Small excitements: Breaking out of monotony

Sile Surman, Columnist

When days blend together and the threat of monotony looms on the horizon, what can be done? School days and work routines often feel unbreakably tedious and utterly the same. For some folks, maintaining a structured routine creates peace of mind. For others, especially in the age of COVID-19 restrictions, the daily grind feels like a constant fight with tedium.

Let me be clear: I enjoy the perks of a disciplined routine. Predictability can provide comfort from knowing the general daily framework. A structured day benefits toddlers, college students and seniors alike. But what happens when boredom triumphs over the security of a planned day? What happens when every day feels the same?

To avoid falling into monotony, add small excitements and fresh encounters. I acknowledge that this appears to be an overly-simplistic approach to a complex issue. Boredom and disinterest can be attributed to more serious long-term mental health conditions, and I don’t mean to act as if I have the perfect prescriptive advice. I’m not a life coach nor a trained mental health professional, of course. All I hope to do is plant some seeds of thought.

Small excitements include moments of breaking away from sameness. Excitements include calling up a friend you haven’t talked to in a while or trying your hand at painting, even if you’re pretty sure your artistic ability is nonexistent. Excitement can be as simple as deciding to pick up a book you never made time for or savoring the burnt bitterness of hot coffee.

I encourage you to search endlessly for the smaller joys packed into a regular day. Perusing through weeks on end without consciously seeking small excitements will push you into monotony and boredom. By adding moments of delight, breaking up the mundane is much more plausible (Kudos to Ross Gay for his valuable exploration into the “delights” of life in his work The Book of Delights).

In the pursuit of richer and deeper experiences, we should turn to Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” He says, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…” While bizarre, his marrow metaphor ignites a certain curiosity. I can’t help but wonder how to follow this advice. How does someone “suck out all the marrow of life?” How do you grasp the best moments tightly and truly experience them?

By asking these questions, I remind myself to re-evaluate how I choose to spend my time. I fully endorse regularly checking in with yourself and asking, “Do I spend my time in the ways which most fulfill me?” The answer to that question doesn’t have to be a wholehearted “yes” right now. Steadily inching towards some sort of contentment through the addition of small excitements is acceptable, too. It’s okay to be a work in progress.

So, feel free to keep the structure of a daily routine, but don’t forget to add brief moments of variety. Even the smallest enjoyments break up the tedium. Keep an eye out for little pockets of excitement hidden in a letter, a taste, a painting or a conversation.