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  • Writer's pictureMyranda Wolfe

The Importance of Routines in Modern Day Life

Two weekends ago I woke up in a tent, pitched in a primitive campground, just fifty miles from our home. It was 49 degrees outside. I got up, dressed myself, and peed outside at our tent site (I mention this because it somehow feels wildly liberating to squat and pee in the wilderness for me). I then fed and walked our dogs while I drank my morning water. I got into the cooler and pulled out the cooking gear while James prepped a fire. Together, we cooked a breakfast of eggs, sausage, and camper pies. While we ate, coffee brewed in the percolator on the fire. We cleaned up, sat down at the fire with coffee together, and talked about our surroundings for over an hour.



During our talk I realized that nearly two hours of my morning were gone, and I had no thoughts other than caring for the animals and caring for myself and James. I then jokingly asked James out of context to the conversation, “What did it feel like to wake up and enter survival mode?” He thought on that for a second and said, “It felt really good.” We turned our tent camping weekend into a lax survival experience. I have never experienced something better for my mental health than the two mornings we woke up on that campsite, focused on our and our dogs’ basic survival needs, and nothing else.


There was mentally room for nothing else.


There is something to be said about today’s mental health crisis and the correlation to how easy we have it when it comes to survival; and I mean basic survival like eating food, drinking water, and sleeping in a shelter. Today, we no longer work for these things in a literal sense. We do not pursue clean drinking water, scavenge, hunt, and prepare food (for everyday survival), or build ourselves a shelter. This is not Naked & Afraid. Here, we work to make money, and that money provides us with these necessities (let’s leave inflation and the ability to pay for these necessities a topic for another day).


In our free time outside of working for the money we need in order to survive, there is no driving force – no necessity – to physically do one thing. It’s an incredible luxury of the 21st century and living in a first world country. We are able to come home from work and lie down on the couch for the evening if that is our choice – with the exception of those who have people and children that rely on them, of course (I see you, too).


I often think about my intense need for structure and routine. It is not even necessarily a “need,” as much as it is something that I strongly value. This is something that was engrained in me through youth; and I think now of how routine has been missing in my life for a long time.


Looking back on my first real experience without structure to when I started my freshmen year of college, I remember how I struggled with the down time. I knew I was supposed to fill that with… studying. No, thank you. I remember, too, how I struggled with the fact that the basketball coach never recruited me, so she never cared if I showed up to conditioning or not. Or how my professors did not necessarily care if I missed an 8am class, they didn’t even know who I was. I struggled with the fact that I could not go back to my childhood home for weekends or even just for Christmas morning.


I struggled with a huge life change and no real direction, like many of us do when we transition to adulthood. Every structure, system, and routine you followed your entire life is now gone. As exciting as it is to finally have some autonomy and true independence, it can simultaneously be scary. Someone told you where to be and what to do for the first 18 years and now *poof*, gone.



I eventually overcame that lack of structure and routine by filling down hours with work, and if not work, socializing. I remember that by my senior year of college I was working 70+ hour weeks between internship and serving, often doing doubles, and breaking to drive back to campus for class before going to my second shift. I do remember feeling exhausted… but not necessarily unhappy, I was too busy to register any kind of feeling towards it. However, stress and anxiety did start presenting itself in the form of daily nausea at that time. So, when I finally graduated, dropped my serving job, and entered the 40-hour week salary club, it felt like a fucking treat. You mean I just have to show up to this one office from this hour to this hour, do my work, and then go home? No homework? No second job? Yeah, I think I can do that.


It was fun. I made the most of it. I love socializing with coworkers and was into happy hours regularly. I saw family and friends nearly every day. It was routine. The routine honored things I value, which made day-to-day life fulfilling. I adapted to that routine.


When I moved to Oklahoma at the end of 2018 that changed. I had the same routine at work, but my social life became nonexistent during my off hours. I went to work to make the money to physically survive and… that was that. I had all the time in the world, yet no longer had the capacity to exercise. I barely walked my dog. I never cooked. I only drank and ordered food in.


I did not even know who I was when I was this kind of alone.



When James and Serenity came around less than a year later, things started to improve. Having someone to cook for, go places with and to work for changes things. Of course, the two of them came bundled with their own little package of stressors but being constantly busy with them very much helped me with my routine and need for relationships.


Then 2020 quickly rolled around. Structure and routine – now gone. When I started working from home and no longer had a need to be awake at a certain hour, showered, and physically leaving my home – even if it was to just sit at a desk in an office, I struggled again. So many of us did – some of us aware of the reason why and others not. There was a briefly exciting part to transitioning to working from home and that was that you could fill downtime with tasks around the house, so your evening hours were truly “free” after logging off. It felt like a much better work-life balance in the beginning. But even then, there was only so much you could do. Home is meant to be a place of relaxation and comfort – I started to view everything about our home as my work and found no comfort in being home at all.


Weird how that works.


I never went back to the office five days a week after Fall 2020. I never really adopted any solid routine or structure at home either. I have suffered and sometimes still suffer from this. When you do not physically have to do anything to survive besides move 10 feet from your bed to your desk, simple tasks like showering, eating right, moving around, or just generally giving a shit, become difficult. It is hard to create motivation for anything in this mindset.


Reflecting on the campsite, I appreciate the routine we had of waking up, caring for the dogs, and physically working to care for ourselves. It left little time for the mind to wander; it kept us busy. When I think about survival in the present day, I think it is strongly tied to routine and structure. For me, this is true. Many of us work from a desk. Many of us have down time. Many of us have wandering minds in down time. Many of us struggle when we log off for the day in this way. And after a day of mental depletion, no one feels inclined to hop in the kitchen and spend an hour using our hands to cook as a way to unwind. Our first thought is to turn on the tv or pull up TikTok and Instagram to escape from “reality.”



This is the 21st century in America. We do not have to do something, so we will not. And it isn’t necessarily that we “will not,” it is more so that we are so depleted mentally from what it takes to survive today (making money) that it feels like we cannot. Again, I view this as a problematic luxury. The lack of motivation in all our “free time” makes us feel we are lazy, which counters the societal push for constant productivity – adding further to our stress level. And the lack of any kind of routine… We have one, we don’t have one. We adapt to the new routine, it changes. The whiplash of that alone over the last decade of our lives is enough to burn anyone out.


All of this reflection leads me to say – knowing that our physical survival is not a 24/7 pursuit as it was many years ago, where there was no time to process our lives and what we view as happiness, we have to shift to our mental survival. The need for routines that support mental health is strong, now more than ever. Even stronger for those of us that struggle with unhealthy coping mechanisms brought on by our version of “survival.” Routines are a necessity for a productive and healthy day. They are a necessity for a fulfilling day-to-day life as you incorporate your own values into them. And to be honest, having solid routines that support mental health are the most sustainable thing we can pursue, even amidst changes to the world around us.


What routines can you put in place for yourself?


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Here is an example of my own brainstorming session for daily routine. I chose to list out my values to see correlations between the two:


Values:

  1. Autonomy

  2. Family (for me, this includes my pets)

  3. Friendships

  4. Health

  5. Comfort (the feeling of "home")

  6. Nature

  7. Structure

Routine:

  1. My alarm is set every day for 7am to wake up.

  2. I intentionally do not check my phone before getting out of bed (and side note: I used my own 28-day goal tracker to implement this change, because my original habit was to scroll Instagram in the morning to "wake up").

  3. I get up, physically get cleaned up for the day, and fill my 32oz water bottle.

  4. I take care of the dogs' routine while I drink this water.

  5. I do 3 sun salutations while repeatedly reciting my affirmations (to combat my tendency for negative self-talk, and to get myself moving first thing in the morning).

  6. I pour my first cup of coffee and organize my home so I can function within it (this is my favorite step).

  7. I make myself breakfast and have another cup of coffee while I read a chapter of text.

  8. I complete any household chores I assigned myself the weekend before (never assigning more than two or three in one day or I will straight up boycott all of them because I am an all or nothing type of cleaner).

  9. I run any errands, if applicable, and call friends and family in the process.

  10. I spend my afternoon at my desk with hot tea and focus on my business objectives. This is when I do my writing, content creation for blog and Instagram, client sessions, etc.

  11. My evenings are spent taking care of the dogs again, cooking, exercising, socializing with friends and family, and/or pursuing hobbies.

Can you identify the areas in this routine that honor my values?


Day-to-day life can feel chaotic, even with routine in place. Depending on the type of person you are, chaos can feel stressful. But if the chaos still manages to honor your values - quality family time or health, for example - it has the ability to take the edge off. When we stop honoring our values in our daily life, we disconnect from ourselves. Maybe you highly value honesty, but you are playing the political corporate game and put in tough situations each week. Quitting your job would put your family and livelihood at risk, defying the game could have the same outcome. You find yourself compromising either your honesty or your family, neither option feels good - even if you don't recognize the root to your discontent in the moment. A few beers seems to take the edge off each night though, so you lean into that.


This is a very real example of how 21st century life can lead us into discontent when on the outside we "have it all."


So, what can you do today to honor your values and find some joy?


Today's post was the lengthiest any blog of mine has been in a while, but this is something I have been personally working towards and do believe the thought process is worth sharing. If you actually read this far, I am impressed and I also thank you. You never have to, but you do anyway.



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