Have you ever known someone who had a regimented routine–doing the same thing at the same time, day after day? Maybe it’s because of their personality or the way they were raised. But in some cases, routine may point to something else. W. H. Auden believed that “routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”
“Ambition” doesn’t have to consist of inordinate desires for wealth or fame or power. It simply means a strong desire to do or to achieve something, especially something requiring determination and hard work. You want something, despite how difficult it may be, because you believe it’s worth the effort. Maybe it’s an ambition to do work you’re proud of, to serve your family and neighbors well, to make the most of what you have.
But if you desire to do something that will be difficult at times, you will inevitably face moments where what you feel like doing and what you know you should be doing will diverge. And it’s in those moments where the value of a routine becomes clear.
Auden went on to say, “…the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”
If something becomes a habit, a part of your daily routine, how you feel becomes less decisive in whether you follow through. You end up doing it regularly, day in and day out, regardless of how you feel. So if there’s something you want to do that will require effort over an extended season, creating a routine can be particularly valuable in all those times where you’re tempted to give up or put it off.
Now, some may push back against routine because they want to be spontaneous. They don’t want to fall into a “rut.” But creating a routine to help you achieve a specific goal, doesn’t mean an end to all spontaneity. It just means that you are no longer dependent on being in the right mood or feeling motivated or inspired to do what needs to be done.
That, and although the term “rut” can be used pejoratively, it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Having some well-worn grooves that keep you going in the same direction can be helpful at times–especially if they are the result of a conscious decision. Simply having routines doesn’t automatically mean you have a desire to accomplish anything. But they can be a useful tool if you do.