The Daily Routine

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“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”

Jim Rohn

In Jules Verne’s ‘Around the world in eighty days‘, the central character of the book Phileas Fogg would wake up, shave using warm water set at a specific temperature, leave for the Reform club where he would read newspapers, have lunch and play cards with other gentlemen – all at the exact same hour every day.

In fact so fastidious was he in his habits that he wagered that it was possible to go around the world in exactly eighty days. While I’m no Phileas Fogg, I too am a creature of habit and like to follow a set routine which both frees me from fretting about the small stuff and provides me with a sense of security.

Human beings have limited supply of will power at their disposal. So if everyday you have to keep thinking about what time to get up, what to eat for breakfast, what exercises to do, it will simply suck out the energy required to do the other important things in life.

Daily routines have a hugely beneficial effect of providing an order within the chaos of life. If you have an organized morning routine of getting up, attending to important tasks earlier in the day, working out and having a healthy breakfast, it really sets up the rest of the day.

Today there are umpteen self help books touting the benefits of rising at 4am to meditate, exercise, do creative work and everything else under the sun. As with all fads, what is not explained is that not every rule works for everyone. We all are unique individuals with our own personalities, habits and personal situations. So one should follow a routine that is self adjusted and not based on what some billionaire CEO or celebrity is doing.

I like to typically wake up around 7 am and go for my morning walks, I try to walk briskly just short of running and do 4-5 kms. I love listening to audio books on my walks and find it really relaxing. After that I rest for an hour and catch up on newspapers followed by a 30 minute yoga session. I have been experimenting with a 10 minute meditation in the mornings but that’s yet to become a daily habit.

I find that keeping things simple is one of the easier ways to make it permanent. If I try to do too many things or try random things on different days it never works. For me its consistency that is the most important. So I stick to doing the same sequence of things for months on end till it falls into a lasting habit.

Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert says that he believes in Systems vs Goals and even goes on to say that goals are for loosers. He defines ‘system’ as something that you do on a repeatable day to day basis, something which is discrete and measurable. So daily routines very much fall into the systems category.

Eventually, while we can all talk about the 5 year goal far out into the future, it’s what we do today is what really matters. It’s like those small incremental investments that compounds over a period of time.

I had a fanciful goal of writing a blog every day and needless to say it failed spectacularly. I have readjusted my goal now to write 2 blogs a week and do it for the next couple of months. If I can achieve that then I can think about the next goal.

These are some of my learnings in recent months in sticking with a daily routine:

  • Do not crowd your mornings with too many activities, pick up 2-3 things at a time and stick with it.
  • As they say its not about daily progress but progress every day. As long as a general discipline is followed, there should be some leeway built in, you don’t have to go maniacal.
  • Its easy to start something but incredibly difficult to be consistent. Be realistic, set small achievable goals and when you start exceeding them regularly then raise the bar slightly.
  • Do not fall for fads (the 5 am club, keto diets, bullet coffee and their ilk). Build your own rules and stick to them. Its extremely liberating to live by your own set of rules when you can.
  • Be ready to experiment and adjust. One doesn’t have to keep doing something which is clearly not working in the name of routine.
  • Keep things simple so that you are not reaching out for a planner where every next minute is planned.
  • Lastly, build off days into your schedule where you don’t have to follow a routine, take that sat or sun off and do what you like. Afterall we are humans not machines.

As they say we become what we repeatedly do. Keep going!

Life in the forties

“All three are hip-deep in midlife, when the eyes go and the waistline spreads and the city on the hill that shone so brightly in youth turns out to be more like a semi-incorporated town in the middle of a garbage strike. An age when a person can feel not so much himself as an inexplicably inferior version of himself.”

I sometimes get startled that I’m firmly in my mid forties now, a fact that is both humbling and mind numbing at the same time. I’m no longer young and I am not exactly a senior yet which puts me in the middle of nowhere zone.

My student years in the nineties seem so far away already and the green horn years of the new millennium have also started to recede into my personal history. There was a time when the nineties were considered the new age – people from my generation can relate to phrases like “star of the nineties” or the “beckoning of the 21st century”. Well, all that already has a layer of the sands of time over it.

Forties are infamous for the proverbial “midlife crisis” – a sobering decline into reality from the heady optimism of youth. On the positive side, I find that I can understand and weigh things a lot better – probably my thinking tempered by real life experiences. And yet, I’m fully aware that the older you grow, the more things you have to leave behind, its a circle of life.

I’ve been chained to a cubicle for over 20 years now. Well, its no longer even a cubicle.That has been replaced by what is commonly referred to as open plan seating. The MBAs have created a fancy term for this called “high performance workspaces” – something which fosters teamwork and collaboration. This deserves a post in itself so I would limit my rants on it for the time being.

Like many people of my generation in India, I was part of the herd – having to chose between Engineering and Medical. Anything outside of these was considered risky and frivolous. I always loved the sciences but also enjoyed the languages and particularly history.

Anyhow I underwent the raging fires of competitive examinations in India and got a bachelors in Electrical Engineering. This was followed by the typical foray into the burgeoning IT industry where the jobs were. Today there’s a lot of emphasis on loving what you do or choosing a career where you have “passion’.

I always looked at my job as something that gave me enough resources to enjoy the good things in life and I’m grateful for that. Though I don’t really spend my free time thinking about work or all the related political circus one has to perform to survive. I spend most of my time outside work reading and writing.

At this stage of my life, the responsibilities are also at their peak. Like everyone else we are resigned to the mortgage, children’s education and other myriad responsibilities. No one told us of all these things when we were young and thought adults were the ones bossing around kids and having the most fun!

Years ago I watched a movie “About Schmidt” where Jack Nicholson plays the protagonist. He’s old and about to retire having spent most of his working life in an insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. Its a favorite of mine with several heartbreaking scenes blended with dark humor.

Incidentally, I too spent a couple of years in Omaha but that is besides the point. There was one quote in the movie which went – “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference, but what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?”

It seems scary that I was supposed to feel like this nearing my retirement but I’m already having these thoughts in my forties!. The desire to break the mould and do something I love like writing is strong and hence this blog as a minuscule attempt towards breaking the general monotony of daily life.

I know these feelings are universal and unrelated to where you live or what you do though responses and solutions out of this rut of midlife can be different and creative. Obviously there are no quick fixes as anything worthwhile needs hard work and time to grow. It’s foolhardy and suicidal to just start afresh without any planning or direction.

I would love to hear thoughts from anyone reading this on how to make life more meaningful and worth living while trying to balance everything else life has thrown at you by this age.

 

 

 

Quiet

“Introverts like being introverts. We are drawn to ideas, we are passionate observers, and for us, solitude is rich and generative”   

Some years ago I came across Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”. It talked about introversion in a very encouraging and insightful manner. Mostly introversion is looked down upon in the society. Right from childhood we are conditioned to believe that one needs to be outgoing and sociable to succeed in the world.

The way introverts were portrayed in schools, workplaces and even at home seemed like a character assassination to me. As a child I was reserved and loved books though I never had trouble making friends. I hated social occasions and crowds. As I grew up I discovered that I was very comfortable in small groups and could make good conversation with strangers.

But I knew I wasn’t someone who was the life of a party or who always wanted people around. On the contrary, I liked calm, meaningful discussions. So I knew I leaned more towards introversion on the social scale. It’s both impossible and futile to put labels around people to describe their unique and complex reactions to the world around them.

Introversion is often confused with shyness. I have no problems in starting a conversation around a table of strangers but I might not be the one to take the initiative always. I detest mundane small talk but can talk for hours on something that interests me. All of which are labelled as classic introvert traits.

In my mid forties I have started to understand myself a lot better. I have found that despite the social pressures to conform, being authentic to yourself is something I find most genuine and easy. I no longer go out of my way to be someone I’m not. Instead I find that I’m more at peace taking that solitary walk or reading a book.

In the corporate world, introverts suffer often. They are discouraged with banal comments like “low energy” , aloof or even arrogant at times. This despite the fact that they are excelling at their jobs and have the respect of their peers. I have never understood the compulsion to make everyone a “high energy” ,loud cheerleader.

Modern offices with their open area seating plans are a disaster for introverts. It feels like being in the middle of an endless din throughout the day. I like to take few walking breaks to keep myself sane. These workplaces touted for maximizing productivity often achieve quite the opposite result.

As unique beings all of us have certain quirks, idiosyncrasies and behaviors rooted in genetic and environmental causes. It’s impossible to club these myriad behaviors in a person and call them an introvert or an extrovert. But then that’s the way the world sees us.

I believe respect for individuality should be paramount. Live and let live.