I imagined retirement as a hippie like existence with each day offering unplanned opportunities to just live and enjoy whatever would come my way. After a lifetime of schedules that seemed to digest every minute of the day, I was excited about the prospect of just hanging out and wandering aimlessly. It was fun to be that way for a time but it didn’t take long for lots of things to begin to fall apart in my world including my own health and that of my husband. I soon enough realized that running away from certain routines was actually somewhat lethal, and I’ve more or less spent the past year resurrecting my natural tendencies to look ahead and provide structure to my days.
When I was a student I lived and died by the syllabi from my classes, using a calendar and laser sharp focus to stay abreast with my studies. I do not possess enough intellect to cram or do all nighters and still come out smelling like a rose. Any time I neglected my studying duties and waited until the eleventh hour to get things done it was a disaster. Like the tortoise my style was to be slow and steady which required a great deal of initial planning as well as daily dedication to achieving particular goals along the way. I put in continuous effort and avoided temptations to slack off, but did all of my learning in small chunks so that by the end of a semester I was well versed in all of the topics and relaxed about tests and projects.
My methodology proved to be successful and so I continued using it when I became a teacher. I always looked at the number of school days and divided up the sequencing of my lessons before the school year had even begun with plenty of extra time factored in for those emergencies that always seemed to emerge. Then I did specific planning each week. I always knew where I was going and how long it was going to take. I never had to ask my students to cram because I was very much in control of helping them to master skills and knowledge with my own outline of what I wanted them to achieve. I broke lessons, homework, study time down into doable segments for them, hoping that I was also teaching them how to develop the kind of habits that would serve them well along whatever pathways they decided to follow.
A carefully planned lifestyle works even in emergencies because deadlines are rarely left for the last minute. Efficiently using the hours in a day is actually less stressful than finding oneself backed into a corner of demands, but building the needed structure also takes time. After being laser focused and in a sense ruled by calendars and clocks for sixty five years I found myself wanting to suspend all forms of organization and just go wherever my inclinations led me. It was fun for a time but I soon enough found that I had neglected so much that everything became chaotic. I gained weight, lost bone density, saw my energy draining and became surrounded by broken appliances and damage to my home. When my husband suffered a stroke for lack of a healthy lifestyle I came to my senses realizing that life really can’t just be a hippie style free for all of doing whatever makes us feel good. I needed to get control over events and that would take focus and planning.
My calendar is now electronic and goes with me wherever I happen to be. It helps me to keep track of the big picture, but within each day are the specifics designed to keep things running smoothly and still allow for long walks along the beach or leisurely camping trips. My watch is my own personal coach prompting me to stand, breathe, exercise, move. It celebrates the days when I accomplish my personal health goals and admonishes me when I grow lax. it’s a good thing for me because I often find that I would prefer not to spend time at the gym, but when the watch asks me why I am not being good I am reminded of the benefits of doing the right thing and I stay focused.
I have to plan healthy meals as well. I use a number of cookbooks and keep track of recipes that are especially tasty. I have to make sure that I have the proper ingredients on hand, so I keep lists of things that I need and coordinate my trips to the store with my gym time since there is a grocer right across the street from the YMCA where I go. By being prepared I have been less likely to fall back on fast food at the last minute than I was when we were so fancy free.
Our lack of due diligence also led to a major disaster with our hot water heater that otherwise might have been caught ahead of time had we made a habit of checking it regularly. Since it’s easy to forget such things we now have set up reminders for all sorts of maintenance of our home and car. By looking ahead and accomplishing a few things each week we are keeping up with little things that will go a long way toward preventing major accidents. In the long run its a small price to pay and its far more relaxing that facing repairs costing thousands of dollars that might have been unnecessary with regular care.
I’m back to my old habits and loving it. I plan my days to include fun, but no longer neglect the small things that keep me and the world around me operating efficiently. It’s true that regularity makes for better physical and mental health and longer life.
I find myself thinking of a story I once heard of a man who lived near the river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. According to the tale he was a man of great discipline who ordered his days with a routine regimen that included a brisk hike up a trail that led to the top. That same trail is now a popular site for adventurous souls who go down to the river and then return after their explorations. Seeing them trudging up the rocky pathway is an amazing sight because in spite of their obvious strength and good health it is apparent that the trail challenges them. It is stunning to realize that there was once a man who took the stony roadway in stride even as he grew old. His secret was that he walked along it every single day without fail, and so it became easy for him. Constant repetition has the power of tackling even the most daunting tasks. Doing just a bit here and a bit there makes our lives more manageable and ultimately more productive and happier.
I guess those old platitudes are not so silly after all. An apple a day may indeed keep the doctor away. A stitch in time may save nine. Early to bed and early to rise may not make us wealthy but studies show that we will be a great deal healthier. Having a plan is a good thing. We just need to be sure to remember why we made it in the first place so that we don’t falter and give up.