Anatomy of a Routine, pt. 1

It turns out I’m really dependent on a routine to be successful in my long-term endeavors. I’m not very good at relating immediate actions to long-term consequences, at least on a gut-level. So I make choices impulsively. For short-term projects, or when the end of a long endeavor is looming, I can be very motivated. This is probably a major reason for why I put things off until the last minute, and then, if it’s possible to do so within the time frame I’ve given myself, do well at them.

I sat down today and detailed out this problem, this inability to relate actions to long-term consequences. In a way, it was liberating to really see the underlying trend under my failures at writing, my failures at weight-loss, my failures at home care, at maintaining a budget– and the trend below my successes, too. I’ve had bits and pieces of the knowledge for, oh, a very long time– for example, my biggest weight-loss success ever was based on a routine that was shattered when my mother died.

My latest routine was shattered by Memorial Day, followed by Robin and I randomizing our sleep patterns. My routines are frighteningly easy to shatter, and hard to re-establish. I’m lazy, and I don’t really like the idea of being dependent on a routine, on being unable to work in any circumstance. So I tried to work out if there were other options. I investigated whether I could retrain myself to do envision the relationship between my choices and long-term consequences. But I don’t think I can do so on a gut level, which is where it’s needed. I’m already aware of the link on a cold logical level. Maybe it’s a biochemical thing?

I could probably do what recovering addicts do with constant mindfulness, but riding herd on myself like that is even more unattractive a proposition than being dependent on fragile routines for productivity and success. I’d rather have structures that allow me to be myself than constantly contort myself into something I’m not– I’m certain unhappy mental health lies in that direction.

So what I’d like to do instead is come up with several routines, along with a routine recovery process, for when a routine is broken. When I developed the current routine, I worked into it a natural break, the weekend, but while expecting it definitely helped, I rarely had a fully productive Monday.

Part of me cringes at the idea of coming up with processes. It’s like I’m back working at Microsoft again! And I just know this is one of those situations where ‘You’re Not The Boss Of Me!’ is going to rear its head. It always seems to show up in relation to creating routines… I wonder why that is? Because I instinctively dislike routine? Because in such a highly structured situation I have to find some way to make it mine?

I don’t really know where to start for coming up with a routine recovery mechanism.

That’s a lie. I took steps in that direction a month or so ago, when I started brewing tea before each writing session– the logic being that brewing tea would start the rest of the routine flowing. (For at least half a decade, I associated the eating of Hot Tamales candy with playing Discworld MUD, because I combined the two activities for a couple of months while working tech support nights.)

But then we had a heat wave and I stopped making tea. And I never picked it up again because, oh, while I liked the tea, it was also a bother. And I ran out of the kind of tea I was using and tea bags weren’t as satisfying. And… and… and…

Ideally, I suppose, I need internal routines rather than ones dependent on external stimuli– brewing tea, Robin laying down for a nap.

It’s kind of funny, really, that I haven’t been able to start writing without Robin laying down for his nap the past couple of weeks– but whenever the routine gets started, I can sometimes write /one handed/ while holding Robin in the other arm after he wakes up and plays for a while.