Is Your Life Just One Big Boring Routine?

Do you have the sense that the months (and years!) are slipping by too fast? No doubt you’ve once groaned, “I can’t believe it’s April already. I still have Christmas lights on the house. How did 25% of the year go by so quickly?”

Or, possibly worse, you’ve heard about a colleague receiving a gift for her ten years on the job even as you get a friendly pat on the shoulder to remind you that yours is coming up next year. It’s ironic that prisoners released after lengthy jail terms frequently remark that it just seemed like one long day.

The villain here is routine, with the phrase “mind-numbing” aptly attached. The sameness of each passing day can put your mind in neutral. Deprived of input, your sense of observation–and your appreciation of what life can offer–will actually wither from disuse. Hence the mind-numbing, as the months pass like the visuals in old movies where the wind blows away the pages of a calendar.

But…just as the big killer of your precious daily life is routine (brushing your teeth at precisely 6:30 am every day for years, getting on the same 165 bus, having sex on Tuesdays after the ten o’clock news), you can actually expand your sense of time by consciously making changes. Ever go on a vacation where you were busy from morning to night? Lying exhausted in your hotel room that evening, you’re astonished that morning seemed like such a long time ago. When you ponder the entire day, you’re impressed you did so much.

OK, solution
Spice up your life with change: new interests and hobbies, new friends, weekend outings. You don’t necessarily need to do more; you just need to do different.

Jill J, a legal aide, had a real jolt one morning when she realized that after working in the same job for nine years she couldn’t really distinguish one year from another. As she lay in bed, she compared it to the nine-year span from when she was ten to when she was 19. Those years seemed so long, so packed with events, so interesting. But now, at 35, the previous nine years had gone as quickly as a finger snap. Yikes!

So Jill decided to do something. She started by making lists: “Unfulfilled Dreams,” “Special Projects,” “Places I Must Visit Before I Die,” and “Ideas That Are Important to Me.” She also began keeping a journal, vowing never to use the phrases “Same old routine” or “Boring day” in any entry.

Within a month, Jill had enrolled in an art class and was spending a part of each day (the hours she used to spend on social media) at her canvases. She was visiting her local bookstore one evening when the owner invited her to join a weekly book discussion group. After two hours of challenging conversation and new ideas, Jill would leave feeling positively energized, happy she’d spent the time with real people rather than Netflix.

Three months into her project for change, Jill could barely contain her pleasure as she heard herself say to her karate instructor, “Do you think I’ll be eligible for a brown belt by the end of the year?”

Finally, months later, as Jill sat in an outdoor café on St. Mark’s Square in Venice, she reviewed her lists, read her journal, and smiled to herself. This had been quite a year.

Get started now
The first step to success in breaking your routine is getting started. Begin slowly, but with the firm resolve that you will not awaken one morning wondering where all those years went or why you spent so much time online.

On the other hand, don’t go crazy with a slew of resolutions you can’t fulfill. Here are some ideas for jumpstarting the breaking of your routine.

Begin a journal. As a baseline, record in detail one full day in your life, morning to night. Although you can start setting some goals, allow space on each page to describe…

…one interesting and unique activity of each day. Don’t let a day pass without noting something, no matter how small. A new book you read, a phone call to an old friend, repainting the kitchen. Keep in mind, though, that just as important as recording what you’ve done is starting to think about setting some objectives.  Journaling and other mindfulness tools are taught by our yoga therapist Renee Zambo.  She can help you incorporate these and other practices into your life.

List your goals. Mull the steps you’ll need to take in order to fulfill them. Maybe that trip to Paris requires you to re-think your budget or invest some time looking for cheaper airfares. Taking a regular martial arts class might mean redefining your schedule and learning to say no to after-work drinks. Growing some of your own food means researching what will do well in your location and meeting other gardeners for support and advice.

Take classes. Especially in areas that might prove useful in your soon-to-be-very-interesting life. Like geography, French, tango, or urban gardening. Avoid classes in enhancing your computer skills unless that’s truly your passion.  At WholeHealth Chicago, we offer workshops throughout the year.  In fact, over the next few weeks we have workshops on heart health, stress reduction and meditationfacial rejuvenation, and ancient healing practices, among others.

A few more ideas…

Don’t be stopped by an “if only” mentality or the discouragement of well-meaning friends. Don’t put off the trip to Paris until you lose weight, have more money to spend, or find someone to go with you. And, yes, taking all your vacation time at once might mean missing out on seniority at the most boring and unchallenging job on the planet. But is that really what you want for your life? Don’t let a small apartment keep you from inviting friends over for a regular game day or potluck meal. Nobody cares if you have the perfect table or enough chairs.

Go away. Travelling is by far the greatest way to enrich your life and stop routine in its tracks. Try anything. Go hiking or camping in a nearby state park (Starved Rock is a beautiful destination). Get on a bus and head for a weekend in the nearest big city. Take the South Shore down around the lake and walk the dunes. Buy a cheap air ticket for anywhere and spend a few days exploring a place you’d never think of visiting. Or “go away” in our own grand city by getting out of your neighborhood and into some new ones. I have a patient who’s made a good start on visiting each and every Chicago park. She takes a backpack lunch and any friend who wants to accompany her.

Be part of the change you envision. Join a get-out-the-vote action, volunteer at a local food pantry, or knock on doors/make phone calls for a candidate you believe in. These activities will also put you in touch with new people who share your interest in democracy.

Get over the fear factor. Getting out of your comfort zone might be the best way to get started. If you walk out on the job you hate, another will turn up. When you’re in a strange city or neighborhood, most people are very friendly and usually a lot like you. Airplanes rarely crash. The animals ambling outside your tent are more worried about you than you should be of them. That strange-looking dish in the Ethiopian restaurant will not upset your stomach.  Feel like you need some help with all of this?  A good therapist can help you put a plan together, offer suggestions, and address any related fears or anxieties you might have.  If you’re in the Chicago area, consider talking about these things with Christine Savas or Jennifer Davis.

You can break your own routine in the next few minutes by calling an old friend, volunteering, enrolling in a yoga class, or staring at a map and letting your imagination guide you to a fulfillment of your dreams. What fun!

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

6 comments on “Is Your Life Just One Big Boring Routine?
  1. Jane VDV says:

    Thank you Dr. Edelberg,
    I needed this.
    Jane VDV

  2. Joan Hladek says:

    You are so right! Am starting on my journey!

  3. Kim says:

    Thanks again Dr. E. The right message at the right time! Great advice.

    And the small apartment comment I felt like it was speaking directly to me!

  4. Zoe Paxinos says:

    Sounds like my life…this was a great wake up call!

  5. Kristin says:

    Finally a Dr. gives out health enhancing life solutions that doesn’t involve a pill!! Kudos on the motivating article!

  6. Joe says:

    Sounds like bull*^#^. You must have your lifetime supply of money already. Go buy a lake and jump in it.

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