Routines: Short-Sighted or Salvation?

So many perspectives shift as we age and I was just ruminating about one such shift in my own life; that of the value of routines.  While in college I became deeply immersed in the philosophy of the Don Juan/Carlos Castaneda series of books.  One of the things Don Juan railed against was the human predilection to develop routines within our daily lives.  I remember him chiding Carlos with his apparently very realistic imitation of a factory whistle which signaled when it was time to start work, stop work, take breaks and finally go home.  At the time I found his arguments extremely compelling regarding how routines limited human freedom and the ability to experience new and unexpected things.  I could see how the development and implementation of routines could be viewed as limiting the human experience and even be the product of a lazy mind.  In this perspective allowing one’s self to succumb to routines was a very negative practice to be avoided at all costs.

Fast forward four decades and my, my but my perspective on routines has changed!  Without question the major shift is based upon aging as from an intellectual standpoint I can still see mainly negatives to establishing and utilizing routines.  But the realities of aging have caused me to rely more and more on routines to manage my day to day existence.  Sure, life continues to become more complex and that means more technology which requires more willingness to learn and retain said learning’s but I also cannot ignore the fact my mental ‘edge’ is nowhere near as sharp as, say, fifteen years back.  In response to pieces of this increasingly complex lifestyle I have come to rely on some basic routines.  In addition, I also use routines to insure I undertake activities and events which I might otherwise skip or put off.  A classic example of the latter involves my stepping; I currently take anywhere from 11,500 to 13,000+ daily steps.  Across the first five to seven hours of my day, when I am largely at my system, I also take between 1,000 and 2,000 steps each hour – generally at the bottom of each hour.  This routine forces me to get off my fat butt at least once an hour and perform a bit of exercise.  Because I am, and have always been, a very lazy person regarding physical exercise I really fought against the daily urges to put off my stepping.  But with the advent of my hypertension diagnosis, and then exacerbated by my late onset Type 2 diabetes, I knew I had to become more active and said physical activity had to be on a daily basis.  The only way I knew to virtually guarantee I fulfill my exercise requirement on a daily basis was to turn those first 2,000 to 3,000 morning steps into a routine.  Within about two months I had made getting up in the morning and quickly getting in those initial steps a habit; once I get those steps done it just ‘flows’ into doing the remainder of my quota.

In this sense the routine of arising and almost immediately doing those first 2,000+ steps  is a healthy habit and really helps me get at least some daily exercise.  Across the last month and a half I’ve turned my daily morning blood glucose testing into a routine.  When tracking one’s blood glucose it is important to do one’s ‘stick’ at the same time each day to avoid introducing variability into the measurements.  As I prepared to add the blood glucose (BG) testing to my morning/evening blood pressure measurements it occurred to me I should combine the BG testing with the AM blood pressure measurement.  I’ve now standardized on taking my morning blood pressure around 05:50 and my daily BG test around 06:00.  I also record these values in spreadsheets which help make it even more difficult for me to forget to perform these daily requirements.  Once again, I view these routines as invaluable aids that help me handle some daily requirements which have become crucial to my health.

I suppose I could set schedules on my cell phone and/or network regarding these important functions but is not doing so the same as making them a routine?  As an older human being I find comfort in my routines; they offer me a degree of ‘consistency’ in what appears, at least to me, to be an increasingly inconsistent world.  And they are also rather like ‘old friends’ who’s presence is somehow reassuring and pleasurable.  But mostly, they insure I perform activities and handle events that are a necessary part of my existence; events and activities I might otherwise forget or forgo.  In the latter sense my routines are making up for a lack of real commitment and willpower on my part.

Given all this I have to admit to really shifting my valuation of routines based mostly upon my aging.  But I remain vaguely uncomfortable with the whole concept because I can still recognize that to rely on routines more and more does, indeed, begin to limit one’s ability to really ‘push the envelope’ and be willing to try new things.  Without question, this entire topic is one which really evokes a sense of ambiguity within my soul!  Most likely, the best way to resolve this ambiguity would be to accept that with age some ‘routine reliance’ is a good thing and probably healthy but – as with all things in life – needs to be used in moderation.  The real trick is understanding what said ‘moderation’ involves and then living it…



The trap of routine behaviors

16 thoughts on “Routines: Short-Sighted or Salvation?

  1. Susan Carl

    Loved it. Made me put my mundane çhores and routines into perspective.
    On a side note, are you finding a diminished amount of mosquitoes due to the inhabitant tree swallows and did you ever attract any bats – as noted in your last blog?

    • Hey Kiddo, thanks for the kind words! Actually, the Tree Swallows left once their brood could fly; from what I read this is typical as they gather in large social groups just before they start their long trips south for the winter. As far as I can tell no Little Brown Bats yet; I just reapplied the scent attractant to their house in the hopes of luring them. The Tree Swallows were definitely gobbling up mosquitoes and other flying insects while here; they are amazingly acrobatic flyers when hunting. Tough to gauge any effects they had on the mosquito population which was minimal this year thanks to the dry spring; it is telling I’ve yet to apply any repellent as of this writing and we’re through the black fly season and almost all of the mosquito season. Alaska is even more wonderful when said bloodsuckers are few and far between!

  2. I too am quite familiar with my ‘old friend’ routine and why not because as one ages one tends to ‘forget’ to do things. Like a comfortable old shoe knowing what will happen during the day just ‘feel’ right. You may ponder the mysteries of a potential loss of, “human freedom and the ability to experience new and unexpected things”, as for myself and many others we will continue to look forward to that time of day when we can ‘explore’ the adventures of….. maybe a new book.

    In my old age I have found that seeking out new things is for the young.

    …but then again I am just an old curmudgeon

    • Hey Pete – We’re never too old to learn new things and the act of doing so is good for our brains, our lives and our souls. Sure, it can be frustrating and sometimes requires lots of effort but I cannot think of one truly worthwhile thing I’ve ever accomplished that didn’t have its ‘moments’. I cannot give up all my rout9ines; to do so would see my life collapse. But I can strive to find that balance between routines and freedom to push the envelope and try new things…like relocating to Alaska!

  3. Routine is good. But it doesn’t need to be circular! Mine is more of a misshapen sort of oval with bumps!

    • Hey Kris – Yes, I hear ya! My own routines are rarely circular in detail but have diversions, regressions and tangential ‘excursions’ galore. I really do want to continue to give myself as much time as possible to experience new things and try activities that are outside my comfort zone. Often, I am my own worst enemy regarding the latter; I build so many barriers to even trying things I ‘know’ I wouldn’t like or would fail at doing. But I cannot think of a time when I did force myself outside my comfort zone the ultimate results weren’t so positive. For me, it is a classic case of being my own worst enemy!

      • I’m often too lazy to enjoy moving outside my comfort zone!

        • Believe me, Kris, I am a master at finding reasons not to ‘push the envelope’ but, sadly, said reasons are really unjustifiable. I cannot not think of one time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did not eventually walk away from the ‘exercise’ feeling so pleased I did so. Yet even knowing this I still will fight tooth and nail to keep from doing so..!

  4. Couldn’t agree more! I need to put a little more routine in place these days but as you said, in moderation.

    • As with so many things in life, moderation is the key! Twenty plus years ago I could get by with a lot fewer routines but as age has taken its toll the ole memory isn’t what it used to be and hence creating routines around important repetitive events (like paying the mortgage, etc.) can be helpful. I also use available tech to create reminders but I do not want to become so dependent upon such mechanisms I allow my own brain to become even less aware and more lazy!

      • Yeah I guess as we get older the list of things that require our regular attention increase and so dose the need for routine. I am glad you are trying to not depend on technology so much…I feel like without it I will forget a lot of things, I actually do. I am lost cause when it comes to remembering things.
        luckily my creative side of the brain has some life left.

        • I’d say your creative side does, indeed, more than make up for a somewhat ‘leaky’ memory! I love your poetry and find such passion and experience in your words! While I do embrace a lot of technology and even value it I also recognize it has definite limits. When wandering the more remote portions of ‘The Great Land’ I rely primarily on my GPS but I also have an analog compass and USGS topographic maps which I know how to use. Dead batteries or an electronic glitch can render a GPS useless; as long as I have my eyes I can always orient using a map and compass!

          • Compass and a map… that’s impressive. I can imagine you in Alaska with all those things and it really is inspiring.

            • Sadly, orienteering is largely a lost art given the advent of all the electronic gear. I remain impressed at how many people cannot identify what direction they’re looking during the daytime; the sun should make this obvious even in overcast. But, then, most folks don’t get into areas where cell towers and similar aren’t always around. One neat thing about Alaska is it is all too easy to get out of cell range and suddenly find one’s self completely out of touch. Of course, if unprepared, this can also prove dangerous to deadly. There’s a reason the number one killer in Alaska is hypothermia; so many non-local folks are just unaware of what it means to be ‘out of contact’ especially in a place where assistance – if reachable – can be hours to days away and weather conditions can change at the drop of a hat and often not in favorable directions..!

            • I was just reading about yin-yang.
              There’s always a good and a bad side to everything I guess. 🙂

  5. Yes ‘N’; as your elegant poem stated our reality is made up of opposites which often do clash but in so doing are really seeking that often elusive balance. It is so important we humans really work to recognize our commonalities and understand that often it is our differences which, ultimately, will bring us together.

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