Observation: Routine


A friend of mine–a psychologist–once quoted some research that an indicator of longevity was the regularity that one went grocery shopping. It was less to do with the shopping and more to do with having a routine and ordered schedule.

‘Good morning, sir. Breakfast?’

‘Yes, please,’ I said, but shook my head when the waiter started to give me the menu. Instead I raised my pencil and ticked off the items I wanted in the air, as if I’d eaten that kind of breakfast all my life.

‘A pot of coffee, one with three cups, please. Toast, two slices of rye bread, with butter, marmalade, one boiled egg and paprika cheese.’

‘Paprika cheese?’

‘That’s right, cream cheese with paprika.’

‘Very good, sir.’

Without a sound he glided, the green ghost of a waiter, over the green carpet past green-covered tables to the kitchen counter, and the first ritual of my little performance promptly evolved. The supers were well rehearsed and I was a good director. ‘Paprika cheese?’ the cook inquired from behind the kitchen counter. ‘That’s right,’ the waiter said, ‘cream cheese with paprika.’ ‘Ask the gentleman how much paprika he wants on his cheese.’

When the waiter came back I’d begun to draw the front of the railroad station. I was just sketching in the window frames with firm strokes. He stood there, waiting, until I raised my head, took my pencil off the paper and put on a look of surprise.

‘Permit me to ask, sir, how much paprika do you want on how much cheese?’

‘A thimbleful of paprika, thoroughly worked into forty-five grams of cheese. And listen, waiter, I’ll be eating breakfast here tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after that, in three weeks, three months, three years–you hear? And it will always be at the same time, around nine.’

‘Very good, sir.’

‘That was how I wanted it, and that’s how it worked out. Exactly. Later on many a time it used to scare me, the way my plans worked out so perfectly. Why, it wasn’t more than a couple of days before I was ‘the gentleman with the paprika cheese.’ A week later it was ‘the young artist who always comes to breakfast about nine.’ And after three weeks it was ‘Herr Faehmel, the young architect working on a big assignment.’–Billiards at Half-past Nine, Heinrich Boll [1].

I don’t carry out a routine to increase longevity; it’s more about comfort or more precisely reducing the variables that otherwise increase stress. Stress is manifest both physically and mentally. Physically it is just easier to maintain a schedule that the body can get used to, allowing it to align its various processes. Mentally, it reduces the decisions; one can just flow through the steps to proceed from time A to time B.

At a macro level my routine is quite fixed. I awake at the same time each day; during the week I arrive at the subway at about the same time; I go to the gym and then to work. Even on those days when I don’t have the energy to do a full workout, I go to the gym just to maintain the routine.

As people like to predict things, in an effort to identify and then manage danger, leading a predictable existence is comforting. When things are predictable the ‘danger’ is known or can be avoided.


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