Recently I have been personally challenged by the concept of rhythm. Rhythm in many different parts of my life; personal relationships, physical movement, spiritual growth and professional development to name just a few. It’s not a word I’ve generally associated with these activities but for some reason, at present, I’m drawn to it.
As a psychologist in private practice, I often notice that periods of low mental health can often be characterised by a lack, or a loss, of rhythm. This may be due to an unforeseen or tragic circumstance which has thrown us off course or a life transition such as starting university, retirement or becoming a parent. It may also be due to sheer exhaustion, cumulative stress or a loss of meaning in one aspect of our life. And let’s not forget the small things; a physical injury that alters our exercise routine, a change in the way things are done at work, a close friend moving away. All these, and more, can contribute to a loss of rhythm.
We all live to our own beat. A beat that changes as we change, that adapts to the activity and is unique to you. Whether it be fast, slow or syncopated, it is somewhat repetitive; a pattern that regularly re-occurs. Similar to hearing our favourite song, there is a certain comfort in being able to anticipate the rhythm as it gives us a fair idea of what comes next. When we can see a short way ahead, it helps us to “know”. This knowing gives us a sense of control and allows us to plan. When we know how some things in our day or week look, we can initiate them automatically, almost without thinking; for example starting each day in the same way or allocating Monday for this and Tuesday for that. Such a routine would significantly decrease how much thinking we do about the future and enable us to be more mindful of the existing moment.
To consolidate, think about the experience of lacking routine when a new year begins. After returning from a holiday break, we find various demands and opportunities abound. The mornings may feel a bit chaotic or uncertain with questions like “how will today work?” or “what should I do next?” After a while, once we’ve bumbled around in a stop-start sort of way, we work out what is essential and what is simply nice to do. This forms our two contrasting elements which are also essential for rhythm. Just as music will have an upbeat and a downbeat or long and short notes, our life rhythms require opposites like “need to do” and “want to do”. Both are important; they provide enough fluctuation to keep life interesting. If we only do what is absolutely necessary and never allow time for ourselves or plan enjoyable activities, then we are left with a fairly dull or exhausting beat.
This then begs the question: is there a difference between rhythm and routine? To this, I would say “yes”. A life that is balanced with both work and play (need to do and want to do) is often a practical base for positive mental health. Routine is the regular procedure, the unchanging, steady beat, sometimes described as “the daily grind”. Rhythm, however, is what syncopates this beat; it gives our life momentum, interest or challenge, and keeps us moving forward. If we are to see rhythm in our lives, we need to ask ourselves “what energises me?”, “what gives my life meaning?” or “what is it that I really LIKE to do?”. Perhaps it is friends or family, keeping fit, playing music, learning new things, having fun or giving to others. We are all unique in what brings us joy and motivates us…what is it for you?
Take a moment here to identify these for yourself.
Then…of course, because these things make us feel good, we want them to keep happening so we can rely on them. So plan some ‘want to do’s’ into your routine. Maybe daily, weekly or six-monthly – it will depend on what it is.
Go on…plan it. If you don’t, then quite possibly it won’t happen.
My sense is that we enjoy and appreciate the good things in our life when it’s not the only thing we do. We need that steady beat in the background that gives our life structure and predictability. Yet we make it more interesting and purposeful when we add our personal flair to it. May you discover your own personal rhythms, giving life to your routines.
Definition sources: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/routine http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rhythm http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syncopate