For the Average Person: Choice is Embedded in Routine
In Don Hertzfeldt’s 2012 feature film It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the viewer follows the life of a man named Bill, an individual whose simplicity, as well perplexity, allows for a personal resonance that is quite profound, considering he is an animated, black-and-white stick figure. One of the most sobering quotes from the film — which is all narrated in the third person — goes:
Bill dropped his keys on the counter and stood there staring at them, suddenly thinking about all the times he’d thrown his keys there before and how many days of his life were wasted repeating the same tasks and rituals in his apartment over and over again. But then he wondered if, realistically, this was his life, and the unusual part was his time spent doing other things.
It makes you think, not only about Bill, but about yourself. You may ask yourself, “Do I do the same things everyday? Do I have any excitement in my life? Do I have any purpose? Am I Bill?”
First, you probably do do the same things every day. And yes, you do have excitement and purpose in you life. And no, you’re not Bill — you probably only asked that question if you haven’t seen the film.
Every day I live is usually made up of the same mundane tasks and routines that I did the day before — struggling to get out of bed, walking around town, calling my family, eating dinner, among other things. I do these routines every day that oftentimes, I feel like I’m repeatedly living the same day over and over again, so I can identify with Bill a little bit. It is only sometimes that a 24-hour day is filled with doing unique things or meeting out-of-the-ordinary people that I don’t normally come in contact with.
Most of the time, my days are very similar from an outside perspective, I admit it. The thing about this, though, is that as I go about living my seemingly identical day-after-day life, I always remember one word: choice.The opportunity to make positive choices that promote my well-being are embedded in these everyday tasks and routines. Yes, I may do the same things every day, and yes, it gets old, but the choices I make involving these tasks and routines are what makes my days worth while.
Struggling to get out of bed. I do this every day. I struggle to get out of bed every day. I wake up and think to myself, “Wow, this sucks.” Embedded in this everyday routine is a choice for me: to sleep in or to get out of bed early. Today, I decided to get out of bed early, and it changed the course of my morning, compared to the days that I got out of bed late.
Walking around town. I do this every day. I walk around town every day. I don’t have a car, so I am limited to my feet for transportation. Embedded in this everyday routine is a choice for me for me: to have a cigarette on my walk or to walk with my hands free. Today, I decided to not have cigarettes on my walks. In fact, I didn’t smoke a cigarette at all so far. And with that, my walks — which I enjoy very much — were filled with more energy, enthusiasm, and less guilt.
Calling my family. I do this every day. I call my family every day. My mother is in a financial crisis and me and my sister interact better over the phone, so I feel the need to keep in touch with them every day. Embedded in this everyday routine is a choice for me: to bother my mom for money or to ask her how her day was. Today, I called my mother and refrained from asking her for any money. I’m a poor college student, and I’m still living by a thread and sometimes need help from my parents, but I know my mother doesn’t have a lot of money to give me, so I decided to work with what I had and avoided an argument about money by asking her how her day was.
Eating dinner. I do this every day. I eat dinner every day. Embedded in this everyday routine is a choice for me: to get fast food or to eat a healthy meal. I’ve lost 35 pounds since last summer, and that’s partly because I’ve been eating better, and not like crap.
Note: Notice how my choices are not phrased as “to do [specific positive choice] or not.” They are phrased as “to do [specific negative choice] or [specific positive choice].” The reason I choose the latter is because phrasing it that way (1) gives me two specific choices to choose from, and (2) lists the positive choice at the end. If I said, “Embedded in this task is a choice for me: to have a healthy meal or not,” I am not specifically stating what my other choice is, so if I get lazy, I’ll just default to “not” having a healthy meal. When I say, “Embedded in this task is a choice for me: to get fast food or to eat a healthy meal,” I have two specific choices in front of me, so there is more of a chance of holding myself accountable.
Unless you’re like some of the micro-celebrities I follow on Instagram, you probably don’t have a magnificent life filled with seemingly unlimited travel, shopping and cuisine, and a multitude of friends. Maybe you’re like me: a simple person who just tries to live their life in their own little corner of the world. That’s not a bad thing, though: living a simple life is actually a lot of fun because it makes the times that we do get to travel, shop, eat and meet people more exciting and entertaining.
Probably the most important take-away from this piece is the fact that there is a possibility in living a rather mundane life while still having the capacity for a greater agency. Living your life in a regular routine does not mean you are exempt from making unique, directed choices. You can certainly fill your day with the same, rather boring things — school, work, cooking meals, driving your car, talking to the same people — and still find meaning in all of it by taking control of your agency and making choices you are proud of.
Go watch It’s Such a Beautiful Day. At the end of the film (no spoilers), Bill realizes something about the life’s mundaneness, which I don’t have the wisdom to impart on you. But I did what I could with this article. Don’t let it take as long as it took Bill for you to realize what he did.