Four reasons why we need routines

November 12, 2012 · 11 comments

in Inspiration

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We’re entering Week 3 after Hurricane Sandy and I am finding that even my relatively unscathed life has been upended. There’s no going back. I am in search of a routine in the new normal.

Even though I suffered no property damage and only lost power for four days, I am frickin’ exhausted. The first week was a mess of dealing with electrical outages, blocked roads and a constant onslaught of bad news. This past week was all about recovery, a snow storm, plus a general election for our nation. Wow.

Anyways, this week brought a return to some sense of normal in my house. I cleaned out the fridge and restocked the groceries. Four bins of accumulated bottles and cans went out curbside for recycling. I’m caught up on bills. My living room still has a growing pile of clothes, pots and pans and other items from the attic and basement that will eventually be given away as donations for those in need. But at least I have put put away the new flashlights, snow shovels and car ice scrapers that I bought between Sandy and our mid-week snow storm.

Yesterday finally felt normal for a lot of reasons. It was my day off. At last, the weather and my schedule were settled enough to go for a real walk with the dog (instead of just letting Rosebud out in the yard). The pool reopened at the gym and paddling around there in my snorkel mask yesterday afternoon was so comforting. Pre-Sandy, I went for half-hour swims two or three times a week. Being back in the chlorinated water womb restored me. It was good to float and not have to think.

As I drove home afterwards, I realized how important my routines are to me.

Four reasons why we need a routine

Reason 1: Structure creates a safety net. The scariest feeling in the emergency was not knowing what to do next. My days no longer started and ended in the way I was used to. Even after power came back, familiar roads were still impassable, etc., etc. One person who held me steady was our village mayor, who fell into a routine of sending out email updates each morning and night, which filled us in on where the utility crews were working, how many home were back on the grid and other news. His emails became part of our recovering routine. They have stopped now but it taught me that even temporary routines are very helpful.

Reason 2: Good habits offer hope of accomplishment.  My mornings are returning to their old selves. I wake up, do my morning affirmations (which you can read about here), feed the cats and Rosebud, change the litter boxes. At some point, I read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in print format, have a hot breakfast, shower, get dressed, put on my makeup, walk the dog. After that, I feel sufficiently organized to face the day with a smile.

Reason 3: Routines make it easier to see where changes need to be made. For years, I kept a small locked, steel box in my bedroom dresser. It contains our passports and other critical ID papers.  But with all the falling tree issues that came up with the storm, I just moved the box to a room on the other side of the house where there are no trees. God forbid but if a tree ever fell on my house, those documents need to be reachable. Come to think of it, I am going to put more items in the box, like the house deed and maybe my will.

Reason 4: New routines help keep us growing. That’s the power of a routine — the ability to make changes. Yesterday, while I was back to cleaning the house after a two-week haitus, I dropped one of the vacuum cleaner attachments on my right foot. Ouch! After spending a solid half hour feeling sorry for myself, I realized that I need to create a getaway schedule. Every quarter of the year must have at least one or two days when I can vacate work and home life. My new routine for 2013 must include designated time to escape the routine. Haha, it will keep me fresh.  :)

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Whatever you’re doing today, I hope you take some time to appreciate the life you’ve created for yourself. Bet there are things you do out of habit that come so naturally that you don’t even define them as “routine.” But they are blessed moments that hold us all steady.

P.S. — Here’s a shot of me at the pool yesterday. I’m still at the endurance-building stage, and not quite there yet with coordinating that whole swimming-breathing thing. In the meantime, I use a snorkel. As part of my routine, I always hang it on a hook near the front door, for easy grab and go.  I know I look ridiculous but figured you could all use a giggle.  :)

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charlotte November 12, 2012 at 7:35 am

Hi Betty:

I agree! Hoboken really took a hit in the hurricane. My apt is OK, but it is heartbreaking to see all the destruction. And that heartbreak manifests itself as exhaustion.

2 Stephen November 12, 2012 at 7:37 am

Hey Betty (with your glamour swim gear on!) maybe you can dive to the bottom of this question for me…

The last hurricane that came through Texas and left a nasty gash across the landscape, the parents of a friend of mine had severe damage to their business: a Dairy Queen franchise. The large sign was toppled over and laid in the street after the area was evacuated by the authorities. When residents were allowed back into the area, I believe the owners found a city warning on the signage that said they’d be subjected to a fine if they didn’t remove the sign from the street immediately! They also received an electric and water bill which had to be paid. I was flummoxed!

What happens to the everyday services like the electric bill that people normally pay for by the month? How are services handled in your area especially when businesses are damaged or ruined? Is there some kind of grace period or forgiveness? Or do the bills continue to keep rolling in–even though a house or business is essentially driftwood and recyclables? What do ordinary citizens do to avoid additional financial burdens in the face of calamities like Sandy? Any idea?

3 mary quigley November 12, 2012 at 7:59 am

Betty: great post and articulated my post-storm feelings exactly. We were fine (trees down on neighbor’s houses either side); no power for five days and no Internet for 10 days but compared to others we were lucky. As you said though I felt adrift without my daily routine, esp important since I work at home three days a week. Now back to the routine. Love #4 about planning two days off every quarter. I know someone who practices :Never return from one vacation without knowing where you’re going next.” Nice to have that quarterly getaway a done deal!

4 betty ming liu November 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

Oh Charlotte, glad to hear that you’re okay. Yes, everyone is exhausted. I don’t know how the devastated folks carry on, their daily routine must be hell.

Stephen, I don’t know if there is a simple answer to your excellent point. Some of the banks and credit card companies are giving locals a break on late fees. I’ve been wondering if my gym will extend our memberships for a week….does that seem greedy in the face of business losses? In covering the aftermath, the one thing I learned is how vulnerable restaurants are. They operate on very, very thin profit margins and had to throw away thousands of dollars in inventory when their fridges lost power. I’ve been making it my civic duty to eat out more. It’s expensive but manageable if I don’t pig out every time. A nice break for me from the kitchen and helpful for the local economy. Hope your Dairy Queen recovered…people in the food business are super brave! And thanks for the “compliment” on my sexy swim gear. :)

Mary, thanks for stopping by because I meant to comment on your last blog post about surviving Sandy. Here’s the link, everybody, offering a few from Long Island: http://mothering21.com/2012/11/06/surviving-sandy/ “Adrift” is a good word for the past few weeks because I work from home too and felt the same way. And I love your idea of always having a vacation in the works. Thanks for adding that thought! I am excited about the notion of planning one or two drop-out-sight escape days per quarter.It will be a fun challenge to see how creative I can be. Even if I stay home, remain in plain sight, and don’t spend much, I want to challenge myself to avoid all routines during those days. No cooking, cleaning or errands. A blank canvas. Yes.

5 Miss Rachel November 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

Excellent points! This post comes at a time when I find myself needing a routine or at least a new routine. Thanks for the inspiration (and great photo)! ;-)

6 Lil B. November 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

Great summation of the post-Sandy stress situation. I’ve always resisted routine as another word for rut, but as the mom of a kid who has Aspergers, I’ve learned how important routine is for her — and for everyone. This upheaval of the last two weeks has given me a way to see the chaotic world through her eyes. Bring on the routine — and the quarterly get-away days.

7 betty ming liu November 12, 2012 at 11:20 am

Miss Rachel, have fun developing a conscious, choice-driven routine. Routines can ben

You too, Ms. Lil B.! Interesting that you mentioned your daughter because my own teenager just pointed out that our routines are important to them too. She was out last night with friends and didn’t get home until I was already asleed (by 10:30, haha!).

So this morning, she says to me, “Why didn’t you text me goodnight like you always do? That was so sad.” It never occurred to me that she would even notice! I just forgot. But from now on, she can always count on my bedtime text. :)

Btw, I just read this story about a Queens high school football team where the players struggled to beat the odds caused by personal Sandy-related devastation and make the local playoffs. They ended up losing but I cheered for them in this story anyway: http://nyti.ms/RP97Aw

8 Jean November 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

Hi Betty, Here’s my 2 day vaca recommendation. Cranwell Resort in the Berkshires is a fabulous spa (pool, saunas, steamrooms, gym, yoga, massage, etc.) which occasionally has ridiculously reasonable special rates for those on the email list. It’s between Lenox and Lee, MA and just enough fun stuff to see in 2 or 3 days.
Miss you in painting!!!!
xoxo
Jean

9 betty ming liu November 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Oooh, Jean, thanks. Hmmm, $129/night, not bad. The furniture is a bit fussy and dated but totally within the range of nice. Menu looks good too. I just signed up for the email specials. Can’t wait to study this later….another thing to look forward to! http://www.cranwell.com/spa-fitness

Miss you too. I’ve actually been thinking about a good routine that I lost when I started working full-time this year. It was the end of my Friday, all-day painting classes with you, girlfriend. Haven’t painting a thing since last December. Will have to find a way to get some form of that lost routine back in my life.

10 Charlotte November 12, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Hi Betty:

I must say, you inspired m. today I cleaned my apt., went for a walk and to the gym, and did some work. Thanks for the motivation! :)

11 betty ming liu November 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Wow, Charlotte, you accomplished so much. I’m thrilled to be useful. now you’re inspiring ME to make time for the gym. :)

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