The strangest thing I’ve done recently? Hands down, pretending to be a mime while bouncing on a fitness ball at the YMCA. Let me set the scene for you. It’s abs class. Actually, it’s “Absolutely Abs” or “Abtastic Abs” or “Ab-alicious Abs.” Whatever it’s called, it’s me and a bunch of soccer moms in a room banked with mirrors doing sit-ups. And pretending to be mimes. The teacher is a six-foot-five middle-aged man with a taste for heavy eyeliner and glitter rouge who belts out encouragement through one of those headset microphones that teen pop idols sing through so they’re free to mesmerize the crowd with jazz hands. Halfway through the class, this instructor, whom we’ll call Frederick, has us bouncing on fitness balls and pretending to climb a ladder. Then we’re pretending to be stuck inside a box. Then we’re pretending to pull a rope.
Meanwhile, Earth Wind and Fire’s greatest hits pumps through the speakers and Frederick stands in front of the class, clapping, counting, and telling us to “really tug on that rope!”
I haven’t been that uncomfortable since my eighth grade physical when my doctor called me a “late bloomer” during a hernia check.
This is what I get for trying new things. Prompted by a growing sense of ennui, I’ve decided to make some small changes in my life. Nothing too drastic. I’m not gonna change my name to Suzy and start wearing high heels on Friday nights. I’m talking about riding my skateboard to work instead of driving. Trying every coffee shop downtown. Rock climbing on my lunch hour once a week. Going to a completely ridiculous fitness class at the YMCA. That sort of thing.
It’s been said that to make a big difference in your life, you have to make big changes, but I disagree. The changes I’m making may sound petty, but life is predominantly made up of petty tasks. Sure, you have your big events: childbirth, weddings, open heart surgeries, threesomes…but the majority of our lives, say 95%, are made up of very small, insignificant routines. Driving to work. Checking email. Getting coffee. Sleeping. Watching TV. Bowel movements. Watching more TV…Whether we like it or not, our lives are made up of insignificant details strung together in familiar patterns.
Think about your typical work day. Chances are you do the exact same things in the exact same order. Hit the snooze, wake up, shower, brush teeth, morning constitutional, drive to work, check voice mail, check email, refill coffee, check email, check weather, check email. You probably even take the same route to work every day, even though there are maybe ten different ways you can get from your house to the office. I know I do. Think about that. Dozens of roads intersect the landscape between Point A and Point B, and we choose the same one every single day.
That is the definition of monotony. And it’s a monotony that tends to follow most of us into the Great Outdoors. I run the same trail system every Tuesday and Friday. There are half a dozen I could choose from, but I always end up at the same trailhead. I have a group mountain bike ride on Wednesdays. We ride the same trail, drink the same Miller Lite Tallboys in the same parking lot, and eat the same post-ride Mexican food. Every single Wednesday. Occasionally, if we’re feeling crazy, we’ll ride the trail backwards. Twice a year I meet up with my high school buddies for a camping trip. We go to the same island in the middle of the same river. We drink the same beers, ride the same trails, have the same philosophical arguments. The same friend gets too drunk on the same brand of Scotch and falls into the same fire. Once a year I fly out west and ski the same backcountry powder stashes at the same resort in the same state.
It’s as if we are addicted to familiarity, as if monotonous patterns soothe us. And perhaps patterns are soothing to an extent, but they can also be dangerous. In my case, the monotony has delivered me to a state of Adventure Ennui. The very endeavors designed to keep my life interesting have become mundane, which makes me worry for the future. Am I already headed for the dreaded mid-life crisis—an American phenomenon brought on by boredom and comfort? I don’t want to be that 50-year-old guy who suddenly trades in his sedan for a Harley and starts wearing leather chaps to the golf club. Nobody wants to be that guy. But it happens. And it’s not just a male thing. It happens to women too. Just substitute breast implants for the Harley. (But keep the leather chaps in the scenario, because that’s sexy.)
I know it’s a giant leap to go from being a little bored with the trails I run to getting a tribal tattoo and trading my wife in for a 22-year old barista. But I hate tribal tattoos and I’ll do just about anything to avoid getting one. So I’m making some tiny changes. I’m altering a few of the minute routines that define my daily life in hopes that it will have a profound affect on my happiness. Switching from cereal to fruit and yogurt. Choosing a surface road instead of the interstate even though I know the interstate is 3.2 minutes faster. Taking a spin class instead of hitting the free weights. Going to see a live show during the middle of the week. Spending a half hour on a Monday night tugging on an imaginary rope while a man in eyeliner tells me to “tug harder.”
Consider it a revolution of small things. •