Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. Warren Buffett.
If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got.
Julie reminded me of the truth of that statement.
Julie was feeling depressed. She worked in admin in the local hospital and every workday she set her alarm for 7 am. She’d make a pot of tea and would drink two cups every morning followed by a bowl of cornflakes. While she had breakfast her husband would have a shower and then she would shower while he had breakfast. She would leave the house at 8.10 am to drive her Ford Fiesta to work, arriving half an hour early so as to set a good example.
She told me that she had worked in the same hospital in the same department for nearly twenty-five years. She didn’t enjoy her job and was looking forward to her retirement even though it was nine years away. Every lunchtime at 1 pm she would go to the staffroom and eat the cheese sandwiches that she’d brought from home, along with a cup of coffee. She’d leave work at 4 pm and arrive home an hour before her husband. She would cook dinner and he would do the washing up before they settled down to watch television for the rest of the evening.
I asked her about her weekend routine. Julie said that her husband always set the alarm for 7.30 am on Saturdays so that they could have a lie in. After the regulatory pot of tea, and showering, they would go out shopping, always to the same town. In the afternoon they would potter around the house and garden cleaning and catching up with the washing and ironing.
“What about Sundays?” I asked hopefully.
“Oh, we always go out on a Sunday,” she replied. I thought, at last, there might be something interesting that they do.
“Where do you go?” I asked.
“To my husband’s favourite café” she answered. “We have fish and chips and a cup of coffee. It very good value and my husband always says that it saves me cooking.”
I was hardly surprised that Julie felt depressed. She clearly illustrated the principle that if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.
We began to explore how she could change her routine and change how she was feeling. Julie felt hesitant, fearful even, which was perfectly natural, for what she had been doing was not only familiar but it also kept her life balanced and stable. Her lifestyle limited the risk of the unexpected but it also limited the possibility of enjoyment.
We started to talk about what small steps she could take to facilitate this change. To start with it was small things like taking a different route home from work, sitting at a different table in the café, or eating different food. Ideas such as trying a different café or town were rejected at first. I later found out that Julie’s husband had been resistant to any change at all and he would become angry at even the smallest change in their routine so at first, it was things that only affected Julie that were changed.
Julie began to look at whether she was really enjoying what she was doing and, if not, how she could do things differently. As she introduced more change into her life so she began to experience more positive emotions. Soon she was meeting friends to try out new coffee shops and go for walks. She stopped watching so much television and had signed up for an evening class plus joined a local wildlife group.
Her husband refused to change his routine at all and he disliked his wife having new ideas and interests. Soon Julie realised that they needed to separate and they did.
Sometimes change can seem difficult and frightening, but Julie learned that making gradual changes at your own pace soon opens up opportunities for new experiences and new possibilities.
She has remarried now and she and her husband have opened an art gallery and café. They regularly travel abroad to unusual places and Julie’s depression is a thing of the past.
Julie adapted the quote at the beginning and printed it to put on her wall. It reads:
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got, and you’ll always feel what you always felt.
My stories about clients and patients are just that – stories. Clients inspire me, but they are not included in my posts.