Felipe Menguiano’s return to routine gives him “a little bit of anxiety.” This 35-year-old language teacher has spent the last few weeks at his home in Huelva, being happy. His routine was anarchic and disjointed, always ready to break. He didn’t have an alarm clock, so he got up whenever he wanted. Sometimes he went to the beach, other times he stayed home lazing around. He improvised meals with friends in bars and beach bars. “If you cover, little fish fried, crashed…” But that’s over.
Menguiano is back in Madrid, where he works. He answers EL PAIS via WhatsApp audios from the gym, to which he has returned after a while. The alarm clock has already been set for the first day of work, at 7:30. He will eat something in the school canteen: few carbohydrates, no fried foods. He will do sports three days a week; he will go out with friends on Fridays; shopping, on Saturdays; on Sunday to the movies or an exhibition… “Depending on my work schedule, I try to fit the rest of the activities into the few free hours I have left,” he summarizes. This prospect gives him some anxiety, but it is not serious. It happens every year when he returns to work and after a few weeks it goes away. Then he stops asking himself: “why can’t my life be more like it is on vacation?”
We live so immersed in routine that we are barely aware of its existence: we are too busy fulfilling it to notice it. But once a year, around this time, the enchantment is broken. We step away from our life for a month (or a week) and when we return to it, we begin to sense the rigid limits that oppress it. We went from absolute hedonism to the madness of capitalist productivity. From closing the day with a sunset and a mojito, to doing it with overtime, subway, gym and preparing the tupperware in the morning. Even the extra pay and the very word “summer” (which has no equivalent in other languages) underline the idea that we have limited leisure, relegating it to a specific time of year. Breaking the routine, once we return to it, seems like a chimera.
“It’s not so much about breaking it as much as including elements in it that make us feel good and improving it little by little,” explains Maria Palau, a psychologist specializing in emotional management. The routine itself is not the problem, but what we include in it. “If we had the money and time to always be on vacation, we would still create a routine, it would just be different,” she says. Take a walk on the beach, go to the gym, spareading, shopping, going out to dinner… The acts listed may sound exceptional, but if they are repeated daily, they will make up an enviable routine.
66 days of routine
Repeating habits is good for your health. A study from the University of Houston (USA) concluded that “people who are in good health adopt very routine behaviors.” Thus, those who maintain their ideal weight “tend to always eat the same thing, exercise constantly and do not skip any meals.” This study set the average time necessary to establish a new routine at 66 days. So, according to science, in a couple of months the majority of workers will once again be immersed in day-to-day schedules and will have forgotten the anarchic tranquility of vacations.
“If we had the money and time to always be on vacation, we would still create a routine, it would just be different”
Maria Palau, psychologist
This would also have positive effects on a psychological level. In adults, the lack of routines for a long time has a high mental cost. For this reason, retirees and the unemployed have less risk of suffering from anxiety, stress or depression if they set guidelines and obligations. “Routines give us stability and reduce stress and anxiety,” says Palau. By establishing a routine, our brain knows what to expect, which means less uncertainty. “Being able to predict what comes next gives us a feeling of control,” adds the expert. “And it allows us to be productive and carry out tasks that are not so pleasant for us.” This relationship between routine and productivity, although it has positive effects, can lead to normalizing perverse behaviors.
in his book Extreme productivity: increase your results, reduce your hours, MIT professor Bob Pozen explains: “I don’t really care what I eat for breakfast and I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking, ‘pancakes or omelette?’ So I drink the same thing every morning. If things are not important, you can standardize them, make them a routine. That is a good strategy to be more productive.” It’s the same idea behind Steve Jobs’ repetitive outfit. “It’s a uniform. “I decided that I had a lot of decisions to make every day, so I wanted to simplify my life,” the former Apple CEO explained in his biography. This mentality, so typical of Silicon Valley, understands people as machines and talks about automating processes without taking into account that we are not talking about an assembly line, but about life. Turning small pleasures into routine, automatic, mechanical acts is something that many advise in pursuit of productivity.
Productive, not fun
This is where the routines of super early risers come from, those that books like The five o’clock club have become popular throughout the world. They export the idea of capitalist productivity to leisure, fixated on the chimera of self-realization. In the end it is not so much about finding time for yourself, but about getting up at dawn to do the things that your job and the time you invest in getting there do not allow you to do. This obsession with productivity has also reached the world of sports and personal care. Physical activity has been stripped of play and reduced to exercise charts (routines, according to sports jargon) to achieve better results, more normative bodies. Thus, gyms become efficient and aseptic places where there is no room for fun or team play. Athletes bend their knees, flex their arms and jump repetitively and vigorously, while listening to music or watching a series on their cell phone.
In his essay False Mirror, Journalist Jia Tolentino dedicates a couple of pages to talking about the sociology of the salad container, the one sold in many fast food chains in office areas. It is the perfect summary of the work routine: a quick, healthy and tasteless dish that can be eaten with one hand while you have your eyes fixed on the computer screen. The antithesis of the sardine skewer, or the little fish fried food that Menguiano ate on his vacation. “The consumer of prepared salads is an example of pure efficiency,” writes the author. “He has to eat a $12 salad in ten minutes because he needs the extra time to remain active in a job that allows him, in the first place, to routinely pay for a $12 salad.” It’s the salad that bites its tail.
But is there a middle ground between these two extremes? Between the total absence of routines and living subject to the tyranny of efficient living? Something like a little fish with mixed salad? Years ago, based on this idea, the neologism was coined work as a way to merge vacations and work, a promise of a better life.
“It combines the worst of both worlds,” sociologist Tracy Bowers, author of the book, bluntly summarizes by email. Bring work to life bringing work to life. “If you try to work during the holidays, you won’t be able to spend time with family or friends and you won’t disconnect. And your work can suffer too,” she points out. Furthermore, in these cases, it is always work that ends up colonizing leisure time and not the other way around, so the expert opts for a total separation. “Sometimes it can be better to take a vacation and get away completely, and when you are at work, dedicate your time and attention there,” she summarizes.
Bowers also advocates the benefits of a routine life. “People may think that it limits, but in reality it can enhance your virtues. When you do the same thing many times in the same way, you gain efficiency and productivity,” she reflects. But you don’t always want to be efficient and productive. Sometimes you just want to be happy, live in peace. Therefore, routines mutate depending on the context. They can be poison and antidote, problem and solution. They condemn love relationships, but brilliant careers are built on them. Routines structure our lives, but they also restrict it. A routine life is boring, so predictable that it seems to go on rails. Disconnecting from it can be beneficial, derailing usually ends in an accident. Although accidents are usually the most notable events in a life, those on which biographies pivot.
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Source: EL PAIS