The Queen of Routine Works on a Makeover

BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON

I am the queen of routine. And yes, on the one hand, my routines do come with a whole host of benefits:

  • I feel on top of things and in control
  • My days have a steady, built-in predictability
  • I’m uber-organized
  • I get a lot done

My many routines have served me well in many aspects of my life, supporting my ability to meet my goals, both personal and professional. But lest I sound smug, allow me to come clean because there is an undeniable flip-side:

My routines often get in the way of living life as it presents itself. And THAT is a serious bummer.

Of course, this self-imposed, task-based tyranny didn’t just “happen,” as my BFF will attest. A million years ago, she climbed the stairs to our second-floor apartment and asked:

“Hey, wanna come over? I just got the new Nancy Drew series.”

“Can’t. I’m folding socks.”

Folding socks? Seriously?  I mean, it wasn’t even a chore I was supposed to do. It was one I had taken on and somehow, declared a mandatory routine, no exceptions. Having routines only becomes problematic when we take them too far, as I often have. We know we’re in that place when we feel guilt and angst if we miss a beat, become inflexible, or find it difficult to adapt or respond to the moment. We may even feel like a prisoner at times, even though we have set ourselves up for that outcome.

I have recognized all of these responses in myself, not always, but enough to realize that my routine often gets in the way of real life as it happens, whether it’s a leaking roof, a friend who needs help right now, or a spontaneous invite that is guaranteed to mean having some unexpected fun.  Translation: my allegiance to routine ends up conflicting with my values.

That’s why I am challenging myself to loosen up, to smell the proverbial flowers when they present themselves, and to be more present to the spontaneous joy that each day presents. Here’s how I am approaching my “makeover”:

  • Start to recognize when I get into drill sergeant mode by remembering how I passed up the thrill of Nancy Drew (!) for the monotony of folding socks.
  • Practice a “just chill” response when “life happens” on its time, not mine.
  • Start to differentiate between routines that help me and those that hinder how I want to express my values and experience my life.
  • Notice when rigidity starts to creep in and practice asking myself, “What’s the worst that can happen if the socks aren’t folded?”
  • Transform a negative message such as “I am wasting time” to “I am embracing this time in this way…”
  • Recall the joy I feel when I allow spontaneity a greater space in my life.
  • Celebrate myself when I go with flow – “Atta girl!”

And most importantly:

  • Remember that my life isn’t a checklist or an endurance test. It is mine to live by being present to opportunities for enjoyment, fulfillment, and pleasure by seeking a happy medium between routine and spontaneity.

Nancy Drew anyone?

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