(Reposted after quirky WordPress delete)
This morning I was pondering the power of routine in our lives when my routine abruptly changed. I was filling a glass of water in the refrigerator when I noticed the basket of limes was protruding out because they were crowded by the package of strawberries. In pushing the strawberries to side I started a chain reaction that led to a jar of peppadews to topple over onto the glass I was holding in my hand, shattering both immediately. They eventually ended up on the floor, where the juice and glass and peppadews and water began to flow outward in all directions. Suddenly I wasn’t focused on the next step in my morning routine and quickly began the cleanup process, which included extracting two small slivers of glass from my hand.
Prior to that moment, I had been contemplating in succession the workout posters on the wall in the basement where we exercise, and then the cookbooks on the shelf in the kitchen, and thinking about how we rarely look at either. When I work out I generally do the exercises I’m familiar with, I don’t scan the wall for a new one. When I cook uiuiI usually cook the same things over and over, rarely going to the cookbooks for something new. In the time I could scan the index of a cookbook I could Google a couple of available ingredients and find a dozen four and five star-reviewed recipes. And yet the cookbooks remain ready should I need them.
Routines are powerful things indeed. I’m better for having changed the start to my early morning from grabbing a coffee and scrolling through social media to exercising first, reading second and writing third before I jump into whatever the rest of the world is up thinking about. I credit reading Atomic Habits for shaking me loose from the normal routine. Other books have inspired me along the way, but that book was like a jar of peppadews shattering in my hand, triggering me to change things immediately.
This is my 200th blog post this year, and this is the 189th day of the year. I’m well ahead of last year’s pace when I started this thing. Last year I posted 143 times total. That’s the power of establishing habits for you. I’ve read more, and better books. I’ve worked out more consistently as well. But the writing has been the one I’m most pleased about. I was contemplating what to write about in this 200th post of 2019 – travel, gardening, history or some such thing, but nothing has done more for my writing than changing my daily habits. Some of it is pretty good, some of it isn’t so good, but I’m not aiming for perfection. Instead I’m establishing the habit and the commitment to shipping every day, as Seth Godin would say.
Follow some friends of mine at fayaway.com to see how they’re doing their own version of shattering the peppadews to sail around the world. Other friends have completely transformed their lives by focusing on hiking the mountains of New Hampshire. We rarely see them anymore but they’ve never been healthier or happier than they are now. I watched a niece similarly transform herself through hiking and other lifestyle changes. Another good friend from Maine left an abusive marriage and moved to the mid-Atlantic region, where she just announced her engagement to a much better person. All shattering their own peppadew jars. Anything is possible if you just shake yourself free of the shackles of routine.
“Don’t think, try.” – John Hunter
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
What Aristotle left unsaid is that mediocrity is also a habit. Change – getting out of your comfort zone, can be good indeed. James Clear talks about casting votes for your identity. If you identify yourself as an athlete you’re more likely to get up and work out. If you’re identify yourself as a disciplined eater you’re not even going to see that bowl of M & M’s your wife leaves right next to the door. Carrying the metaphor further, shattering the peppadew jar is deciding what your identity is going to be and casting that first vote. Who you’ll be, and who you won’t be on a larger scale.
Back in my early twenties I used to call rowing an attractive rut, because it’s easy I could see the benefits of doing it in my overall health and fitness level, but I could also see the opportunities I was missing out on to do it. Travel, taking specific college courses because they conflicted with rowing, going out with non-rowing friends to an event because it would impact my performance. When you believe the overall benefits outweighs the costs it’s inconsequential that you’re missing out on things. About when I started identifying rowing as an attractive rut I was changing the equation in my own mind. I still row, but I don’t have illusions of winning the Head-of-the-Charles anymore.
Achieving anything requires a healthy measure of sacrifice. Establishing one routine at the expense of another. You can remain average at a bunch of things and get along perfectly well in this world, or you can do the work that makes you exceptional at a specific thing and below average at other things. Attractive ruts are found in routine. But life is all too short, and before you know it another decade has flown by.
“A rut is a grave with the ends knocked out.” – Laurence J. Peter
So perhaps it’s best to shatter a few more peppadew jars. Sometimes an abrupt reminder to shake up the routine is the best thing that can happen.