Every Sunday morning (for instance, today) I make myself a half English breakfast. Half, because I only go for the hash browns, sausages, egg, fried toast and beans. Occasionally I go the whole hog (pun intended) with black sausage, bacon and mushrooms. Every Sunday I also make myself a tall cup of real, ground coffee. Hot Lava Java, since you ask. Every Sunday I also go to the same newsagents to buy a copy of The Observer. Every Sunday I also do the ironing whilst watching telly and catching up with the programmes I have missed during the week. Every Sunday, weather permitting, I go for a run (at the time of writing this post it looks like it will happen because, luckily, we can put our boats and oars to one side and use the pavements in London as we are supposed to).
Every Sunday. That could be the title of my post today. Every... day, month, evening, you name it. We are creatures of habit, aren’t we? But how did we get here?
Excluding those who suffer from OCD (and I might be a member of this club, although not a high profile one) most of us, humans, fall into habits very easily. That’s probably the norm in one’s country of birth. After all, it’s the same streets you walk every day or the same bus you take or the same people you meet. What happens, however, when you relocate to another land?
We try to make sense of our surroundings by creating our own map. A mental map within a physical one, if you like. We grab the equivalent of the posts or stakes you see in pens and fences and hammer them into an imaginary ground. After we have run some barbed wire around them, we can then stretch or shorten these boundaries. The feeling of safety and, above all, normality this metaphorical enclosure provides is a satisfying one.
That is ultimately the goal: normality. And order, and discipline, too. As the parent of a teenager and an almost-adolescent (as she never tires of reminding me) I recognise the signs of convention-breaking in them. I was the same at that age. There was nothing I hated more than normality, routines and conformity. Because at the end of the day that was what routine meant to me: conformity. Not for a second did I think that when I got older I would be running towards the safe arms of Lady Routine.
Babies have it easy: eat, poop/wee and sleep. Then, do it all again. But that baby gets older. And older. And older. At some point her/his “routine” will involve getting legless in a city centre on a Saturday night with no prior planning, just for the fun of it or finish work and meet their best friend in town instead of going straight home. The irony is that these former babies would not call this “routine”. For them, an impromptu visit to a new restaurant would be labelled as “spontaneous” or “out of the norm”. So, why do we, then create regular regimes for our daily lives after?
First, because they are effortless. They also tend to be unconscious. We do not always have a reason to adopt a particular way of doing things. I mentioned the immigrant’s experience before and, obviously, this is an issue close to my heart. My love for London grew stronger when I began to commute to the travel company I was employed at many years ago. The simplicity of that journey, travelling the same route every day, seeing almost the same people on the overground, gave me a sense of belonging. Even when I had to change my travel plans because of diversion or problems on the tube I still felt that I was not disorientated any more. I realised that unconsciously I had gone from the “Cuban relocated to London” to the “Cuban living and belonging in London”. There could also be another reason why we opt for routine in our mature years. To free up our creativity and imagination more. It sounds like a paradox, I know, but by doing things in a certain order and with the same regularity we are almost inducing in ourselves a state of catharsis. Faced with the quotidian once more, we then strive for the extraordinary, either something that we produce or a new experience we expose ourselves to. So, after all routine has its (positive) uses, even if our young ones might see it as the dreaded Dull Monster to escape from.
Next Post: “Urban Dictionary”, to be published on Wednesday 5th February at 11:59pm (GMT)