Routines and schedules are intended to give structure. Like maps, they provide a plan for reaching a goal. Routines work best when they serve as containers for our energy and one-minute awareness. But sometimes they become useless, outmoded, and inappropriate for what is really happening in the moment. Has a routine ever become so much a part of you that you accepted it without further question?
Jeremy, a fellow in his forties who worked for a city fire department, suffered from an inflexible routine. In our first meeting, he described the weekly inspections and the standard of cleanliness the firehouse enforced with almost military strictness. Jeremy also described how each day after returning home from work, instead of greeting his family, he headed straight for the kitchen to do an inspection. If there were any dishes in the sink, he immediately started washing them—and fuming at the same time. As you might imagine, this didn’t sit well with his wife and children, and before long there was a revolt. To his credit, Jeremy worked hard to let go of fixed inappropriate routines. Approaching his time at home in one-minute increments, he learned to be more flexible.
What are some of your fixed behaviors and routines at home? For example, consider where you eat your meals and what you do during mealtime or the order in which you shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, and eat breakfast. What are your priorities on weekends? What would it be like for you to re-arrange some of your routines? (Of course, I’m not suggesting you dress first and shower afterward!) Give some thought to the consequences of one or more of your routines. If, for example, you spend hours watching sports on TV, you may be missing out on meaningful opportunities with others. Drinking regularly can also be a mindless routine that saps the energy out of relationships and numbs us to the next sixty seconds of our lives.
It takes courage to change routines, even minor ones, but more fully living each moment is what’s at stake. Even if a routine is useful, that doesn’t mean it has to be mind-numbing. Enter each routine today with the intention and freedom to experience it directly, consciously—without falling into habit or letting your mind travel elsewhere while your body moves automatically. For example, do you know what color socks you are wearing at this moment? What color are the buttons on your blouse or shirt? Is there anything unique about the stitching or fabric?
Lots of unexpected—and sometimes unfortunate— things can happen when we get robotic. I have a good friend who told me that he got dressed one morning, made his coffee, got into his car, and headed to work. He had traveled several miles when he noticed his legs were cold. He glanced down and discovered that he had forgotten to put on his pants! Now there was a wake-up call to be more present—fortunately, not a disastrous one.
If we’re not careful, routines can rob us of the experience of the next minute. Be watchful and enter your routines with moment-to-moment awareness. When we vary any routine, we refresh our experience.
Excerpted from the book One-Minute Mindfulness ©2011 by Donald Altman. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. newworldlibrary.com
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is the author of One-Minute Mindfulness, The Mindfulness Code, and Meal-by-Meal. Known as America’s Mindfulness Coach, he is a practicing psychotherapist who conducts mindful living and mindful eating workshops and retreats through colleges, community centers, and health care organizations. Visit him online at OneMinuteMindfulnessBook.com