Going the distance

The power of routine

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. August 18, 2015

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I'm fascinated by the small proportion of the human gene pool that seems to thrive and survive in the face of daunting challenges. I talked to an accountant, an airline pilot and a jockey to see what we can learn from them.

An accountant

I recently struck up a casual conversation with a woman in her early 30s who is a CPA for a major accounting firm. Her home base is in a major Midwestern city, but her work is four hours away in another city and she's required to be on site. This means that every Monday morning she fights the traffic to make it to the airport of her home city, fly to the job site for four consecutive days living in a motel. This is no picnic, but it's what needs to be done for her profession.

I was curious as to how she handles her routine. She explained that every trip she stays in the same hotel and packs the same clothes, so with her eyes shut she knows exactly where everything is in the hotel. There's little room for error. She doesn't have to waste emotional energy.

An airline pilot

A pilot in his early 50s feels trapped because of the change in his pension requirements. Even as a captain, he may have to fly five consecutive days to five different cities in four different time zones.

He's learned that the predictability of a routine minimizes the risk of costly missteps. He sets two alarm clocks so there's no anxiety about oversleeping. He stays in the same family of hotels so he knows exactly what the menus are, where the athletic facilities are and the quickest way to get from the hotel to the airport. He brings the same workout clothes, the same toiletries and accessories, and can be packed and be ready to go in approximately five minutes.

A jockey

Having grown up around racetracks, I have a special appreciation for jockeys. Pound for pound, they are some of the toughest athletes in the world. A thoroughbred weighs in at about 1,200 pounds, which is about half the weight of a small car. In contrast, jockeys top out at approximately 120 pounds. It's common for jockeys to get injured. Hopefully, it's just a minor bruise, but there is the risk of paralysis or even death.

With racing now being 12 months a year, a jockey must be available at one day's notice to fly from, let's say, the major tracks in Miami to a racetrack in upstate New York, then possibly to the major tracks in southern California. To make this work, a jockey must have a valet he can trust. This person is an administrative-type who organizes the jockey's tack (boots, saddles and silks) as well as taking care of details like the insurance bill so that the rider can concentrate on the finish line.

All three of these folks have figured out the power of routine to decrease anxiety, eliminate distractions and enable focus. Their success and in some cases their lives depend on it. What could you accomplish if you were willing to commit to following a routine?


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

Aug. 18, 2015