Psychologist Rachel Ward Lilley discusses the importance of routine and how we should embrace rather than reject it.
They say that routine can get us down, that the same old thing day after day dulls the senses, stifles creativity and bypasses the joys of spontaneous activity. If we stick too rigidly to procedure, we leave no room for happy serendipity. Yet routines are an essential part of life for most of us. And since there is no escaping them, we do what we can to add some spice: we brighten things up with little treats and variations – an outing to the theatre instead of watching TV; a meal in a restaurant instead of shopping, cooking and washing up; a different route to the same old destination, “just for a change.”
Yet, despite this casting of routine in a negative light, it has another aspect, one that we can embrace, rather than kick against. If we think of it not as a constricting cage for our creativity, but as a stable framework for supporting life’s adventure, we can use it to make the most of our potential. On a spiritual level this might mean using it as a platform for exploration into the meaning of our lives. On a practical level, it could mean using it as a tool to make the best use of our time and resources – something of which I am a big fan.
In every one of my days, I make sure to reserve time for outdoor exercise, because I know that my overall health and wellbeing depend upon it. It might be running, cycling or walking but the great thing about all of them is that they really do present opportunities to observe and appreciate the wonderfully rejuvenating forces of nature.
The weather is the most obvious manifestation of these. Exposure to the elements – a breakout from the controlled environment of indoors – is in itself a kind of therapy, and our Atlantic climate brings the kind of changeable conditions that keep us on our toes. A bracing run in sharp weather can be an exhilarating experience, perfect for shaking off lethargy. And, if I get my timing right, I can catch the elating joy of a bright sunrise or the awe-inspiring colours of a sunset. Either way, I get the bonus of spirituality to enhance my physical exertion.
And behind the daily variations of the weather lies the subtler, incremental progress of the seasons, which I like to think of as nature’s very own routine. When I’m outside, I observe this in many ways, both subtle and bold. Right now, the snowdrops, crocuses and all their tiny, wildflower relatives are beginning to show their colours against the wintry green background. The daffodils seem to wave a cheery hello as I pass them and, as each day goes by, I can look forward to seeing the grass grow lush, the trees bud and leaf and the brambles form their glistening berries. And the soundtrack to this unfolding pageant of rebirth is birdsong, the optimistic tunes of courtship and nesting ambition.
This is the mother of all routines, the one that helps me appreciate the real value of a dependable structure upon which to live a life.
Rachel Ward Lilley is a business and educational psychologist. She has worked for many years advising SMEs and her current work relates to issues of resilience, communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past 12 years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field. Find out more here.