Routine has countless benefits. Developing personal structure and organization is what helps many of us to become contented and successful. Stephen Covey, author of the ground-breaking book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," drives home to individuals and corporations the value of systematizing one's calendar and one's life. Establishing routine is valuable in many ways. Here are just a few:

Helps us to be more efficient with our time and to respect the time of others.

Reduces anxiety, irritability and stress.

Helps us to more easily achieve our goals and thus become more successful at what we do.

Turns us into more reliable, predictable people.

Allows us to more easily keep commitments and meet deadlines.

Any good tendency can be taken to an extreme, however. Andrea sought my help because life with her husband Ron had become very dull. Following a stint in the military, Ron had become highly organized and structured. Ron's need for routine had begun to control him. He seemed to get stuck in a rut, doing the same things at the same time every day. He became more and more resistant to trying new foods, visiting new places, meeting new people or doing much of anything that deviated from his comfort zone. And the more set Ron became in his ways, the more anxious he felt when life got in the way of his daily rituals.

Ron wanted desperately to save his marriage by becoming less wedded to his routine. He had, in fact, made a few attempts with little success. What he had failed to acknowledge, however, was that it would be well nigh impossible for him to become someone who could simply throw caution to the wind and wake up one morning as Mr. Flexibility. After sharing this reality with Ron, I made two suggestions:

Begin by making one very small change a week, such as changing your route to work in the morning or adding a new food into your diet.

Plan and schedule your intended weekly changes ahead of time so that, paradoxically, regular change becomes a part of your routine.

Once I'd made my suggestions, Ron breathed a sigh of relief. Since this approach allowed him to remain the control freak he is (while making bite-sized weekly changes) the plan felt doable to him.

Over the next six months, Ron routinely made about 25 changes to his routine, one week at a time. Not only did this ignite a spark in his previously ho-hum marriage but at Ron's report he enjoyed the following unexpected benefits:

Increased flexibility and adaptability. By practicing change a week at a time, Ron found that he weathered other unanticipated changes with greater ease.

Better quality of life. Rather than being afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone Ron began to feel exhilarated and fulfilled by gradually extending his repertoire of life experiences.

Enhanced creativity. Ron had always thought of himself as strictly a left-brained guy without any creativity. Instituting gradual change caused Ron to combine old ideas in new ways which is, in fact, the definition of creativity.

The best change of all is that Ron now controls his tendency toward structure and routine, not the other way around. He has found a healthy balance between routine and change and the good news is that you can, too.

Maud Purcell is a psychotherapist, corporate consultant and director of the Life Solution Center of Darien.

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