Keep your nose to the grindstone, the daily grind, the rat race…

Many of the idioms we use to describe routine and every-day activities have negative connotations. Why is this so? I experience routine actions on the contrary as something that can be very soothing and as something that creates structure, leaving my senses free to focus on other matters, rather than on the nuts and bolts of every day actions – those just flow.

Ok, you say, but routine can be deadly. It can make you complacent and lead to unsafe actions.

Fair point, yet it is down to the quality of your routines whether this is true or not. If you consider the activity in question and what the foreseeable errors might be, you can create routines that take this into account, which on the contrary make such errors less likely.

For example: When I reach my anchor point in the canopy of the tree and I pass my pulley saver around the limb, the first thing I will do, before I do anything else, is always to pass the pulley through the soft eye, as a matter of routine. That’s a no-brainer, you say. In theory I would have to agree, yet under fire weird things can happen. I had the following happen to me once, in cold, wet weather, I was stressed and tired, it was towards the end of the day, in a tall tree. I reached to top of the tree, passed the saver round the limb – to then fiddle around with my climbing system, trying to sort something out. I then passed the line through the pulley. Before releasing my lanyard, I have it a last check, and, of course, it looked wrong – to realise that I had forgotten to pass the pulley through the soft eye that was dangling round the back.

Further variations of this theme are for instance forgetting to pass the line through the pulley, having it only run over the retrieval thimble and so on. I am by no means saying that I am a total goofball and that I do stuff like this all the time, but on very rare occasions, when multiple factors come together, I have had things like this occur. Very scary. I would certainly rate this as an accident without consequence. After it happened I discussed it with the crew in the team meeting, also explaining in which way I intended to change my behaviour as a consequence to prevent this from happening in the future.

One such remedial action might be to always set the pulley saver correctly from the get-go, not just drape it over the limb. Or to always finalise installation of an ascent system before you walk away from it. If it is not going to be used, pull the line out of the tree. Over time, these responses to incidents become second nature and routine. This take on positive routines can, in my experience, make you a safer climber. There is  a strong logic to always setting things up in the same fashion, as something looking wrong can be a strong visual indicator to flag up something that is wrong! If, however, I set things differently every single time, I am forcing myself to consider every time how to set it up and also I loose that visual indicator when something does not look right…

The other insight, again based upon observation, is that unusual configurations and work-around solutions are in general more prone to this kind of occurrence. This is not a argument against such work-arounds, merely the need to be more attentive when such configurations and/ or technique are being employed, as you are stepping away from well-trodden paths – and unexpected situations might ensue as a consequence of this

Routine is a further tool that we can use to our benefit, one that can make us safer and less prone to mistakes caused by fatigue or stress, so long as we use it wise and reflected fashion – so long as the routines we are relying upon are “good” ones.