Brace yourself

‘Trying to learn new stuff every day and surprising yourself slows time down a bit,’ said Prof. Hugh Montgomery in a recent interview. Well he should know. As his interviewer noted, aside from the ‘day job’ as chair of Intensive Care Medicine at University College London and a practising clinician specialising in genetic research, Montgomery is an ultramarathons runner (that’s over 50km at a time, I believe), skydiver, world record holder for playing the piano underwater (110 hours). He also has a family, and sets out to learn a new skill every year – not, say, juggling with three balls or sketching a still-life in charcoal, no, but learning the guitar, undertaking a triathlon, or mastering the concepts of Particle Physics, for example. Oh, and he’s just published his first novel (in addition to research-based writings), a medical thriller called Control. Because he enjoys all of this – and, significantly, because he’s highly aware of the brevity of life. ‘New experiences make things seem to run slower’, he points out, ‘… Trying to learn new stuff every day and surprising yourself slows time down a bit.’

Some people really do make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time…

And if novelty is the hero answer to slowing down time, then routine, of course, is the enemy. Routine makes time go faster, whilst unique and notable events slow it down.’

Do something different every day, we are advised. Shake up the mundane, create interest and novelty, don’t just let the days fly by in the same old way. And it is true that when you’re on autopilot, you sometimes find it hard to explain where the time went, at the end of a working day, of a commute, or an evening of vegging in front of the TV.

The idea, as I understand it, is that monotonous routine means you’re not learning anything — one of the reasons time seems ‘slower’ when we’re young, there is so much novelty, every day. And when you’re not learning anything, you’re not developing, not taking risks. And become what? An automaton? Also that doing something new makes you see yourself in a different way, challenging your ‘normal’ state of mind and perception.

Sometimes you don’t mind a bit of repetition

Except. At the moment, I am yearning for routine. After the summer, the kids on their long vacation, going away on holiday, more than the usual number of days off… I am usually settled back into routine by now. But it’s still all in the air. The job situation that won’t get any better, is irretrievably toxic, and my (so far unproductive) attempts to move on. Various family crises, a funeral. The hideous political situation here in UK that makes us all feel on a knife edge, at once afraid to look at the latest news, yet unable also to pull away from it.

One of the casualties of all this is writing. Creatively, I have written almost nothing, ideas desiccating like unwatered seedlings; neglecting my blog, and not reading enough of others’ — on of the things I particularly enjoy, ordinarily.

It is oft quoted, ‘we are creatures of habit.’ And there are some benefits: routine can help you manage your time — and also to ensure that you make time for some of those things you want to do. In turn, it brings repetition, which aids improvement. Most of all, for me right now, certainty and regular patterns can help relieve anxiety.

So yes, I see the virtue in trying something new, in change, not getting stuck in ruts, only right now, I crave a bit more predictability. Hiding out in my comfort zone, if you will — just for a bit. I use the word ‘brace’ in the title of this post as in reinforce, make stronger.

‘Routine is a ground to stand on, a wall to retreat to; we cannot draw on our boots without bracing ourselves against it.’ – Henry David Thoreau.

Emma Beddington, ‘Physician, ultrarunner, thriller writer … meet the man who lives life to the full’ in The Guardian, 17 August 2019 retrieved 29 September 2019.

Photos Messala Cuilla on Unsplash
and Maria Zeigler on Unsplash

13 thoughts on “Brace yourself

  1. Routines are nice for speeding up decision making. If everything was reinventing the wheel, creativity would slow to a halt!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True, yes. It’s the ‘inspiration / perspiration’ analogy, I think – we need both outside the box actions and thinking plus routine to create.


  2. ‘Some people really do make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your time’……….. you and me sister!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (I’m also finding the current political mess difficult to cope with, all I can suggest is if Brexit doesn’t happen on the 31st then perhaps it never ever will………… here’s hoping and don’t watch too much news x 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it? Though I’d love them to have to / decide to call off Brexit, there would be so much discontent and unrest – feels like we’ve come too far for this to end well (on a cheerful note!!)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Noting wrong with routine. Some call it peace. 🙂
    Sorry about the accumulation of stuff. Job is an important part of life, beyond bring money home. And sometimes if work can’t get better, maybe it never will. And then it is time to start looking for something else?
    Personally I would go bananas with the situation in the UK. Or even emigrate.
    Here we are caught between Trump North of the border and the new President who is… insane I think.
    A rock and a hard place?
    Think peace and all that is impeding it. Maybe you will see some openings.
    Take care my dear.
    (You really surprised me about my “view of women”. 🙂 Very perceptive. (Work on that talent)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Afraid the job won’t get better – still job searching, just that you cannot walk out the door with kids etc. unless there’s something to go to. My job is a microcosm, it seems. It does feel like a particular time in history when the power of the narrative and of image worship is supreme – it’s not what you’ve done or do, but what you represent and project. Hey, what can you do? Keep the faith!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, keep the faith. It’s easier when you’re younger, I must admit. 🙂
        I like the Microcosm concept. Don’t know where you work but it does fit most jobs. Again when the immediate environment is “negative” and you can’t change it it’s time to move on. With a new job first. I agree.
        An interesting sentence you’ve just put together. The power of the narrative and image worship… I wonder about the narrative (Spinning tales?). But I agree with Image. Many years ago I presented a reflection at the local Market Research society Congress on Narcissus and the Brand as a mirror. I think we may have crossed the mirror. 🙂
        Best of luck. I’m sure you will find a better and more pleasant job. 🙂


  5. Agreed with both. I prefer routines but, in the same time, I’m doing something new each day (at least trying)…maybe I shouldn’t but I think it’s fun. That’s why I never bored 🙂
    Great share! I never thought about “slowing time” tho, but now can clearly see it – especially when we were kids…


    1. Maybe it’s a good lesson for writing? Experience things as if they are new, meaning you might see it through fresh eyes and gain a different perspective. A difficult exercise, but it may be rewarding.


  6. Sorry to hear you have been going through some difficulty, hope your road gets smoother soon. It seems to be a constant battle to find the balance between allowing the right amount of routine in our day for security and enough new challenges to help us grow and keep things fresh 🙂


    1. Thank you for your kind words. You’re so right – in the end, it is about achieving balance.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry to hear that you are having a tough time on different fronts. I hope it gets better soon.

    As for doing something new vs. having a routine, there is always something to complain about. Butter is good, but it’s also bad. Margarine is better, but terrible. Same with those. There is time and place for everything. Routine can make things go faster, but it can also make things boring and slow. It depends on what is involved in that routine. You can tweak it sometimes.


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