Hey drama queen, maybe it’s time to embrace routine.

Updated to Life, Productivity on June 28, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

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Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I’m having a boring week. And I’m loving it.

Before I get to explaining what I mean, let me tell you about the kind of week I don’t love.

It usually starts with no plan for the week (my Flight Plan is essential for feeling grounded and on top of my game) and goes downhill from there.

I’m buried in my Inbox, responding to every request, while still opening more emails as if I have some kind of supercomputer that keeps track of multiple conversations (which I definitely don’t).

I sit all morning, drink my tea and let cortisol run my decisions. Stress levels build. I have a nagging feeling I’m working on small stuff and the overwhelming feeling I’m avoiding what really needs to be done. “Clarity about what matters,” writes Cal Newport in his excellent book Deep Work, “provides clarity about what does not.”

You get the picture – it’s a day high in drama and very low in long-term results.

Sure, I made some people happy with quick responses, but I could be doing that all day and still not get ahead. The bottom line is that if you don’t plan your day someone else will.

If I’m describing anything like your day, you absolutely need to read on.

Boring is a blessing

I used to abhor boring.

I don’t want to talk to boring people, read a boring book or do boring work. Even the word boring is, well, boring.

But, there’s a part of boring that’s quite attractive – it’s the routine. “The secret of your future,” wrote songwriter Mike Murdock “is hidden in your daily routine.”

You see, when I update my Flight Plan first thing on Monday – before looking at any email, social media, or scribbled notes – I feel in charge. And when I do something really boring – like follow my plan – I feel like a king (as opposed to a Drama Queen.)

Take this week for example.

I have appointments all through the week – mostly enquires about SOS (now BlogWorks), two speaking inquiries, meetings with marketing partners, calls with my coach, etc. At the same time, I’m writing a new ebook, my team is rebuilding the SOS site under the new BlogWorks banner, I’m on a team hiring a summer camp coordinator for the Kelowna Paddle Centre and I’m getting awesome workouts in every day.

Boulders are happily rolling ahead (including my health), even with a pretty full 4-day week.

That’s boringly beautiful.

Rituals Rule

What makes my life rich is the freedom I get from rituals, routines, habits and systems.

Every week has drama. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just part of life.

A client needs something last-minute, a daughter breaks up with a boyfriend (just happened), my car starts making a scary noise, or one of my tenants sends a text about a broken toilet. Great.

No avoiding it: shit happens.

What makes my life rich is the freedom I get from routines.

It’s the routines in my life that allow for harmony and a sense that all is right around me. I can put on a cape and fix a toilet, or stay late to crank out a last-minute proposal and not feel my world is one holy mess of drama and dopamine fixes.

It’s surprisingly easy to make this happen.

It starts with designing routines that simplify life and move boulders forward. “Design a routine that enshrines what is essential,” instructs Essentialism author Greg McKeown, “making execution almost effortless.”

What about you?

Where do you need to repair lost routines, or create new ones to serve you better? Start with Boulders, like family, health, sales, products, travel, reading, writing.

Boring can be beautiful.


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