My wife is always making fun of me because I like my routines. For example, she can rarely tempt me to go out for breakfast because there are very few restaurants in Cleveland that serve my favorite morning meal: fresh seasonal fruit with Seven Stars biodynamic lowfat yogurt, and homemade granola (that I made). I prefer that it be served in an unchipped blue pasta bowl, although in a pinch, the chipped one is a suitable substitute. I would argue that my breakfast is not the same every day because the fruit is always different and I could be eating it with any of a dozen different spoons.
While eating breakfast, I like to solve the New York Times crossword puzzle, but not every day. Only Monday through Thursday (because on Friday through Sunday it takes too long to cheat properly).
Then I do my morning yoga. OK, I do have a yoga routine, but doesn’t everyone who does yoga have some kind of routine? I listen to music when I do yoga, but it’s not like it’s the same workout tape everyday; my body may be performing the same exercises, but my mind is thinking about any one of a hundred different Miles Davis trumpet solos (from 1954-1958 sessions).
Yes, I do tend to go to the Stone Oven Bakery for lunch on Mondays and the Thai Palace on Tuesdays, and Dave’s Cosmic Subs on Wednesdays, but that’s mostly for convenience’s sake, and due to the coincidence of craving certain foods on those particular days. And I usually order something different at each place, except at Dave’s Cosmic Subs, where I always get the Grateful Dave sub because it happens to be the best sub on the menu, so why should I get anything else?
Yes, I like to take a nap every day after work while listening to the news on NPR, those mellow radio voices droning on about the endless political campaigns or latest environmental disaster (“although there’s no evidence to link this to global warming…”) – it’s the perfect encouragement I need to check out of the conscious world for a few minutes to recharge my battery. And yes, I like to go for a walk after dinner every night, but that’s simply when I have time and energy for this endeavor, and the light is nicest, and, look when you get right down to it, my routines make the most sense, that’s why they’ve become routines in the first place!
The upside of routines is this: You know what to do next. Knowing what to do provides you with a great deal of freedom and it saves a lot of time. You don’t have to spend hours a day muddling over a hundred different options. You know that after you finish looking at your emails, then you’ll complete your daily report. Then it’ll be time for your mid-morning cup of coffee (one sugar, two creams). Next, you can make a to-do list and work your way through it, checking completed items off with a red Papermate Flair medium pen.
People with no routines flounder around. They’re like half-asleep dreamers groping in the dark night to try to find their way to the bathroom, bumping into furniture, tripping over the dog, walking into walls. Having a routine is like switching on the lights. You still may be a little groggy, but you won’t bang your shin on your own bathtub. You won’t make a wrong turn and go tumbling down the stairs.
Granted, having routines might not be as exciting as always having the possibility of an entirely new discovery. But c’mon, how many times do you get up and grope around in the dark and suddenly find, I don’t know, a box of gold that was hidden behind a wall by a previous owner who happened to be a smuggler or a pirate? And you’ll only discover it if you walk into the wall so hard that you break your nose so you can see behind the crumbling plaster that there’s a shiny box filled with the treasure of the Sierra Madre. No, that doesn’t happen very often.
Routines can lead to their own great discoveries. For example, if part of your routine is to splice genes all day long, seven days a week, and then incubate them in Petri dishes, one day you may actually discover a cure for cancer or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most great discoveries are made by people with routines who work relentlessly, tracking the data of mice going through mazes or systematically checking every element or compound known to man until they find the one that will light up as a filament in a vacuum tube and provide the great AHA: Edison’s light bulb.
So, yeah, I do like to floss and brush my teeth 100 strokes every night before bed. I’m not sure this will lead to the discovery of anything as dynamic as a light bulb, but who knows what great thought may find its way into my brain while it’s halfway occupied with counting those strokes. At the very least, my teeth will be in better shape when I go to the dentist for my regular six-month cleaning.