OH&H: Finding Freedom in Routine


Oh & H - The Column / Friday, September 28th, 2018

Batman is not a family friend, that much I’ve learned in the past week. Our littlest lady was invited to a birthday party, all heroes and princesses required to attend. The timing we knew beforehand wasn’t ideal, from 1-4pm our little superhero usually rests. But with it being a Sunday and nothing else on the agenda we thought we might be able to stretch lunchtime far enough back to enjoy a bite or two from the birthday cake and then put her down for a late snooze. 

Naturally her superhero mask was off before we even knocked on the door – too hungry to dress up, that”s ok we thought. But then a full sized batman stood in the kitchen door on our way to the buffet and all hell broke loose. The hastily retrieved juice and sausage roll only temporarily saved the situation and when the hysteric tears kept flooding back every time she caught sight of batman, we declared defeat and ventured home for our usual nap.

To some people our family’s rhythm might seem a little rigid. As it shows seemingly very little flexibility around nap times. However, our littlest lady is usually a very relaxed child and I sometimes wonder how much that has been influenced by a recognisable pattern in her days. There is reassurance in knowing what will happen, it nurtures our trust and self-belief, which in return make us relaxed and even brave.

For me it is even more than that, it is the linchpin to my scatterbrain; bringing a visible structure to our days that  my mind needs to stay focused. I get easily distracted, sidetracked or simply forget what I wanted to do initially so having an outline that I can refer to helps me achieve the things I want. Moreover it helps me feel in control and less frayed especially when things get busy. 

Exercising choice is an act of freedom, says Catherine Blyth (Read her book: On Time), the disadvantage is that for whatever you choose to do, something must be refused. Then opportunity costs stack up. This is why, when we face too many options, freedom can lead to paralysis. 

I often hit this paralysis on a Sunday afternoon when I’m unexpectedly presented with  a chunk of free time. Oh, what to do with theses precious hours I would think, while falling on to the couch tv-remote already in hand. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tv show, but I’d also love to sew that blanket that I started, have a weed free garden or finish reading that book by my bedside. Yet these things never occur to me on a Sunday afternoon. With a dedicated time slot just for forgotten projects every now and then, I at least make a little progress.

We are, however, no robots that only function within the set hours of our time tables. It’s a flexible system, but solid enough to carry us through the day. Ultimately it keeps down the numbers of decisions that I have to make day to day. Wether we should go swimming, attend playgroup or head to the allotment only has to be revisited if a valid alternative comes up.

Naturally our schedule changes regularly, most significantly with the seasons. The darker the days get, the more structured they are. As Gretchen Rubin discovered, it is easy to lose sight of what really matters in the chaos of everyday life. Creating positive habits can make sure that our lives reflect our values. For me that means forcing this self-proclaimed hermit out of the house at least once a day to give her social 2-year-old opportunities to mingle and exercise.

The plan works best however, when nothing goes to plan really. When disruptions, delays or simple curiosity derail us. While we go off on our whims, the back of my brain already knows that for all the untouched tasks, for all the chores that I don’t get to do and all the should’s that I can see piling up, I’ll have an upcoming time slot where I can pick up the pieces again. That’s a better protection to my sanity than Batman ever could provide.

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