The Comfort of Routines

The word routine has a bad reputation. It implies boring and old. But routines are a good thing. In fact, they are a great thing.

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Good routines are comforting in the same way that some foods are comforting. Routines help us to do things without having to put much thought into them. They make our lives easier.

Say that you got up for work in the morning and did not have a morning or evening routine. You would probably not have set your alarm, so you could be late for whatever you had planned for the day. You may not have any clean clothes because you may not have thought about this before hand. You may not know where your shoes are because you didn’t put them in a certain spot. You most likely would end up spending  a lot of time looking for something clean to wear and some shoes.

So, basically,  having a routine just means that someone has done a certain thing or set of things over and over basically the same way until it has become a habit. Just those few examples demonstrate how not having a routine can set you up for disaster.

One thing that I’ve found in life is that it’s pretty easy to start a new habit by doing something for a few days or weeks. Likewise, it’s also very easy to stop a habit (even a good habit) by getting out of your routine for a few days or weeks.

I once had a patient who (in my opinion) went a little overboard with his routines. He had his whole LIFE down to a schedule of routines.

This man was older, in his 80s, I believe. I was working in home health at the time. I or another nurse would go to his home to visit him a couple of times a week.

This man had his life down to a science. He was not in any way flexible. I figured this out when I called the first time to schedule a visit to his home and spoke with his daughter. I asked if I could go at a certain time and she said that her dad would be eating lunch at that time. So I said, fine, and asked her what time would be good for me to make a visit.

We worked out a time and I went to see her dad later that day, after lunch. Her dad was waiting for me in the living room. I did my assessment and vital signs, talked to him, did the rest of my job and left.

The next time that I called to make a visit (later that week), the exact same scenario played out.

Part of my job was to ask him about his meals, his bowels, urinating, medications, sleeping, etc. This man was very interesting; much more so than the average home health patient.

I found out that he got up at the same exact time every day. He had the same exact food for breakfast at the same exact time every day. He smoked one cigarette every hour on the hour. He watched the same tv shows at the same time every day. He had the same food for lunch at the same time every day. He took a nap at the same time every day, for the same length of time.

I don’t mean that he did almost the same things at approximately the same time every day. I mean he did all of the exact same things at exactly the same time in exactly the same way every day. He was extreme.

I guess that this extreme structure worked for him. Of course, most people are not that unwavering in their routines. I guess that, for whatever reason,  he found comfort in having this amount of structure.

I recently read that the reason that autistic people like/need  routine is that they aren’t able to predict the future. I really know very little about autism, but I do know that many autistic people do have many routines and can actually get very upset if their routines aren’t followed.

For someone who isn’t able to predict the future, it makes sense that a routine would be of utmost importance to them. It would give a sense of security because they would not have the uncertainty of what was going to happen to them next.

Of course, none of us can predict the future, but most of us can reasonably plan our days and have a good idea of how our days will unfold. This does require having a routine to a certain extent, though. Our days do usually involve planning in order to flow well.

Children also need routines in their lives. They need the security of knowing that someone is going to be taking care of their needs; feeding them regularly,  bathing them, putting them to bed, etc. . Having security enables them to go about the business of being children and doing  all that being a child entails.

As an adult, having a routine helps me, especially since I am not blessed with organizational skills. Following my bedtime and morning routines helps me to have more brain energy to put into other things. And I can definitely use all of the extra brain energy that I can get.

Having an end of day routine helps me to relax and start winding down towards bedtime. Coming home from work, I take my shoes off at the door and put my slippers on. I put my purse and other belongings in my bedroom. I change into my comfy clothes; I have my comfy clothes in a certain drawer.  Then I do whatever it is that I need to do.

I have my routines and they may be different in ways from your routines. But I would guess that they are probably fairly similar in ways.

Here’s to routines!