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Mastering Monotony

Monotony is defined as “lack of variety and interest; tedious repetition and routine.” There are many things we do on a daily basis that become habit, and sometimes even monotonous. There are some things that we have to do that we don’t even like doing. In our work and home routines, some things just have to get done. Additionally, there are things that we really want to conquer in life, yet they also get old and tiring. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” becoming an expert takes doing something 10,000 times. So, as we’re becoming experts, how do we overcome monotony?

Here are a few suggestions:

Live fully in the present– At times, monotony increases when we’re doing something and thinking of 100 other things we’d rather be doing. If we pay attention to the task at hand, not only do we do it better, the monotony of the activity decreases, and we possibly get it done faster.

Improve/perfect the mundane– I remember being invited to a Japanese tea ceremony (an example can be found here ) when I was in Japan. At first I thought “boring,” but decided to be a good visitor and experience the local culture. I make tea all the time, and it’s not that difficult. What I witnessed was a beautiful exhibition of perfection, culture, and pride in making and serving tea. There was precision and care taken in the preparation of the dry tea, the placement of the cups, cleansing of the vessels, and the pouring of the water. It became artistic.

As we perform mundane tasks, we should ask ourselves how we can improve or perfect whatever we’re doing. We may not want to become an ‘expert’ in brushing teeth or washing dishes, but we might learn to enjoy them more, and do them better.

Look through ‘new eyes’– I remember when one of my kids was about 4 years old, the bathtub overflowed and there was about 1/2 inch of water on the floor. I started grabbing towels, buckets, and anything I could find to quickly clean up the mess. I asked my son to find something to help. He brought a dust pan. It was perfect for the task at hand, but I hadn’t even thought of it.

Robyn Williams - Dead Poet Society
Robyn Williams - Dead Poet Society

I also remember in the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ with Robin Williams, Robin (the teacher) asked the students to stand on his desk, to give a new perspective. Many times, if we look at the same activity with ‘new eyes,’ we may find a new way to do it more efficiently, or we may find a new way to enjoy it.

It’s been said that anything worth doing is worth doing well. It’s also been been said that the little things ARE the big things. As we learn to overcome monotony, improve the mundane, and life fully in the present, the monotonous can become miraculous.


Randall H