We love to feel safe and make things run smoothly. But is our obsession with structure stealing the truly remarkable moments
of our lives?
As ambitious, Type-A people, we’re constantly trying to find ways to get an extra edge to get more done and be more efficient. (And as parents, we’re just trying to make it through the day without screaming at our kids).
Routines have their perks, of course. They allow us to get more done at work. Be more efficient with our day-to-day activities. And they make parenting more manageable. But I believe it can also be a burden. Left unchecked, our routines can put too much focus on sticking to the schedule and not enough focus on embracing the moment.
And you don’t have to be a behavioral psychologist or hippie to know that playing the game by the letter all the time – and failing to embrace spontaneity here and there – is a recipe for missing out on some rare, life-changing moments.
Strictly adhering to routines and schedules is like hiking while staring at your feet.
Imagine you’re walking on a trail in Hawaii. On your right is a panoramic view of the pacific, vast and majestic. On your left is the most beautiful natural waterfall that could touch Man’s eye.
But you don’t see it, because you’re too busy staring at your feet. You’re focused on completing the hike as efficiently as possible. At measuring each and every step.
Along the way, you keep bumping into people who are just standing there, and you can’t figure it out.
What the hell are these people doing, just standing there? Don’t they know we’re trying to walk this trail? Weren’t they there when we decided to set out and complete the hike?
When we relentlessly adhere to a routine, we trade the panoramic beauty of nature for a view of our feet kicking up dust as we shuffle from point A to point B.
And while some people may call this efficiency, I’d call it tragedy.
The Road Less Traveled
Robert Frost writes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
In American Literature 1, I learned the many different interpretations this poem can have. (I sat in the back row, pretending to care, and wishing all the geeks would just agree on something and shut up).
But what everyone agreed on was this: there were two roads. One, predictable, “well traveled.”
The other, full of “unknown.”
You face these two paths each day as well.
You can choose routine (and probably should most of the time), and take the path known. Or you can choose spontaneity – the unknown – and create the space for a remarkable experience.
Someone really smart once said, “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breaths away.”
I’m convinced that these rare, few moments that “take our breath away” are found nestled somewhere between the clean lines of our routine and the unpredictability of chaos.
Welcome To The Corporation Of Efficiency and Predictability
As we grow up, we’re taught that fear is the enemy.
“Think of what could go wrong!” is splattered everywhere. We hear it from well-meaning parents in the name of “love”, teachers, pastors, and friends. And in the name of “responsibility”, we join the cause.
Our adherence to routine is one of the primary ways we “protect” ourselves and those we love from the danger of the unknown.
And truthfully, for most people, breaking routine will have consequences. If you’re a parent and kids are involved, I guarantee it will.
The question is: are the consequences worth it?
Some of the time, I think they are.
Think of any movie or story you’ve seen or heard. The “adventure”, the thing that makes the plot memorable, is almost always a result of things not going as planned.
The girl meets the perfect guy after she’s just gotten engaged to an acceptable, yet un-remarkable safe bet.
The ship wrecks, the flight gets overbooked, etc. etc.
Yet it’s always through these “catastrophes” that something truly remarkable happens.
The same is true in life.
Sometimes you have to let go of being on time, let go of efficiency, and embrace chaos…
… Okay, maybe not that kind of chaos. This kind…
The catch? (cause there’s always a catch).
The opportunity for those rare, memorable moments will present themselves at what seems like the worst possible time.
When you’re exhausted from a long day.
When you feel like every time you try to go above and beyond and do something special, no one appreciates it.
When you really need your kids to go to bed so that you can reclaim your sanity.
And make no mistake, any time you choose to embrace spontaneity – to dip your toes into the seas of chaos – requires risk.
But in order to reverse the trend towards safety and routine, we need to be more willing to grapple with our fear of things not working out. To look the “what if’s” in the eye and tell them to go to hell.
Knowing that there will be times when you break routine and things don’t work out.
When you try to be spontaneous and do something special, to create a take-your-breath-away moment and your kids just end up complaining, or it ends up being lame, or things just don’t work out.
But you know what? Who cares. Don’t let that stop you from trying again. At least you took a shot. Playing it safe almost always guarantees avoidance of the spectacular.
Are You A Slave To Routine?
Let me be perfectly clear: having routines is a really good thing. If you’re a parent, it’s critical. Kids thrive on a predictable schedule.
Routines are important for sticking to habits, too. Like going to the gym at the same time and on the same days each week. Like planning ahead for most of your meals, and preparing things in advance.
Fact is, I know the day will run smoother (for everyone) if my family and I stay on a predictable routine.
My kids will have less behavior issues.
I’ll be more focused and get more done.
My workouts will be more productive.
And most of the time, I’ll feel more in control, which makes me feel safe.
But there’s a difference between establishing routines and schedules that you follow most of the time, and demanding it be followed, to the letter, all the time.
Picture a story book full of words and images. Only this isn’t Goodnight Moon or Curious George that you read to your kids for the 100th time before bed last night, this is a book that contains the story of your life.
In it, there are words and pictures of two things:
- The day-to-day activities like getting dressed in the morning, eating meals, driving to work/school, filling out TPS reports (sorry, had to). You know, all the predictable, “routine” stuff.
- The take-your-breath-away moments. The spontaneous adventures that happen outside of the lines. It’s the laughs with your kids from doing something you don’t usually do, or seeing them experience something for the very first time. The awe-inspiring view of taking the scenic route, even if it’s not the “fastest route.” The new friendships gained from choosing human interaction over catching Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Now, picture someone going through your book and tearing out all of the pages with adventures, leaving only the routine.
All that’s left is a “story” about someone who followed the schedule, of someone who got things done efficiently (or at least tried to).
Twenty-five pages of brushing teeth, working out every Tuesday at 6 pm, eating meals, and getting kids down for naps on time.
I’m afraid that for many of us, the echo of our days is little more than a routine life, or worse, being stressed out and overwhelmed by trying to stick to the routine.
We’re going to look back five or ten or twenty years from now and see a life of (attempted) efficiency, but very little awe.
The “routine” is supposed to help guide our day-to-day actions so that we have room mentally, physically, emotionally to take a risk on the potential of a spontaneous, “take-your-breath-away moments.
Is your routine serving you… or are you serving your routine?
Sometimes, You Gotta Kill The Routine
I was sitting on my front porch the other night with my wife and the kids. Taking one last glance at the sunset before herding the kids off to bed.
Excitedly, my son asks, “Daddy! Can we go across the street so that we can see the sunset over the water? I bet it looks soo good!”
“No. We aren’t doing that tonight. Take one more look and it’s time for bed.”
I said no because they already had a bath… they can’t go walking through the grass and get all dirty.
I said no because it had been a really long day and I was tired.
I said no because it really was time for bed.
I said no because it didn’t fit the routine.
And in doing so, I squashed a little more of the innocent, fleeing “this sounds awesome so let’s do this!” attitude that only kids possess.
I ripped out another page from our Storybook that may have contained a carpe diem adventure.
Thinking back now, there’s only one thing on my mind: Sometimes, you gotta kill the routine.