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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Love Routine and Structure? Here's Why That Can Backfire on You

nervous person
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Each night before climbing into bed, I set my alarm for the very same time: 6:45 AM. Then, I slide into my sheets, let my head hit the pillow, and find a sure sense of comfort in the fact that I know exactly what the next day will hold.

My alarm will ring and my eyes will slowly creak open. I’ll hit snooze exactly once. When I finally tear myself away from those cozy covers, I’ll brew my coffee, grab a granola bar, and sit down at my desk to peruse my inbox.

Yes, every day looks pretty much the same for me. Sure, it’s a little mundane. But, that predictability and certainty is also reassuring.

Here’s the thing, though: Every now and then, I experience those dreaded days that somehow stray from the norm—whether by a lot or just a little.

There was that morning when a last-minute request from a client threw my whole schedule on its head. There was that afternoon when a loved one’s trip to the hospital meant putting my work on hold. And, even more recently, there was that day when my morning errand to the post office resulted in smacking off my passenger mirror on the side of my garage.

It’s in these moments that my love affair with my beloved, stable routine takes a turn.

Why? Well, at the very first wrench tossed into my plans, I find myself totally paralyzed by the unpredictable. Even worse though is realizing that I’ve come to rely on something that is oh-so-fickle and fleeting: the concept of certainty.

For a while, I assumed that I was the only self-proclaimed creature of habit who felt this way. But, then I stumbled upon this post from marketing expert Seth Godin, in which he emphasizes the fact that we’re all pretty much conditioned to rely on that sense of sureness.

In the piece, Godin points to traditional schooling. “You're certain to have these classes tomorrow,” Godin writes, “The class will certainly follow the syllabus. There will certainly be a test. If you do well on the test, you will certainly go on to the next year.”

The problem with starting your life this way and getting used to it? Life isn’t certain. Things are bound to crop up that take you by surprise. You won’t land that job you want. You won’t score that promotion. You’ll get a promotion you never saw coming. You might be asked to relocate. You might change careers entirely. Or, you might even get fired.

Like it or not, the unexpected happens. And, as I know all too well, you’ll have a much tougher time rolling with the punches when you’ve come to expect that you won’t ever get punched at all.

“We've trained people to be certain for years, and then launch them into a culture and an economy where relying on certainty does us almost no good at all,” Godin continues.

Godin raises a solid point. It seems counterintuitive, but certainty is anything but, well, certain. So, take a page from him and remind yourself of the fact that absolutely nothing is a sure thing—and, while you’re at it, think of some different ways that you can become better at adjusting to your ever-changing circumstances, whatever they may be.

After all, if life has taught me anything, it’s this: While it’s more than OK to hope for the best, it’s usually not a bad idea to plan for the worst.