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Routines: Yes or No?

We had been living all summer without a bridge on Harts Run Road, one of the main ways to get back to our house. The township posted a detour during the bridge replacement which took people so far out of their way that intrepid drivers had to find a quicker route. They did, and therefore, traffic on Clearview Road, a road we consider part of our neighborhood, grew and grew.


Clearview Road, used by the self-styled detourists is narrow, hilly, curvy, and has at last two deer trails which cross it. And did I mention narrow? Since the bridge was closed, we have seen all manner of vehicles on this road, most of which don’t safely belong on a road that is in such poor shape.


Of course, you would always see the occasional truck or truck/trailer combo on Clearview because they needed to reach the homes on the hill. But they were a rarity. Lately they had become commonplace. So not only did we have to deal with more traffic than normal on this road, I had to come up with an alternative way to get home. Argh.


As they moved the “road closed” signs away this week and I drove over the new bridge on Harts Run for the first time, I couldn’t help but think about routines and how we react to changes to those routines.


As Baby Boomers, I think we have learned to deal with a lot of life’s hassles -- and there are so many -- by developing routines to handle them. I am particularly aware of how often I do this. Before going to the store, I have a parking section in mind that I will head for every time. I hold my purse open after handing a clerk my charge card so that I don’t forget to get it back. I physically place things on TOP of my purse so I don’t forget them when I go out. If we decide to go to the beach, I know exactly what to take, how to pack it so it all fits and where to put each bag in the trunk. At the holidays, it’s not that hard to remember where I placed things the year before, since I have been doing it for so many years.


As we get a little more tired and a little less patient, it is good to have routines which can reduce the stress in our lives. But what worries me is that often these routines rob the joys of spontaneity from us, too. Routines take the creative thought out of a lot of our activities. We go on auto-pilot and get them done, but we may be sacrificing some of the fun.


So here’s permission to shake things up. Travel to someplace you have never been before so that everything is new -- and therefore, more interesting. Take a different route home from work tonight. Visit a new-to-you grocery or mall store and take your time to look around. Have coffee with someone you haven’t seen in a long while, instead of your best friend.


Maybe the real goal to happiness is to mix the two. Save the routines for when there is no time or energy for anything else, and enjoy the spontaneous activities when you are free to do so. A little of this and a little of that makes for happier Boomers.


By Teresa K. Flatley


Here are some comments from Boom This! faithful readers about this column:


Bob Morris wrote:

Today, after reading your story about routines, and the route to your house, I was remembering this.

We used to live in Jefferson, PA, the next borough over from Pleasant Hills, where I grew up. One day I was on an errand that took me to the Southland shopping center, where I had spent a lot of time in my high school days. As I got into my car to head back home, I tuned in the radio, and got quite engrossed -- I mean really engrossed -- in the program that was on. I can't remember now for sure what it was, probably a sports talk program. So I started driving, and with this program consuming all of my attention, I was sort of stopping and starting, and making the various turns on the way home, pretty much unconsciously, until reaching my destination. I put the car in park in the driveway, turned off the ignition and opened the door. When I looked up at the house, I was surprised to see it wasn't mine. By unconscious routine, I had followed my route from the shopping center to the home where I lived as a kid, just like I did a zillion times 20 years before.

Boy, that was weird. Fortunately, Mom and Dad still lived there.

Dan Smith wrote:

My wife Kelly and I started a calendar approximately two years ago, for precisely this purpose. We had realized, as you wrote, that if you don't make a conscious effort, one finds him/herself living a life of repetition and predictability.


Our challenge was to do two things per week, regardless of how simple or complex, that we had never done prior as a couple.  This could be anything from trying a new parish for church or a new restaurant to bungee jumping or day-tripping to a city that we had never been to. Yesterday, we went to the county airport to enjoy a private flight in a four seat Cessna over Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities. Enjoyable but not for the faint of heart!


Regarding our recent approach to life, one thing that Kelly and I did find very helpful is to prepare a list ahead of time in the event that the weekend creeps up on us and we didn't pre-plan anything. We can quickly go to the list of "new activities" vs. forfeiting the week.  (We've found it boosts our morale and level of excitement by not letting a week go by.  It further helps to reinforce the commitment by writing down/recording each week's activity.)


I was happy to see you echo this approach to life. It really does make a huge difference:  living life vs. simply going through the motions.





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