the job was until I snapped out of the routine.
When people would ask, I would tell them the title my company gave me, and the tasks they assigned. After a few rigorous workouts, I realized that the company might have seduced me into believing the position was prestigious, in a manner I suspect a garbage collection company seduces a prospective garbage man applicant into the job of sanitation engineer. Do garbage collection employees tell their people they’re in engineering? When my brains and buns were all soggy, I found the basic elements of my job unrewarding, but I managed to convince myself that receiving bi-weekly paychecks and living the independent life were admirable no matter what the other circumstances were.
With my brain firing on all cylinders, I realized that the core tenet of the job was to make the boss happy. If she was happy, then I should happy. This description probably defines 99% of all jobs, but I have to guess that most employees find their jobs personally unrewarding. If we hit the peak productivity numbers for our department, it makes our boss happy, but how does it affect our life? Was I being productive in a sense larger than the relative barometer my department laid out, or was the work I did a colossal waste of time? Did the company truly value what I do? Do I clock out with a sense that I accomplished something that day? Those in my department knew that no one, outside our department, read the reports we wrote. If we wanted a raise, we knew the company didn’t devote much of the budget to the work we did, as most of the work we did could fall very comfortably under the title “busy work”. If one of the employees on our team wanted an in-house transfer to another department, we learned that the various recruiters therein don’t value the work we do, or the title we have. They knew the inner machinations of the job better than those outside the company might, and they knew the work didn’t provide a potential applicant to their department valuable experience. I knew all this, to a certain degree, when my buns and brain cells were all soggy, but when I was firing on all cylinders, it became painfully clear to me that I was wasting my life in that position.
Working out so often made my buns rock hard, and while the health benefits of that level of exercise superseded everything else, it also made my once uncomfortable computer chair intolerable. I could smell the flowers better than ever before, and peanut M&M’s were so delicious that I considered eating them by the pound, but I also realized how fraudulent my bosses were, how lonely I was, and how I had no home life to look forward to when my excruciatingly slow work day ended. I noticed all the little things life had to offer, and some of them made me happier, but others made me so angry and depressed that I realized one of the reasons I drank so much and smoked so often was to dull my brain to the point where I wouldn’t question the choices I made in life.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “if at first you don’t succeed try, try, and try again.” An addendum to this quote, that some attribute to W.C. Fields, suggests, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again—and then quit! No use being a fool about it.” A quote by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock published in 1917, suggests that, “If you can’t do a thing, more or less, the first time you try, you will never do it. Try something else while there is yet time.” My addition to this quote is, “If one thing doesn’t work try another.” It seems so simple, yet how many people try to jam a square in a round hole and make fools out of themselves by screaming at the manufacturer of the tools in question. We scream, “It ain’t me. Don’t look at me. The instructions say this should fix it.” We then throw a fiery temper tantrum that suggests we’re better than this. We just fixed something just last week with wonderful aplomb. There’s nothing different about us with this particular project. It’s the manufacturer. “That’s fine, but have you tried a way other than just jamming it home? Try another way.” We then paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is trying one thing one way, over and over, and expecting different results.”
When running down the street be mindful of your feet. Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we run. Been there, done that. Experience has also led me to offer another quick warning to my loved ones: Watch out for the ground, it hurts.