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I Long For Structure. Monday September 14, 2015

[Audio version here:]

If you are of a certain age, you may remember "boring Sundays". In the UK, when and where I was growing up, most business pressed "pause" on Sundays. There were no shops open, save for a few Newsagents. Everyone, it seemed, rested.

Whilst I now believe this was a good thing, as a child I thought it was boring.

Why? Well, there was "nothing" to do. My time was not structured for me.

I can vividly remember regularly going down to the tennis courts, where the guardian of the key to the courts watched benevolently with his pipe and Red Setter. My sister is four years younger than me, and, at that time, deferred to my seniority, even though she is a great tennis player and knew more about actually playing the sport than I did.

So, we would begin to knock a ball back-and-forth, to-and-fro, monotonously. Boring!

Then one of us would wake up!

"Hey!" they'd say, "Let's play a game!" Suddenly there would be a structure to our Sunday - a purpose.

Where time dragged and energy flagged before, passion would be ignited and the time would fly by. We even say this cliché: "Time flies when you're having fun!" My sister and I discovered the truth in this.

What we experienced satisfied what is stated as a basic human need by psychologists. Apparently, we crave structure - especially structured time. We may resist a standard 9-5, Monday-Friday routine but it gives us a rhythm to the week.

My Father is now loving the routine he has in his retirement. He finds comfort in structure.

Because of known rhythms to our week, we can have beginnings and endings, and a sense of closure.

As someone who directs my own time, I too often lack this structure, and, as you can well imagine, it causes a lot of stress. Nothing seems to have an end to it. There's always more to do.

So my suggestion today is to embrace routine like a long-lost friend. Seek structure where it does not currently exist, confident in the knowledge that your psyche longs for this. Add a rhythm to the day.

And, to be utterly specific, break your day into 45 minute segments with a micro-break in-between. Find tasks that can be completed within 45 or 90 minutes. Get closure. More than this, there is a surprise set of benefits awaiting you. Taking a micro-break that involves a shift in posture will "reboot" your lymphatic system, leading to more energy, more creative insights, and a surprising boost to your immune system!

You don't have to believe me, just test this for yourself and then share the results!

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Bearofliddlebrain Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 6:59am

Mawnin', mawnin' Lex....excellent advice this rainy Monday morning! Am up! Hey, that's a great start...and the iron is heating up...45 mins of fun, fun, fun has begun,..gun, ..gun! Will see how much I can get finished then break for a cuppa, then walk my poochy-boy! K x

Bearofliddlebrain Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 8:00am

Magical wardrobes are re-stocked: six shirts, two pairs of trousers, one dress, six t shirts, one pair of pj's done, hung and ready for wearers once where's that cuppa!
Feel better for having got the ironing mountain out of the way, phew! Inspiring blog, thankees!

Tim Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 8:00am

Really good stuff! I spent many years recoiling at my mother's exhortations to "have a routine", because this sounded repetitive, plodding, denying spontaneity ... boring. Now I see she meant " structure", without which you can't measure appropriate levels of "spontaneous deviation" (!) to muddle my metaphors, how often we refute a vital pearl because it happens to look like just a grubby grain of sand, all because someone's understanding of a word is subtlety, yet tragically, different from ours.

Hopeful One Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 8:04am

Hi Lex- so true . I found that out the hard way when I retired without giving much thought as to how I was going to fill the time suddenly available. I had not realised how much the structure of going to work everyday had defined me.

Debs Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 8:20am

Hey Lexy - great blog! I found that when I had my son four years ago everyone said to me 'have you got a routine yet?' and, like Tim, I shirked their suggestions, thinking routine sounded so same-same-different-day when I was a free and unfettered spirit. Turns out I was a depressed unfettered spirit so not so free after all. Now I think of structure as a framework to add purpose to the day, it makes my week work; I still can't use 'routine' as for me that implies repetition but structure, oh yes that works. And with that I'm off to structure my day ;-) Happy Monday all xx

Anonymous Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 8:51am

Hi Lex I'm definitely with you about having structure but not necessarily routine. I had treatment for breast cancer 3 years ago and am still suffering from chronic fatigue so I divide my day into thirds. Initially I could only manage activity in one third and the other 2 thirds were quiet rest times. As things have gradually (but painfully slowly) improved I can plan things for 2 thirds of the day but always with proviso that rest may have to intervene. Generally I plan activity for one third, rest for one third and then depending how I feel throw caution to the wind and do something unplanned for final third! Works for me. Ellie Xox

Ali Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 9:12am

I completely agree with you Lex. I definitely like to have structure for my week and to break things down so I know just what I have to do with a routine. I think that's partly why I found the school holidays hard work as your routines get thrown out of the window when you have 2 children home from school! Now I'm back to normal and can breathe again.

Bearofliddlebrain Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 10:21am

Hi Ellie, how amazing are you? I do hope you are recovering well.
Although maths has never been a strong point for me...(lol!) I love the fact that you divide your days into thirds: one for activity...then rest periods. For me, I'd have said I was a wuss for using the other two thirds as resting times....but you have got it so right! When I was floored by depression, having got up and walked and fed the dog was about all I could manage and then I would feel so quilty m'lud, for resting for the rest of the day. I should have thought of it like you do. An incredibly good way to think and not demean the recovery-rest time that we actually need to repair our self. Thank you, Ellie and may you have good and better days, Karen x

Anonymous Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 10:43am

Thanks Karen and same to you re good and better days. Ellie xox

Mary Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 10:55am

Hi Lex. I listened to your blog this morning. It was nice to hear your voice. A low score and a request from my husband to "have a relaxing day" means I will schedule just a couple of 45 minute slots to begin with and see how it goes. The whole day is overwhelming, but I think I can manage 45 mins. Like Karen, I may even do some ironing - while listening to uplifting music. So, thank you for the suggestion.

Lex Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 11:24am

Dearest Folks, thank you for all your comments. I think the plan is to structure this blog so that it is easier to place a response under a specific person's comment, but until then we may need to continue placing a multiple response on what is, effectively, a time-line.
So, Ellie... sounds like a perfect plan to me. As Bearofliddlebrain says, "how amazing are you?" Sending love and admiration.
Bearofliddlebrain... how amazing are you! I think I'll mirror your commitment and do 45mins of accounts... in a minute!
Tim - I didn't even remember I'd used the word "routine" - so you've helped reinforce my realisation that words mean so many different things to different people in difference circumstances. Looks like "structure" will be OK, though!
Hopeful One - it's part of that rhythm of life, isn't it? We all need something to mark time or help us get a reference point.
Debs... what a well structured response! I'm with you and Tim on the "routine" bit although, now, I'm glad that word slipped in there!
Ali, keep breathing! Life is rhythm and rhythm is live, and structure can be the backbone of what we build. Thanks for your words.
Mary Mary... let's all embrace your 45minute rhythm today. Thanks be for Tea, and Coffee, and walking the dogs we have, or noticing the sky changing in our brain breaks.
Much love to all

Julia Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 12:38pm

Hi Lex. You raised so many important issues today Lex. I remember a Naturopath telling me once how she enjoyed emptying the wastepaper bin each day as part of her routine and me thinking, saying even, Oh my goodness, how boring that sounds. She thought it would do me good to do these simple things each day. And now years later,she may have been right but not then. I find when I'm away from home a sense of unease can come over me; I used to not know why but I realise that I can't read the newspaper every day, I can't do this and that which I would be doing back home and this was causing the unease. I have to tell myself that actually life goes on in just as satisfactory a way if I am unable to do these things and I must adapt and not be so inward looking. I hated the 9 to 5 routine work imposed on me and tried everything I could to disrupt this and have my own hours but looking back, I would have made life easier for myself if I'd made an effort to conform. Hindsight eh!

Lex Mon, Sep 14th 2015 @ 12:42pm

Hi Julia, this is actually part one of two blogs. I didn't want to give away part 2 yet, but I am confident that you can have your cake and eat it, you can have structure and liberty. Promise!

the room above the garage Tue, Sep 15th 2015 @ 8:52am

Hi Lex, I'm another learned lover of structure and routine. If I didn't have a life that demanded it, I would love to run free with time, light and seasons but I suspect I would fall into an abyss. Some fab ideas of how to bring in structure here. Love to all. ratg x.

Bruce Tue, Sep 15th 2015 @ 4:45pm

It is this lack of structure that is killing the younger generation in the United States. A mind without direction will wander into trouble eventually.

Lesley Wed, Sep 16th 2015 @ 6:02pm

Bruce and Lex, you are so right. I first became depressed at the age of 20 when I was on a 9 month secondment for my language degree. I had a scholarship at Munich University and was not allowed to enrol in courses outside the Arts faculty although what I wanted was no more literature but science or business. This was 1983-84 and although I travelled that year and did a few odd jobs my days descended into no routine and no purpose, and oversleeping and parting set in and I became rather depressed and alcoholic. I ran in the mornings to try and help. I read plenty and had no TV. My German became so fluent the Germans didn't realise that I wasn't German.
But my mental health fell apart. So I travelled on my own around Europe, which lifted me. I finished my degree with flying colours because there was structure back at university. I chose the wrong company and job when I graduated but without parents and no friends I had no idea how to find a good steady path. Now at the ripe age of 52 I realise that I would have been an excellent accountant. My mind has dissipated and I feel as if I have ADHD as well as depression and fibromyalgia.

Periods of long stretches of exhaustion and illness have marked my life and in each of them, structure went out the window.
Now I realise that I need routine, routine and that most of my working life didn't have routine - it was frequently too demanding and shunted me all over the place. This became my norm.

So, sameness and pacing is what has been prescribed. Today I am rebuilding the structure of my email to help me add structure. Time now to pace myself and go eat dinner.
Love to all

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