A Creature of Habit: Part 2

Habit Rabbit
c/o Alice in Wonderland

What do you think of someone who has been in the same job for twenty years? Someone who washes their car twice a week? Someone who drinks 8 cups of coffee a day? Someone who swims laps at the pool every morning at 6? Someone whose child is 2 and has never had a babysitter for an evening ?

If your friend has led a sedate life and he suddenly buys a Harley Davidson and hits the road every weekend, you think he’s having a melt-down. If your best friend loses 20 pounds and obsesses over what she eats, you might sulkily think you liked her better before!

Habits and routines can be limiting. If you and your friend used to go out for drinks and desserts once a month, but she no longer leaves room for this in her eating plan, you’ll feel betrayed. Her offer of going out for a run together won’t cut it. She’s broken your routine. You are left mourning the loss. Soon you have a new cheesecake buddy and your best friend is not talking to you any more! Likewise, if you turn down weekday evenings out so you can stay home and watch re-runs of Stargate Atlantis, your social life is going to be limited.

Can you name these folks?

My personal pet peeve is “optimizers.” My mom is a good example. She is retired and has volunteer commitments twice a week, but is otherwise unencumbered by a schedule. However, whenever she has to make an appointment, or she has the opportunity to meet up with a friend, she needs the entire day free! If she has one of her volunteer gigs in the morning, she will not plan anything that afternoon. If she has a doctor’s appointment at 2:30 pm, she will decline a lunch invitation because she already has plans that day. She will not travel anywhere between 7 and 9 am, or 3 and 6 pm, because she might get stuck in rush hour. Therefore, to make plans with her, you need to catch her on a day when she is completely free between 9 and 3. If it is grocery day or haircut day, forget it. The conditions have to be optimum for her to go out!

You might think that my mom is in ill health or that she gets flustered when she has to rush around, but neither is true. I think her secret reason is that she has so many days with no plans, that she wants to spread out her appointments and social meet-ups, so that she has something to look forward to on multiple days!

Now my sister is the opposite. She will pack in 6 activities back-to-back. On a typical day, she might drop her son off at school, go geocaching from 9-12, go out for lunch, give a friend a drive to work, make a Costco run, pick up her son from school, take him to Scouts, grab a bite to eat, and then both of them will spend the evening at a family friend’s house, maybe even staying overnight if their visit runs late. (That is 9 activities back-to-back!)

As you can imagine, I try to strike a balance. My schedule is based around my job which is mostly 9-to-5, but I do work some evenings and weekends, so I don’t get too complacent. In a typical month, I will work four evenings, go out 2 or 3 nights to concerts or shows or out for a meal, and attend a couple of volunteering meetings. Occasionally there will be a family birthday or a work function.

What’s more notable are the routines I don’t have: since I no longer have kids at home, there is no homework routine, no chauffeuring routine, and no nagging routine. No school concerts or parent-teacher meetings or permission slips to send in with money. I miss it: those things took up eons of time, and left a gaping hole! On the plus side, my evenings are truly my own, so I now cook leisurely meals, blog, and read books for hours at a time.

My weekends are free and clear too. I can get errands done on my mornings off, so on Saturdays, Rom and I go out to cafes and comic shops, we research upcoming shows and future vacations, and we do small house and yard projects. We also pursue our nerdy hobbies, like Rom researching the history of electric guitars, and me updating my list of every concert I ever attended – yes, I know who opened for Def Leppard in 1989!

All in all, my home life is relaxing compared to most – all the drama takes place at work! I have habits and routines to a point. My time is probably different from most people’s not because of what I do, but what I don’t do. I am quite good at avoiding unwanted commitments!

My mornings, on the other hand, are trainspotterly in their adherence to routine! Rise at 5:20, feed cats, work out from 5:30 to 6:30, put last night’s dishes away, get work lunch ready, shower and dress and have breakfast from 6:30 to 7:30, drink coffee and mess around on the Internet until 8, and leave for work! So I save my regimentation for the early mornings. The rest of the time, I can chill.

How do you separate habits, routines, and just plain stodginess?

I think it’s a function of age.  Most “mature” adults thrive on routines while teenagers hate them. Put the two into the same household and Kerpow! You, the parent, are now stodgy.

I can see how it happens, though. Parents create routines for their young children to reassure them, and to maximize efficiencies. Schools are driven by schedules and rules. So are skill-building activities, like music lessons and sports. Your teenager sees you tied to your job the same way they are tied to school, and they dread the onset of a 9-to-5 life. They want to graduate from routines, not graduate into them!

Photo credit: mamamia.com.au

When you are 15, you are doing everything for the first time, and it is one thrill after another. When you are 45, you’ve done it all twice before breakfast, and you don’t encounter completely new situations very often. Furthermore, unless you are going through a mid-life crisis, you are OK with that! And there is a definite tendency to think of change as bad: you liked driving your kid to drum lessons on Tuesday nights, and you feel anxious when he wants rehearse in someone’s garage instead, and hang out as late as possible afterwards. You can expect much Rolling of the Eyes when you express any concern. You now represent all the oppressive forces your kid needs to topple. Let the resistance begin!

In a way, habits and routines are Giving In. You’ve been there, done that, and now you don’t need to prove anything. You have rejected all the things you’ve  tried and not liked. You’ve incorporated all the things you’ve tried and liked. There’s a little room left to squeeze in some more. But now you like your tall dark roast with half-and-half at three o’clock, thank you very much! And you enjoy the moment. A thousand times.

I have one coffee a day…
Photo credit: fredflare.com


  1. SarahN

    “you’ve done it all twice before breakfast,” Another loved quote… like ‘on like donkey kong’ – just makes me chuckle. See, as a teenager I went to boarding school, so never a real rebellion against ‘routine’ happened, but I feel like it is now – I mean I hate to always have polo training once a week. But I’m realising I just need ‘vege’ time with nothing to mess it up after some work days. I was the water polo club secretary for two years- when I stepped down (not cause I really wanted to, but everyone kept saying my skin was reacting to ‘stress’), I had a HUGE hole – what to do with work down time/procastination? Weekends?

  2. Use your routines: I have daily routines, weekly routines, monthly routines and yearly routines. You can make them for your car, for your office, for your garden. Do they change? Yes. Do I always follow them? No. But I’ve learned that when I feel stressed it’s probably because I’ve fallen into my old haphazard ways. Within a few days of going back into a routine, the house looks cleaner, I look presentable, and I’ve once again found plenty of time to daydream and dawdle. Ironic, isn’t it?

  3. Freckles

    You have me intrigued …. who opened for Def Leppard in 1989?

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