Saving Us from Madness

Harmonizing our need for change and routine

Jan 30, 2024

Change Reflections Habits Life Happiness
weighing scale photo in a shop

Photo by Piret Ilver

Wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, take a lunch break, finish work, eat dinner, work out, shower, go to sleep. Sprinkle in chores, cleaning, and running errands every other day. We all have our own versions of daily routines. And let’s be honest, they don’t change all that much. There are those rare special-occasion days, or those tragic-news days, or the travel days, but everything in-between is fairly ordinary. And the ordinary makes up most of our lives.

Maybe it’s the gloomy winter season of January I’m currently in that is making the days seem even more repetitive. The shorter daylight that speeds up time, making me wonder why I even bother opening the blinds just to close them a few short hours later. Especially for someone who works from home, the day-to-day variety is slim to none.

Don’t get me wrong—I am grateful for it on most days. Routine reminds me that everything is ok; I am blessed and have what I need. There are so many out there craving exactly this. Alas, the grass is still always greener on the other side. If I were out of routine for too long, I too, would probably start longing for it again.

But when I am greeted by the dreary gray sky yet again upon waking for the third week in a row, soul deep in seasonal affective disorder, and I find myself going through the motions when doing activities, it’s hard to feel grateful. The monotony of life eventually gets the best of us. We yearn to be pulled out of it; we hunger for novelty.

The secret to personal contentment, I have found, lies in harmonizing our need for both change and routine.

Nothing profound, I’m sure. Too much of either tips the scale and creates disharmony, a spiritual friction that leaves us restless and dissatisfied, or overwhelmed and stressed out. The two are both necessary for a rich human experience.

We were never meant to remain in either for very long. An excessive amount of routine creates staleness, and this can easily lead to an environment that prevents us from growing and stretching into our full potential. At our core, I like to think we are creative and curious beings, and living in a state of ennui can become unbearable to our psyche.

On the other extreme, too much constant change and we can become paralyzed, unsure how to adapt. Even if it’s change that is welcome and exciting initially, if it doesn’t eventually settle into something that becomes established and familiar, it can wipe us out.

Routine and change have a symbiotic relationship—they depend on each other.

They are partners in a delicate dance where the music never stops. In a strange and ironic way, they each play a part in saving us from madness, if used proportionally. Of course, there are a myriad other ways we can be driven insane, but having the right amount of each in a healthy form at the right time is a recipe for a pretty fulfilled life.

Novelty allows us to dream, to imagine, to invent and play. As Robert Frost said, in taking the road less traveled, it can make all the difference. And routine allows us to stabilize, to catch our breath, to establish ground rules. It creates the setting wherein we gear up for the next departure from the mundane. If we can learn to gracefully move from one to the other when the need arises, we will be in tune with what our heart and mind require to flourish.

Next time your soul aches from monotony and longs for something new, oblige, if you can.

It doesn’t have to be something grand; small gestures are welcome. Take a different path on your usual walk, order something else from the familiar menu, try a different class at the gym, write in your journal instead of typing on a laptop. Find your own distinct remedy and apply it. Should your soul instead crave a steady groove, offer it that if you can. Lean in to a cycle of regularity that suits your needs.

We are complex creatures, it’s true. So anything that makes the complexity a little more comprehensible is much appreciated if you ask me. Routine and change together can do that for us. They can structure our days and guide our decision-making. They can show us where we can make adjustments to reduce stress or increase joy in our life. Suddenly our daily activities no longer look humdrum in the light of the novelty sprinkled around them. Suddenly we find ourselves watering our own grass more often instead of coveting the one on the other side.