“The less routine, the more life.” – Amos Bronson Alcott, American Teacher, Writer, Philosopher, and Father of Louisa May Alcott, 1799-1888
This article was inspired by a story a friend relayed to me. It wasn’t told with the intent of imparting a moral lesson, rather, something of a humorous and “Can you believe that?” kind of story, but I quickly saw the lesson and thought I would share it.
My Friend’s Story About the Cows
So, my friend has a grandmother who lives in Vermont and had a decent sized cattle operation going on, say, 60+ heads of cattle. One fateful day, the barn where the cattle came to feed and sleep caught on fire; it was pretty obvious this thing was a goner. Thankfully the cattle were out to pasture. However, the blaze continued into the cows feeding time…in the barn! The entire herd strolled into the inferno because it was meal time, and allowed the failing structure to collapse on them and consequently burned to death. Hilarious, right?
The Moral of the Story
I think the lesson from this story is pretty clear: Keep cases of McCormick’s steak seasoning packed in the barn just in case this happens again. Also, mindless routine is dangerous and there is a good chance it will one day kill you.
I think what bothered me most about this story was the realization that the cows had been bred into stupidity. For years we have purposely bred the bull out of the beast, caring more about the end product than the wits of the creature. For cows, and I suppose other livestock, this doesn’t bother me all that much, but the parallels to us as men are far too easy to make.
Take a look around. Do you see a society that builds men up to be the best man they can be? Or, do you see a society focused on the end product: docile, weak-minded consumers? Of course, this leads us to take a look at ourselves. Are we doing our part to ensure future generations of men carry on the role and responsibilities of manliness? To be free-thinkers, self-sufficient, seekers of truth, strong and brave, bold and determined, lovers of bacon, etc.?
“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” – Roald Dahl, British Novelist and Fighter Pilot, 1916-1990
Routines form because we like efficiency and we feel very efficient when we can do something without the investment of critical thinking. In a sense, routine feels good because it is easy and comforting. Depending on the particular routine (some examples below) there may be other factors which stimulate us and keep us on a dangerous course; e.g., the way sugar stimulates our system similar to drugs.
Here are a few potentially deadly routine categories.
That’s right, your 8-5. Here is an example of a routine that is not always physically easy, or even emotionally easy, but it is what you know, it is what you do and that is the routine. Flying out-of-town, missing the family, working late hours, time on the weekends…not fun, but routine. Often, it isn’t until we get away from that job that we realize just how crazy our life had become. A lot of guys will say, “ I don’t know how I did that for all of those years.”
If you have a job that is bad for your family, bad for your health, bad for your soul, break the routine and do something else.
Of course, our diet was going to make the list. Let’s get real specific here: The “diet” soft drink that you just have to have, the chips, the cookies (my personal weakness), the sugared up latte, the extra helping, the late night
bowl giant bowl of cereal. Food is a touchy subject. If you’re like me, you have had those moments, walking to the fridge, thinking to yourself, “ I’m really not hungry and I probably shouldn’t…“. It’s like I’m on autopilot. It really is tough to stop ourselves in the moment, evaluate our decision, and walk away.
Going to Church
I wouldn’t have guessed this one would be on the list when I first started the article, but after evaluating my life and the lives of friends for destructive routines, church kept coming up. Going to church isn’t a bad thing, but when it becomes a time-sucking, life-draining, obligation…or just stale…it is a bad thing. I have known good people who don’t have any time to be a positive influence in the world, because the church is their world. If your church is a life-building, light to the world, drawing you closer to God and helping you see Jesus then great. If not, don’t go because of routine.
Laziness is a routine in which we do the things we want to do rather than the things we know we ought to do. We want to sit on the couch and watch a show when we ought to be going for a run or cleaning the yard. We sleep in rather than getting up early and hitting the gym. Like diet, this is an obvious issue for most people and I don’t think I need to hound on it here. Get moving.
What does your family routine look like? On the occasions when you all have time together, do you a) go out to eat or b) go for a bike ride? Do you a) go to the movies or b) go to the park? Keep in mind we are talking about routine here, not the occasional movie or dinner out. What are the natural go-to’s for your family and are they bringing you closer together and building you up? Is it purposeful or just routine?
The key thing to understand is that you will likely not hate your routine before you have to kill it. In other words, you will probably love the feeling of having a smoke when you come to the conclusion that it is a deadly routine you must overcome. Living a life of routines makes this very action uncomfortable; doing what comes naturally, what feels right, can itself be a routine we have to break.
Change Your Environment
Have you had this happen? You go back to your hometown and find it has changed so much that you can’t find your way around? All of your old haunts are now replaced by Wal-Marts and grocery stores and neighborhoods? The routines are gone and now things have to be navigated anew. When we are in a new environment we are open to new ideas. You can change your environment in a few different ways:
- Change Your Friends
- Change Your Church
- Change Your Job
- Change Your Home
Does this list seem a little drastic? Maybe that is routine talking you out of making changes that you really need to make.
Change Your Attitude Towards Change
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” – C.S. Lewis, Christian Apologist & Author, 1898-1963
There is a type of man who wants to set himself up in a nice home, with a nice job, and settle into his habits undisturbed. That man will never be happy. He might wonder why the rest of the world is continuing to change and leave him behind, or why his family can’t settle into his routine, his sons and daughters always wanting, always growing and changing outside of his settled pace in life. This kind of man has not learned to embrace a life that unfolds and challenges him. Instead, he has made it his secret mission to settle into a sort of early retirement, both mentally and physically, yet with the hopes that both his mind and body would continue to support his existence, though he has removed himself from the natural order of things and quietly left behind all purposes which a mind and body are designed to live and do.
Don’t be that man.
Like all of my articles, this is for me as much as for any man. I am by nature a sentimental person and some of that sentiment flows into life’s routines. They are hard to break, but we need to stay alert and purposeful. I have written before about the siren songs in my early adulthood which beckoned me to come and have it all and have it easily. Thankfully I am not entirely on that road any longer, but I still see a softness that lingers and it bothers me. It wants me to settle in and I have to be pretty dogmatic against it.
Have any areas of routine that you need to break? Share in the comments below.