A routine is a weird thing. For me, it’s at the same time an incredibly useful mental timetable and an immensely dangerous pitfall.
I have a good routine going on right now, I’d say. Every day, I set time aside to do a lot of stuff; the way I allocate time could probably better, I could push myself further, but still, what I have now is not bad. My routine is my baseline, it’s the minimum I will strive to do every day, no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. The idea would be that, once I’m used to a routine, I can then use the good days to do even more, even better, and during the bad days I can fall back on that bare minimum I’m supposed to be used to and not waste the day.
But it’s a risky concept. And it’s risky precisely because it sounds so safe, so foolproof. By building a routine, I’m making decisions about how to use my time beforehand, so that I don’t have to do it all the time, especially when laziness, tiredness or depression make me lose my will to do anything at all. It’s reassuring to wake up and know what you are going to do.
Routines are dangerous because they feed into all of my bad habits. They favour apathy, mental rigidity, a mechanical approach to life over enthusiasm, spur-of-the-moment decisions, following one’s feelings, being here with all of oneself. The relationship between forcing oneself to do something and following one’s whims requires delicate balancing, but there is no doubt that for me only one of these two factors exist.
Perhaps a good routine would be a flexible, minimalistic one, one that left space for variety as part of the routine, and not as the exception to it. I know I tend to fill my timetables so much I’d barely even sleep, if my actual plans could be followable. No amount of time is ever enough, I need to be infinitely good at an infinite amount of things. My actual routines are a bit more down-to-earth, but they often end up taking my entire day, when I factor in things like eating, being tired or distracted and talking to people (somehow, my routines never allow time for other people, it’s as if I was alone on the planet).
Yesterday, was an ok day. Nothing in particular happened, and so it was that I went through my checklist of things to do everyday, and I still had a few hours before sleeping. And I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.
Most of the things that fill my routine are chores, obligations, musts. Even if I want to do them on an abstract level, or I know they’re useful, they’re not really exciting on a day-to-day basis. Like studying, that’s a perfect example. What I may or may not want to do has no place in my day, it’s not a question that I get to ask myself.
So, when I did end up asking it, the answer I got was a confused, muffled sound that didn’t take the form of any one particular thing. I could feel something stirring up inside me, but I couldn’t make up my mind, I couldn’t focus my will in any one direction. I felt like my answer would be too shameful to admit, or more than I deserve, or too risky for me to try. (yes, writing did cross my mind, and then my mind recoiled). The freedom to take risks, with confidence and the assurance that you will get back up and try again, would be liberating.
Eventually, I ended up watching a film. This film, to be precise. And it hit me. It hit me in a number of ways. From the throwaway sentence “I reckon today good things will happen” (Why do I never say that? Why do I never think that? Why am I always so down?), to the girl’s fear to test herself and realize her dreams, from the likeness of talent to a raw, unrefined stone to noticing that, even in fairy tales, adventures happen only to people who are open and receptive and flexible enough, who can let themselves go with the flow of what is happening around them (I learned the importance of being Receptive from M. Nussbaum).
My best friend lent me that film, to give me hope, to show me that happiness is within my reach, I just have to allow myself to try. I got that message, and yet, in my evanescent self-esteem, after the film was over I questioned whether that hope was for me, whether I was not the (negative) exception, the black sheep to be left behind. I felt like what was being shown was not a possibility for me; rather my wishes, forever to be unrealized, were being flaunted in front of me, to provoke, to show me what I could never reach, what I had lost forever.
The film woke me up from apathy, but it made me want to kill myself…
But it’s ok.
Tomorrow I will go back to my cocoon, with its lack of feelings, and it will be as if I never even watched that film, so I can keep sleeping through my days, wrapped in my comfortable blanket of routines.