Routine: Why It’s Important to Make It and Break It

They say we are creatures of habit. Now I may not be entirely sure who ‘they’ are, but I would agree that it is undeniable that humans do thrive in routines. We would not be able to reap the benefits of a functioning society if we did not adhere to rules, times, schedules and apply some level of discipline to them. It is through consistent practice that any person becomes good at any skill. To become educated or responsibly trained to work in a field, we must adhere to a schedule that allows us to do something over and over again until we become comprehensive in that field.

Research has particularly shown the effectiveness of developing a morning routine, as it reduces the stress of decision making. I recall learning from the book First We Make the Beast Beautiful (my all-time favorite book) that people have a limited resource of decision making capacity. And even small decisions such as what you choose to eat for breakfast or wear to work take up as much stress in the brain as larger decisions. Findings have shown that most people exhaust their decision making capacity before they even leave their house. Therefore, it’s been observed across successful people that implementing a morning routine can alleviate this potential for exhaustion of mental stress, allowing a person to ‘save’ their decision making for more important things such as work, relationships or finances.

But as much as I value morning routines, one of my favourite quotes to live by is one by Jon Krakauer, which reads, “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

This quote highlights to me a strong sense of desire and responsibility deep within human nature to create adventurous and exciting lives. I see a similar desire across humans to find a sense of belonging, comfort and stability. Contrasting these ideas, I can sense an intense push and pull between humanity’s search to be able to implement stability and routine and keep life engaging and interesting.

I have a theory that some people strive to establish routine just to break it. We enjoy having the stability of jobs, as they provide steady incomes. We seek consistent and reliable relationships and enjoy being able to trust that we come home to our partners and family at the end of a long day. But similarly, we crave vacation days, fun first dates and new challenges.

The key distinction I would make between our sometimes-clashing pursuit of routine and adventure is that people like to choose their adventures, but at the end of the day want to rely on having their basic, physiological needs met. The things that we objectively share as needs aren’t often things we like to guess about. Food, water, shelter and social life seem to be the elements of our lives that we enjoy having set in place. It’s exhausting for these basic physiological needs to be established day in and day out. We need steady incomes to provide financial freedom, and we need to have loyal relationships and family members to rely on. It is the subjective experiences of traveling, creativity and leisure that we don’t seem to mind shaking up. These are the ‘not shared’ experiences that only the individual person experiencing them can really enjoy to their fullest extent, therefore the turbulence within these experiences are already unpredictable. But that unpredictability is already somewhat predictable.

We are not built to live in a constant state of stimulation. Even our most fun adventure-filled days are unsustainable. Traveling to new places can be fresh and exciting, but part of the appeal is the novelty of it being new. Even if a person were to keep traveling their entire life in an attempt to maintain this novelty there are many issues that stem from being over-stimulated, or continually relying on external stimulus to keep us interested in our own lives.

I was born and raised in the United States, but dreamt of moving to Australia for as long as I can remember. When I turned 22, that dream fabricated into reality. The first few months were nothing short of magic, falling in love with new people and places, and a bottomless well of creative inspiration. Now THIS is living! I’d often think to myself. Living in the peak experience of emotion set the new bar of what I knew life could be. Emphasis on the could. I ended up falling so deeply in love with the land that I did everything in my power to stay. I was successful in this attempt. I extended my visa...twice... got a job in my field, leased a house, bought a car and entered a long term relationship.

However, my expectation for Australia to maintain its sense of novelty lead to inevitable discouragement when I began implementing ‘real life’ routines. Working full time, paying bills and engaging in all of the same activities I had been at home took away from the heightened sense of adventure that I’d felt in my first months of living in Australia. It felt like trying to working on vacation. It took a strong mental adjustment to fully come to the terms that it is neither fair nor possible to live in that constant state of excitement. I still love living in Australia and cannot see myself living anywhere else, but I’ve had to explain to myself over and over again that mundane routine in life is necessary and unavoidable! Working day in and day out allows me to afford living in this beautiful country. Although it is frustrating at times that I use all of my annual leave I save up at work just to fly home to see my parents.

Adventure is an excellent way to expose life’s potential, allowing us to explore he depth of our emotions, reveal our expectations and frustrations, and watch ourselves interact with new environments. But the element of routine allows us enough physical and mental stability to have the capacity to explore our emotions, values, morals and ideas. A person who is starving, financially pressed, or lonely will not be able to access their most ideal creative self. Creativity is a form of decision making, and therefore isn’t as available to a brain who is focused on where their next meal is coming from.

Ultimately, our lives boil down to being an attempt to balance stability and excitement in all of the ‘right’ ways. But there is fun to be had in the pursuit of achieving this balance, and there is freedom to be found in making the decisions to create this balance.