Observe the Masses and Do the Opposite
Most of us define our typical schedules as the “daily grind.” You get up, perform your morning rituals, take care of the kids, head off to work, come home, do chores, make dinner, and collapse on the couch in front of the TV. After a while you stumble off to bed, and when the alarm goes off a few hours later, you grudgingly do it all over again. No wonder life seems to pass us by in a flash, leaving us feeling vacant and bored. If you are living in a vicious cycle that never seems to have a beginning or end and you don’t find time to discover the opportunities around you, you will never reach your lifelong dreams and goals.
Have you ever had a job that gave you that sinking feeling in your stomach every Sunday night? Does it seem you can never catch a break? Do you feel as though life just drags on and each day is a continuation of the previous one? Those sentiments are not uncommon in today’s society, but understand that happiness or sadness and your perception of the passage of time all stem from your individually constructed perspective on life.
If you view life as a struggle, you’ll interpret everything that happens to you in that light. You’ll live your life in a way that validates and confirms your point of view, and it will always feel like an intense uphill climb. But a change to an optimistic outlook will generate more positive actions and a fresher routine, which is how you begin to create a new you.
Keep in mind that it is your prerogative not to change. You can stay on the treadmill forever. Just don’t complain about your life not being where you want it to be. If you aren’t willing to make the effort to grab hold of your goals, nobody will want to listen to you whine.
Is your ultimate goal just to survive the grind and get through each day in one piece? Or do you believe that life is yours to do with as you choose, being the architect of your own destiny? Some architects think small and are lazy, so they construct doublewides that look like every other trailer home in the park. Then there are those who shoot for the Taj Mahal. If they don’t make it, they still wind up with a unique and wonderful place they are proud to call their own.
So don’t sell yourself short. Don’t stay stuck in the rut of daily habits and routines, letting opportunities fly past unnoticed. March to the beat of a different drummer. Instead of lagging behind with tired feet and blisters, you might wind up sprinting across the goal line—or at least dancing to your heart’s content.
The term institutionalization describes the process by which inmates are shaped and transformed by the standardized environments in which they live. When inmates become institutionalized—they stop questioning the way things are done and go with the flow. Institutionalization involves the incorporation of the routines of life into one’s habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. Sociologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have studied this process extensively.
The same institutionalization process occurs outside the prison walls to a great number of the population. Many people become drones enslaved by their routines and unconscious habits and patterns. But the process is not limited to a particular worksite environment or social structure because institutionalization is a mind-set. You could be a traveling salesperson, housewife, college student, public servant, or an entrepreneur who works at home. But if you are just repeating your routine over and over again, without questions, healthy curiosity, imagination, or positive emotions, you are running the risk of becoming institutionalized.
Like all processes of gradual change, this one typically occurs in stages, and the longer one remains stuck in the same routine, the more significant and deeply rooted their institutionalization will be. Those who have become conditioned like this over a long period of time start to think less about the outside world and concentrate only on what is right in front of them in their immediate surroundings. They see fewer options, alternatives, and opportunities because tunnel vision limits their outlook. And you cannot take advantage of opportunities if you don’t recognize them.
People gradually become so accustomed to their environments, whether it’s a tiny office cubicle, a classroom, or the den at home, they forget their greater dreams, visions, and lifelong goals. They put their noses to the grindstone and look straight ahead, trudging from one weekend to the next, from one paycheck to the next paycheck. They never reveal their inner desires to anyone, and eventually they lose sight of them altogether, becoming like a donkey focused only on a carrot dangling at the end of a stick.
Why do so many people get stuck in the same routine for twenty, thirty, or forty years? Most people just don’t think about it. We are conditioned to accept life as it is, with no questions asked. We are raised to get a job, hopefully a stable one, and do what is expected of us without bucking the system. Day after day we get up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, and then start the whole process over again. We were told to do this by our parents, our teachers, our television sets, and the collective society. The process of institutionalization is subtle and most people don’t realize it’s happening to them. They don’t consciously choose to give in and give up, surrendering to a cookie-cutter life. It just happens; the way a kid grows taller without noticing it until one day he looks in the mirror and sees that he’s six foot four.
Because people aren’t aware that it is happening to them, they become ever more mired and dependent until following these dead-end paths and routines becomes automatic and second nature. When they see other people stepping out on their own, they think it’s slightly weird, risky, and unconventional. Ask them for career advice and they’ll tell you to stick to the middle road and don’t make waves.
There are so many sad, heartbreaking stories of people who had worked for many years at the same company only to get laid off for one reason or another. They had put the majority of their waking hours into their jobs, which had become their daily routines and a huge part of their self-image. Some people even go as far as committing suicide because they feel that without their work routines, they are less of a person and their lives are fruitless and useless. This is how powerful a routine can become. Sometimes choosing the right routine, the one that helps you feel good about yourself and realize your dreams, can be a matter of life and death.
Many people don’t give a thought to their daily routines; they just move through them in a haze. Don’t sleepwalk through life. Ask questions or give suggestions. Don’t become institutionalized. Don’t lose sight of your long-term objectives. Assert yourself and your willpower. If you become institutionalized, you won’t ever be able to recognize opportunities when they arise, let alone take advantage of them.