Breaking the Cycle

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Routine keeps us grinding our wheels. New things keep us growing.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get physical anxiety when I’m about to do anything out of the ordinary.

Sometimes I am so comfortable in my routine that I get used to things no human should ever be “used” to.

Tangible things.

Like a cluttered kitchen. Piles of laundry. A non-functioning garage door opener.

And other things.

Like a boring social life. Subpar physical fitness. A messy spiritual life.

Is that routine? I might call it a rut.

You can almost trick yourself into thinking it’s okay. It was one of my favorite things about being married. Accountability.

Accountability motivates me to exercise. To keep my life in order. To quickly and efficiently take care of things that need tended to.

After some emotional ups and downs (mostly downs) following my divorce last year, I have found myself in something of a rut for many months.

A mostly uneventful life full of disorganization and a complete lack of fulfillment in every imaginable area.

Maybe it’s depression. Maybe it’s some psychological condition that makes me crave routine even when the routine is shitty, simply because it feels “safe.”

The only way to break the cycle is to do something different.

The Reset Button

My parents divorced before my fifth birthday and lived 500 miles apart from each other. I lived with my mom in Ohio and visited my dad in Illinois throughout my school breaks.

It was like having two lives. Two very distinct lives where things felt and were different in both places.

I was in school. Changing teachers. Changing classrooms. Playing sports. Growing. Learning.

I was surrounded by friends every day and experiencing all of the growing pains school children do.

But more than that, I was always experiencing huge changes in scenery.

I was always hitting the reset button. Each school break. Each new semester. Each new year.

Minus the long-distance, back-and-forth parent thing, I suspect most of us felt this way during our school years.

The rhythm of life, full of constant change.

Then adulthood comes.

I’m not sure when. People say 18. Especially 18 year olds. But we all know that’s not true.

I felt like an adult when I moved away to college. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I was put in charge of my college newspaper. But I wasn’t.

I felt like an adult when I moved a thousand miles away from everything I ever knew and loved after graduating and getting my first news reporting job. But I wasn’t.

Surely I was an adult when I got married at 25. When I bought my first house a year or so later.

But it doesn’t seem that way now.

I think our thirties—on paper—are our best years. I describe it as being the best combination of having youth and money. I hope most people feel that way and are living accordingly.

That’s not how it worked out for me.

All of the really shitty things that have happened to me in my life happened after turning 30. And now five years later, it’s hard for me to remember what it felt like when everything was good.

And that’s got me thinking that maybe there’s no age that grants us adulthood.

That it’s more a right of passage that comes about when life starts throwing challenges your way and there’s no one there to save you anymore.

For some people, that happens as children.

For others, it never happens.

For me, I’m still in the transition. Right now. Still trying to figure it all out.

Still learning how to save myself.

Still climbing toward adulthood.

I took my first non-family visit trip in more than two years this past week. A nice trip west to Reno, Nev. with a visit to Lake Tahoe in northern California sprinkled in there. I had never been there before.

I liked both places very much for different reasons.

The important part is that it was somewhere different. It was something different.

A gorgeous hotel room for a week. Reminding me to get my house in order.

A great week at the poker tables. Reminding me to reconnect with a passion from my past.

A week outside the monotony of my daily life. Reminding me to live.

Because I forget sometimes.

I forget to live.

By not inviting friends over. By not getting out and meeting people. By not engaging in outdoor activities I love. By not trying enough new things.

By not writing.

I’m a creature of habit. I think many people are. Especially men.

But I think living can be a habit, too. And breaking the habit of not doing so has to be a priority.

I think the rut—the cycle of monotony we often find ourselves in—can be replaced by the rhythm of life.

It all starts by choosing to do something different.

Maybe just one little thing.

Maybe even right now.

To really feel alive.

To break the cycle.

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32 thoughts on “Breaking the Cycle

  1. My mantra after my divorce was “change one thing.” Even now I try to remain focused on making small, daily changes to keep the ruts from forming.

    I would not say my thirties were “prime time.” I actually feel like now, in my 50’s I have finally truly learned how to live.

  2. As one who is 10 days behind and therefore, learning from you…I thank you for finally posting again so I can continue to live in the comfort of my own rut. **(she typed rocking back and forth)** ;-) This post may be the kick in the pants I needed. a year ago, heck, six months ago, I was living in the momentum of a bunch of good decisions. Running. Reading my Bible. Cooking. Today, all of that has gone by the wayside and I feel disgusting!
    thanks for this post. You KNOW I so appreciate not feeling like the only one. XOXO

  3. nykeypad says:

    This resonated so much with me, Matt. Still I feel like I need a net under me at times, and then look around and see I need to be my own cheerleader. Scary as anything. One day at a time. I, like Muddy River Muse, have learned to live now that I’m in my 50s. Took a lot of false starts and wrong turns that maybe were supposed to happen to get me here. And still I’m learning.

  4. Good on you! I actually lived in Reno for many years, at the base of the mountain and we’d frequently pile in the car and make the 30 min trek to Lake Tahoe, it’s just beautiful! Glad you had fun!

    • Matt says:

      I thought it was a really wonderful place. That’s awesome that you lived there.

      Under different life circumstances, that’s another place I’ve discovered where I think I could set up shop for a while. Maybe someday. :)

  5. DailyMusings says:

    How great that you got “outside ” yourself and changed things up. A change of the monotony of daily life is always invigorating. I hope you are able to maintain it and find new things to add at home. I also hope you will find your 40’s as great as I did- happy with where I was in life, with my life, much more settled than in my 30’s, yet still growing and trying new things. And it just gets better from there. By the time the 50’s come there is a feeling of freedom & liberation of no longer caring what people think of you or what you do. I have found this to be the case with everyone I know over 50.

    • Matt says:

      I can’t begin to explain how important it was to me to have a change of scenery.

      I need to do a lot more of that, I think. And it got me thinking that maybe most people probably do.

  6. anitvan says:

    This is exactly where I am too. I’m tired of being stuck and I’m finally doing something about it. My mantra these days is “live like a warrior”. Time to be courageous.

  7. anitvan says:

    It was my inspiration!

  8. I think part of the ‘rut’ that you speak of is that initially we try to live our lives the way we were before the divorce and as best as we can with an ‘I will show them attitude’. We pick ourselves up and get back on the bike. Then it slowly sinks in that it is not us that is broken, it is the bike. (our drive and purpose, our reason for doing what we had been doing). When that reality sinks in, the second grief period hits us and throws us into a huge pit of despair … until we face reality and really change directions for us and for the better.
    Great post.

    • Matt says:

      I think that’s an excellent analysis.

      We DO try to replicate all these things that happened in the past under entirely different circumstances when we were entirely different people.

      We need to embrace the change and evolve with it.

      I know there’s a way. Still seeking. :)

  9. I can relate to this blog. I am getting off, or on my lazy butt and starting to write again. You or your life aren’t broken, and you just changed your direction in life.

    • Matt says:

      I hope you’re right. I think we’re all a little broken. Enough of us pulling in the same direction can overcome that easily enough, though.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  10. Hi. Routine is good, it’s does give a sense of stability. Change frightens lots of people including myself. I am a routine person, and a person who must always have things in order around me. Glasses must be stacked lowest to highest, and I find it difficult to deal with odd numbers. 2 cups are fine but 3 cups worry me. I may be OCD, Wierd or whatever but that’s my world. And in my own chaotic way it’s routine and structured. That’s why I need to sometimes step out of routine before I get complacent. Great read as always. Ivan.

    • Matt says:

      I’m really similar, Ivan. I, legit, will feel anxious feelings when there’s a major change up in the routine, sometimes.

      I’m pretty good at handling myself in new situations, though. And I wish I could learn to apply that in those little moments, and the really big ones, like when my entire life changed.

      If I can take that happy middle and apply it to the big and small extremes, I’ll be onto something.

  11. Vince says:

    What I’ve found to be a huge help is spontaneity. Making yourself do things you might not otherwise for whatever reason. That’s especially fun when it involves the kids or kid. During those times you create the kinds of memories that you guys will remember for years to come. In time you will enjoy being spontaneous and moving outside of the box.

    • Matt says:

      Spontaneity is one of the things that went away after I got married. I think it’s VERY important. And if I’m going to look for silver linings? This is an opportunity to be more spontaneous. And to some extent, I am.

      Hope you’re well, Vince. Always good to hear from you.

  12. Dawn says:

    Man are we ever on the same wavelength here. I was just thinking about the same thing. When did I fall back into this boring crap. Ugh. It’s bugging me big time…but what’s bugging me more is this fear of breaking out of it (again). What if I end up here again. My mind sucks lately…I need a mental break from myself.
    Perhaps that will happen on my upcoming trip to Jamaica. Hmm….

  13. It is so very easy to fall into ruts that become bad habits. It is so very easy to allow ourselves to shelter in the room of isolation. What is more difficult is pushing out toward change, whether it is change in our environment or ourselves. Good for you for taking a trip! So just small things, any small thing will do.

    • Matt says:

      You’re so right.

      It’s amazing, really. You know it’s shitty while you’re doing it, but the comfort of the routine can trick you into embracing the same shittiness.

      It’s a remarkable phenomenon. I’m so glad you get it.

  14. girlseule says:

    I am in my 30s and a lot of the time I still don’t really feel like a ‘grown-up’. I think it is important to break routines and get out and try new things, variety being the spice of life and all that!

  15. Jennifer says:

    I used to fear settling. I guess I still kind of do. I’m 31, also live in Ohio, and didn’t get my first real apartment with my very own stuff and things until last year. I thought I was ready for a routine, commitments.. stuff and things.. but, the more I’m here the more I feel like disappearing into the world and never looking back. I used to think something was wrong with me. I would cry about having no desires to be “normal,” like not wanting to go to college or get married and have children.. the life and path that we are programmed from birth to set forth on. Eventually, after breaking my mother’s heart over and over, I accepted that there are an infinite ways to be and I didn’t have to live in the illusions of others.. that I can literally do ANYTHING. By the time I was ready to do anything I decided to try stability. The biggest challenge. Funny how that works out. I got a dog, an apartment, my very own sole responsibility. Routines are hard when I try.. it’s the ones that are embedded in my day to day habits that are life crushing. The piled dishes and unswept floors, the little social life, the distracting thoughts of deeper concepts of existence. I know those things.

    But hey, the litter box is cleaned every day.

    I’m a traveler, a thinker, a half-ass writer who currently enjoys the ideas of so many things that she does none of those things. I’m random and scattered. I thrive on change and get into a rut when change isn’t happening. Sometimes I forget that I have to make the effort. When I feel that I have no direction I tend to sit still and sitting still has never sit well for me. What was I thinking?

    But here I am. Committing myself to what’s next. Making changes once again. Because you’re right, if you don’t want to be where you are then you can’t keep being where you’ve been.

    Change your mind.

    <3

    • Matt says:

      Hey, fellow Ohioan. Forgive my delay in replying. I used to be awesome about speedy responses, and now I suck. I’m trying to get back in the swing of things.

      I really appreciate this thoughtful response. You get it. We’re not so different, you and I.

      Thank you so much for taking a minute to write. I hope whatever you choose–stability or adventure–that it brings you peace and happiness.

  16. Fantastic read, Matt. I’ve been away from your blog too long. I always take something away that you write about and apply it to my own situation. I’m glad you were able to get away and I wish you luck on remembering to hit that reset button when necessary.
    BB

    • Matt says:

      Hey BB!

      PLEASE. I’m the WORST blog friend in the history of the known universe. I don’t get around to everyone’s blogs like I should. So don’t you apologize to me.

      It’s awesome to hear from you, and I can’t thank you enough for peeking in. Always a pleasure. You sound well. And I’m so glad. :)

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