“Benjamin Franklin spent his mornings naked. Patricia Highsmith ate only bacon and eggs. Marcel Proust breakfasted on opium and croissants. The path to greatness is paved with a thousand tiny rituals (and a fair bit of substance abuse) – but six key rules emerge.
One morning this summer, I got up at first light – I’d left the blinds open the night before – then drank a strong cup of coffee, sat near-naked by an open window for an hour, worked all morning, then had a martini with lunch. I took a long afternoon walk, and for the rest of the week experimented with never working for more than three hours at a stretch.
This was all in an effort to adopt the rituals of some great artists and thinkers: the rising-at-dawn bit came from Ernest Hemingway, who was up at around 5.30am, even if he’d been drinking the night before; the strong coffee was borrowed from Beethoven, who personally counted out the 60 beans his morning cup required. Benjamin Franklin swore by “air baths”, which was his term for sitting around naked in the morning, whatever the weather. And the midday cocktail was a favourite of VS Pritchett (among many others). I couldn’t try every trick I discovered in a new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration And Get To Work; oddly, my girlfriend was unwilling to play the role of Freud’s wife, who put toothpaste on his toothbrush each day to save him time. Still, I learned a lot. For example: did you know that lunchtime martinis aren’t conducive to productivity?
But for anyone who thinks of their work as creative, or who pursues creative projects in their spare time, reading about the habits of the successful, can be addictive. Partly, that’s because it’s comforting to learn that even Franz Kafka struggled with the demands of his day job, or that Franklin was chronically disorganised. But it’s also because of a covert thought that sounds delusionally arrogant if expressed out loud: just maybe, if I took very hot baths like Flaubert, or amphetamines like Auden, I might inch closer to their genius.”
Routine has two definitions; “a sequence of actions regularly followed” and “performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason”. I think manual therapy (other therapies too probably) can satisfy both of these definitions at various times. In relation to the former, a systematic approach to assessment and treatment is what I was taught was “good therapy” – the encounter with a patient followed a set trajectory of subjective examination (history taking, body chart, aggravating and easing factors etc etc) objective examination (range of motion, movement tests etc etc) treatment (pushing, poking, heating, cooling, rubbing, twisting, wiggling, massaging, electrocuting…) and re-examination.
But all of this can sometime become, well, routine – in the latter sense. A guest blogger suggested recently that our patients will pick up very quickly when this other form of routine comes into play.
A question begging to be asked, is “where do these routines come from?” At least one answer would be that they are blindly followed because some therapy guru does it that way (and I paid a lot of money to attend the course and give up my weekend and they told me that it had to be done just this particular way, with my feet pointing in this direction and my knee bent like that and my hands placed just so, otherwise it wouldn’t work). Is there an element of the addiction and delusion mentioned in the piece at work here? A belief that if I theramobipulate someone exactly like [Insert guru name] then I too will achieve the miraculous results that they (claim to) achieve; with an addiction to attending ever more workshops and trainings?
I know personally that for a large part of my career the answer was yes. I suspect also from the huge response to David Butler’s noinote on the professional roller coaster that I might not be alone.
I’m interested then in how we can develop therapeutic routines (frameworks, paradigms, systems) that don’t become too, routine. What bits of routine might be useful to adopt? How do you keep it ‘fresh’? How does one get off the roller coaster, break the delusion and kick the addiction (all without resorting to drink and drugs)?