How routines can save expats from loneliness

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

I was frenetically packing my gym gears, ready to jump on my bike and challenge the cold wind, the light rain, the vicious tram trails, the impatient taxi drivers to finally get the gym. Well, that was what I wanted to do when I started packing. By the time my backpack was ready, I had time to think and feel the resistance. So much resistance that packing became a slow motion action. The towel suddenly weighed a ton, I needed to compulsively check whether my wallet had the gym card and, just to be sure, all the other cards, supermarket bonus points card included. I was clearly sabotaging myself when it occurred to me that the rain wasn't so light after all and the tram trails would be more than happy to see me flying from the bike. I wouldn't give them this satisfaction, not this evening.

I started procrastinating and sabotaging myself. As a consequence, I stopped going to the gym, I didn't attend milongas on a regular basis any more. I then started feeling guilty because I assumed a more sedentary life style and my tango skills got even worse. I started complaining about the weather, the time at which the activities were scheduled and the non-friendly environment that didn't encourage me to attend the events with enthusiasm and devotion.

So, just to make the picture crystal-clear: I was the one who was procrastinating and adopting self sabotaging behaviours, but I blamed something or someone else for my actions. Everything made perfectly sense in my mind until I realized that my blaming wouldn't change a thing. I decided to try another strategy, but I first needed to understand what was really going on. With some professional help and by having my new family by my side, I realized that what was holding me back from engaging in the activities that I still loved doing was my fear of routines.

Having a routine means more than doing what we love on a regular basis. Routine means creating a structure within which we can feel fulfilled, complete, safe and independent. A structure that will protect us from loneliness. The structure lives and flourishes with repetition. Regular occurrences are the actual fabric of a routine. I was very bad at establishing routines because I wanted to learn tango, but I didn't want a fixed schedule for the lessons.

With more support and professional help, I could finally see something hidden even at a deeper level. I was afraid of committing. And being able to commit is at the core of a routine. Luckily, you don't need to first overcome big fears before you can establish a healthy routine. I learned the hard way, but there are other simpler ways to get the same results.

What I want to share is a more gentle way to both treat yourself and lead you towards committing. The first step is to understand that the structure of a routine provides a sense of familiarity. A cozy nest to come to when everything seems overwhelming. As an expat, I find difficult to manage all the inputs I receive during a day. Inputs about old distant friends, possible new friends, cultural gaps, language barriers, sense of meaning when I feel rootless, work, love life and daily chores. It's a rollercoaster of emotions that can be pretty exhaustive.

So, it is important to deeply absorb the fact that a routine can be one of your best friends when it comes to keep all the rest out and have some soothing me-time. While still internalizing this idea, we can go on creating our routine by:

1. Choosing only one thing that we really like doing. It can be reading, drawing, sipping an infusion, staring at the wall...literally whatever.

2. Scheduling a time during which the only thing that exists in our activity. This means...

3. Switching off our pc, tablets and mobiles keeping all the nasty and distracting notifications out of reach.

4. Starting small, even very small if needed by allotting less time to the activity than you would usually like to. Remember that a routine exhausts you in the long run. Thus, you want to train with short activities to begin with.

5. Stick with it! No matter what, just stick with it. That's the most challenging part because we will experience resistance. There will be an event that we really want to attend, but it clashes with our routine. It will be difficult to say no to people who might not fully understand why we are preferring some me-time instead of their company. Let's tick with our routine nonetheless. It will get easier and easier to find a good compromise between me-time and social life. It will come, but at the very beginning we need to nurture the routine.

Once the routine is solidly developed, we can harvest its benefits. We will go to our cozy nest, a place within ourselves where we will feel at ease, accepted and less lonely.

If you are ready to boost your life abroad, book a free consultation where we can explore your case and see how I can help you.

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