Breaking the Routine

wbBreaking the Routine

By Dave Hood

Life is filled with routine.

I live in Toronto, a cosmopolitan city of a few million people. It is the most multicultural city in the world. People come from all over the world to live here. The crowds of people often make you feel like your suffocating. The skyscrapers can be intimidating, like standing next to a very tall person. The city is filled with concrete—sidewalks, buildings, bridges, office towers, condominiums, homes, creating a very impersonal mood, as though you’re attending a party in which you don’t know anyone. Unless there’s a holiday, the traffic moves bumper to bumper, all over the city. In the summer, the smog makes it difficult to breath. Walking along a city street is often distracting—you hear the noise of the honking horns of automobiles, the noise of the trucks rambling past, the noise of the loud engine of a public transit bus waiting for a crowd at a stop. And people are always in a rush and short of patience. Living in Toronto can be a stressful place. Stress is part of the routine of living in the city.

Yet, Toronto offers many amenities: you can buy a ticket to see the Blue Jays play baseball, the Maple Leafs play hockey, or the Raptors play basket ball. You can go see a theatre production, a rock concert, or the most recent movie release from Hollywood. If you want to shop, you can visit one of a myriad of shopping malls, where you can purchase anything from books, to iPads, to designer clothes. If you’re interested in tasting different cuisine, you can find a restaurant that offers the food you enjoy, such Indian, Chinese, Greek, Italian dinner. Despite these distractions, different types of people, and amenities, life in the big city of Toronto is filled with routine.

I’ve lived in Toronto for almost 40 years. Like most people, I perform many of the same routines each day in the big city of Toronto.  I wake up to the same alarm ringing in my ear, take the same shower, sip the same cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, read the same newspaper, drive the same roads to work, complete the same tasks on the job, eat the same lunch, cook the same dinner, watch the same television, drift off to sleep in the same bed. The next morning, I’ll repeat the routine.

When is life Not Routine?
Many of us seek more conventional methods of preventing routine from seeping into our lives. We search for things to entertain us. For instance, we escape routine by seeing a comedy film at the cinema, by reading an enthralling novel, by playing a weekend golf game, by enrolling in a digital photography course, by writing poetry and short stories, by joining the co-ed baseball league, by buying tickets to see a U2 concert, by traveling to the cottage to spend the weekend fishing, by taking a hike in the woods, by peddling our mountain bikes along a quiet trail, by planning a party, watching porno on the Internet.

The routine of life is often interrupted unexpectedly by a mishap of injury, a calamity of an automobile accident, which jolts us out of our autopilot mindset. Routine is interrupted by misfortune by a job loss, which forces us to change your routine. Routine is broken by sickness or illness, which forces many people to focus on getting well. It often invokes personal reflection—many people begin to appreciate the blessings in their lives—which are often associated with routines. The unexpected death of a loved one creates a sense of loss and grief, breaking the routine of daily life.

Some people seek to end routine with extreme behavior or drastic methods. The thrill seeker jumps out of a plane with a parachute. The sexually adventuresome has sex with a prostitute or visits a swinger’s club. The addictive personality smokes dope to get high or drinks too many beers to get a buzz. The fitness fanatic trains for a marathon. Other people walk out on their stale marriages, quit dull jobs, sell the homes they’ve lived in for 25 years to purchase their dream homes. The spiritual seeker becomes a “Born Again Christian”, or Buddhist, or decides there is no God and takes up the cause of humanism or environmentalism.

Routine is often punctuated by the extraordinary. You learn about the sudden death of a celebrity, like Whitney, Elvis Presley, or John Lennon. You watch the news of natural disaster, like the hurricane, tornado, tsunami, in some foreign part of the world. You show interest in an extraordinary event, such as the Olympics, World Cup of Soccer, World Series, Stanley Cup Playoffs, or Super Bowl. You read about the bizarre crime, like Bernie Madoff stealing everyone’s money, or the teenage woman who beats her baby to death. The shocking news distracts you for a short time, provides you with conversation to share with your friends, and then you return to the routine of your life.

Routine can create boredom. That is when it’s time to break the routine. By breaking routine, you can make your life more interesting and pleasurable.

How to Break Life’s Routines
A career often breaks the routines of life, proving their is work-life balance. Many people attempt to distract themselves from the routine of life by embracing “the career” until it becomes an obession. They sacrifice their health, their kids, their marriages for power, prestige, and money. The goal in life is to become “successful” at any cost.  And in a moment’s notice, like the wind blowing past, they lose their balance because the wife leaves, or the doctor diagnoses them with a life-threatening disease, or they are downsized from the “corporate gig”.  When this happens, they are left with nothing–because all they had is gone.

Life is more than work–dedicating one’s life to “the corporation” and trappings of the career, such as a big paycheque, Mercedes, and palatial estate. Moreover, often people who dedicate themselves to the career become dull like grey, fading paint, because they have nothing to talk about, or share with others–other than what the person did at work during the day. Or perhaps they’d like to do something enjoyable–but they’re  too tired or “stressed out” because of the demands of their career.There is nothing wrong with a career, so long there’s a work-life balance.  Each of us must make time for health, fitness, family, love, friendship, worthy leisure pursuits, and spirituality. If there is not a balance–work becomes a grind—and the grind becomes part of the routine of life, like an obsession that won’t go away.

Traveling is a marvelous way to break routine. Two years ago, I took a road trip with a good friend to the East Coast, visiting Old Quebec City, Peggy’s Cove, the Pier 21 in Halifax, and my father in Newfoundland. Since I’d never been to the east coast, the trip was memorable. In February, I took a winter vacation with my best friend, flying to Fort Myers to stroll along the sandy beach, swim in the pool, soak up the sunshine, embrace the heat. It was like visiting a health spa. Later this year, I’m planning to take a trip to New York, where I’ll see the Museum of Modern Art, the 9/11 memorial, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and much more. I also dream about seeing the Wonders of the World, including the Pyramids in Egypt and  the Great Wall fo China.

You can break routine by learning. I’ve discovered that learning is a good way to break routine. I’m a lifelong learner, always learning something. It adds spice to life. Presently, I’m learning everything I can about digital photography. I’ve purchased a digital SLR, several types of lens, and I’m taking courses at Ryerson University. In the past two years, I’ve become an excellent photographer, reading books, taking courses. I’ve also created a photography blog, where I post many of my favorite photos at . Taking photographs has allowed me to create the extraordinary from the ordinary.

You can break routine by embracing creativity. Many people paint or draw, play a musical instrument, take photographs in their leisure time. These experiences create a mental state of flow, which results in pleasure. Pleasure elevates well-being. Doing something creative provides a person with a sense of accomplishment, and adds meaning and purpose to their lives.

You can break routine by writing. Creative writing is one of the ways I’ve learned to break the routine of life and embrace my creative spirit. About four years ago, I decided to immerse myself in creative writing–with the goal of writing personal essays, short fiction, and poetry. I have blogged about creative writing at “Follow Your Creative Muse.” for more than two years. To date, more than 117,000 people have visited my how-to creative writing blog—  . People from all over the world have read many of my posts and asked for advice on creative writing. After blogging about creative writing for two years, I decided to create this blog in April 2011, “Writing Creative Nonfiction”,  to share my creative writing. The writing experience and learning have been rewarding. My dream is to publish–blogging is part of the journey.

Reading is another easy way to break routine. Over the years, I’ve read many books and magazines during the cold, dark days of winter. Reading always  generates a sense of pleasure, teaches me something new, can evoke laughter, provides a sense of purpose, and makes me feel happier. I enjoy reading poetry, fiction, personal essays. My favorite magazine is The New Yorker, which is published each week. There’s always something fascinating to read.

You can break routine by meeting new people and developing new friends. I’ve learned that good friendships enrich our lives. A good friendship provides the opportunity to do things with others, instead of doing them by yourself. Friendship enables us to share laughter and interesting conversation. Friendship provides social support in time of need. It adds a new dimension to our lives. I’m always seeking to develop new friendships—but it’s difficult. Many people are married with children, have regular routines, and busy lives.

On occasion, I’ll socialize with the same people I see at the local bar, or meet for lunch or dinner with friends I’ve known for many years. A few times a year, I’ll take in a family birthday, celebrate a holiday, like Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter. But socializing can become a routine, especially if you run out of things to talk about. Perhaps you have things to talk about, but the other party doesn’t want to talk about them. Perhaps, you’d like to laugh, but your friend has run out of laughter, or is unable to laugh. And so the friendship becomes a grind, like work you don’t enjoy. That is when it’s time to seek out new friendships in different places.

You can break routine by doing something new on a regular basis. Eat a meal at a new restaurant. Watch the hockey game at a new pub or sport bar. Buy tickets to see a rock concert. Visit the art gallery. See a new film. Read some different magazine. Study some new topic. Take an art course. Learn to play the piano. Read poetry, fiction, personal essays by authors you wouldn’t normally read. Take a drive to some new place. Ride your bike in a new are of the city. The important thing to remember is to do something different, beyond your comfort zone and familiar lifestyle.

You can break routine with music. Music can turn a dull bar into a party of dancers. Music can turn a dull drive to work into a pleasurable experience. Music can help you cope with a dull job. When I was a teenage, I discovered the joys of music. My first purchase was Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Over the years, music has remained important. For many years, I listened to classic rock, but after hearing the songs over and over, I broke the routine by learning about the great composers and listening to classical. I’ll never grow bored of listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or the music of Philip Glass. In recent years, I embraced jazz, such as the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Now I have a CD collection of rock, pop, classical, and jazz. Whenever I’m bored, I’ll play a musical CD. The delightful sound will elevate my mood, evoke contemplation, generate a sense of awe, or make me want to stand up and dance.

You can break routine by making fitness part of your life. I have learned that working out is another way to break routine. For many years, I was a distance runner, some who’d run every day. Running gave me a natural high. Now that I’m older, I have learned to break up a day of routine with exercise, such as yoga, weightlifting, bike riding, power walking. After a workout, I feel relaxed and refreshed. My mood is also elevated. My day is renewed.

Final Thoughts
But even many of these new activities and friendships will become routine after being done over and over. Some of these pursuits will become rituals that give sustenance. Other pursuits will become habits, perhaps like the bad habit of smoking cigarettes or a stale marriage. Life will once again become ordinary as a dreary, grey day in winter. That is why we must continue to do new things, meet new people, find ways to challenge ourselves on a regular basis. Otherwise, life can become predictable and routine like a rerun of a sitcom on television. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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