“Breath in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in.”
A couple of my favorite songs play during a super tough workout are “Machinehead” by Bush and “I am Machine” by Three Days Grace. It’s this singularly focused mindset that I slip into, for four to nine minutes, where nothing matters but efficient movement and the prescribed work.
Four to nine minutes… for a few days as week, at most, that’s the “optimal” time to become a machine on the training floor. What if that bleeds into your everyday life? What if you think and prepare and execute as though you were a machine, all the time? Is it really that bad?
I’m a big fan of routine; in fact, I thrive on routine. There’s a lot of science out there that suggests that the more we can automate our daily tasks, the more energy and brain power we’ll have to give to novel (not daily) tasks. It takes extra energy that you have to spare in the present moment to pay forward to your future self when you either don’t have time or brain power to spare. So what kinds of things do I “automate”?
- Meal prep – I have batch cooked the exact same breakfast (pumpkin baked oatmeal) since august, and generally eat it 5 times a week. For reference, I ate the same lunch for 75% of my 4 years of high school (turkey sandwich with mustard and pickles)
- Prep for the day – Before I go to bed, I lay my clothes out for the following day and pack my gym bag.
- Prep for the week – Sunday evenings I make sure to review my calendar for the following week and make note cards for all of my classes.
Truth be told, as much as I automate to make my daily life seamless and predictable, I automate to make my life as ideal as possible. I try to be prepared in order to be of service to the people in my life, and I find it real hard to ask for and accept help when I need it. I have learned that being an “ideal friend” who doesn’t have needs, isn’t ideal. Help, support, love needs to bounce between people like an electrical current. People need to feel needed and useful, all people. Being able to help is as much for the helper as it is for the person receiving help. Allowing myself some grace for having bad days, and having needing help is still a work in progress, but I understand why it’s so valuable and worth breaking the habit.
Predictability versus Novelty
As big a fan of predictability as I am, I have learned that there are limits to the effectiveness of it for life. I err’d on the side of routine for a long time; I could automate, pre-load, and prepare for just about every part of my day. Everything turned into a boxes to check and “to do” lists to clear; becoming really good at checking boxes is where I derived my value. That mindset resulted, for better or worse, in me becoming far less capable of dealing with change and appreciating the novelty of life.
There’s the kicker…life, real, wholehearted life, is nothing but change and novelty.
I got real good at checking boxes, I was really good at being EFFICIENT in my day to day life. I wasn’t any better, and go so far as to say that I was worse, at ENGAGING in life.
The Way Ahead
I still have a fair number of robotic tendencies. I am being more mindful to keep the ones that serve me (meal prep, preparing for the day…), and letting go of the ones that do not (seeking perfection, never asking for help…). It is challenging work, but absolutely worth it.
‘Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. Sometimes it hurts, but when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt. It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and are very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’ – Margery Williams “The Velveteen Rabbit”