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The Next and Most Necessary Thing

“Routine will take you further than willpower.”@ShaneAParrish

The “next and most necessary thing” is all that any of us can ever aspire to do in any moment. And we must do it despite not having any objective way to be sure what the right course of action even is. — Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

I ran into an old friend a while back, someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. We passed the usual compliments to each other about surviving to this point relatively intact, exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways. We might never see each other again, or maybe we’ll be best friends someday. The only certainty is the next step.

All we ever have is now and the next most necessary thing. We fall into the groove of routines, and it’s hard sometimes to slip out of that groove and introduce new things. It’s our attractive rut, carrying us to the grave or to salvation, whichever comes first. We remind ourselves over and over again that we are what we repeatedly do. The hidden message in Aristotle’s statement is that sometimes we have to break free of habits and find a new groove. And once in a blue moon we find the right groove and ought to stick with it.

There are days when it all feels right, and days when nothing does. Routine saves the day more often than not, if we choose wisely. We tell ourselves to move more, eat better, read and write and floss. Each is a habit, a ritual, embedded into the groove of routine. If some part of that routine feels unfulfilling, who says we can’t find a new one? We have the agency to make the most necessary next move.

Whatever will be will be, surely it will, but we may alter the course a degree or two in our favor. The two or three things that make the most positive difference in our lives ought to be part of our ritual. The things that slide us sideways off the track ought to be replaced with better routines. The question we might ask ourselves in our next chance encounter, with an old friend or perhaps the mirror, is whether time has treated us well or not. We can influence the answer with our routine established now and next. Given that, it doesn’t seem so routine at all.

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