Repeat. Repeat.

What is this innate phenomenon called repetition? As children we love to hear the same stories and songs again and again, we like wearing the same maroon jeans with the rainbow bright belt (yes, I was a child of the 80s), we like our hair in our signature braids. It is common knowledge that one of the most ancient and effective learning tools ever devised by man is the powerful principle of repetition.

But here is my question, is it really true that human beings somehow need to see, hear, and do things again and again and again in order to acquire any kind of growth or self-improvement? After 33 years in the church (ok, the last three don’t count since I don’t go anymore), I became disenchanted because of the all repetition, and I felt that I couldn’t voice my disenchantment lest the age old rebuttals came into play. All I saw was a sea of the same. The same lessons. The same temple ceremony. The same. The same. The same.

I am a teacher and I teach the same lesson to basically the same group of teens seven times over a period of two days, then I repeat the process over and over again. Every hour and twenty-five minutes I, in a sense, repeat my life seven different times.

Are all people asked to do this? Do you make the same decisions, have the same conversations with co-workers, do you follow the same routine every day, or is it just me? How do you feel about this? Is there something to be learned from all of these daily tasks of repetitions? Does it make you appreciate the moments that are truly unique? Is it possible to have a job and a life where every day brings a uniqueness? I am not talking about the chance we all have to create small moments of uniqueness each day, but truly doing different things every day. Is it possible? Would we like it?

Or do we like wearing the same warm, lush, striped socks to bed every night, having the same cereal for breakfast every morning, take that same drive home to visit our parents each month, styling our hair the same way, getting the same phone calls from people who need to talk about the things they always need to talk about?

We watch movies with the same story lines again and again and again.

We listen to the same music, or a particular song a thousand times…why?

As a people, are we not really looking for “fresh” as much as we are looking for “familiar”? In regards to the church, is this why many who may have concerns stay–because it is known and familiar?  I know we’ve been told that humans are forgetful and need to remember–but is there a difference between knowing how to remember and being faced with endless repetition?

How do you deal with the repetitions so they serve you instead of disconnect you?



I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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9 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    In my job, there is repetition–similar problem, different patient. How effective I was 20 years ago is vastly different. Repetition, or perhaps variations on the theme, has served me very well.
    In church on Sunday, it is when there is no variation that it gets laborious for me. (The same stock questions/answers, etc.) I feel like I’ve done a good job teaching a RS lesson when someone says something like, “I hadn’t considered it in that way before.”

  2. Corktree says:

    I love coming back to familiarity after venturing away from it. I think repetition is what gives our foundation strength and allows us to build a more interesting structure around our lives. It may seem like the opposite and that this would foster boredom, but patterns have a way of reinforcing and providing a base that is needed for more intricate design – I guess I’m picturing architectural art in this metaphor, but I think it really does apply as we move away from the teachings that we hear over and over in order to understand the more complicated mysteries of the universe. Both are equally important and one supports the other – in my view anyway.

    I also love finding new ways to see something I’ve always been aware of, but never fully understood or accepted enough responsibility for.

  3. spunky says:

    This is very interesting- we are creatures habit, so thid observation is quite keen. For me, my routine (repeat) of weekday (and sometimes weekends) life builds a security in my sense of being so that I can step out of bounds. So my day in and day out breeds security, security builds confidence, and confidence helps me to be me. So- if I give a hyper feminist lesson in Relief Society, I still feel safe because I am going home, and home is familiar and safe and my week will go on. My weeks of repetitous simplicity make me hungry and confident that I can try: belly dancing, travel to a 3rd wold country, Indonesian cuisine, exploring radical doctrine. So I guess for me, I need to get a repeat mode with the basics, so I feel safe enough to venture in other areas. But that is just me… not sure if that works for others.

  4. jks says:

    I think everyone has their own ideal balance between repetition and the unknown. I like repetition in certain ways. I’m the type who’d like to eat the same thing over and over for a while and then switch. I like to concentrate on a particular problem and think about it alot and then move on.
    I’m a mother and I found that I can find a balance that works great for me. I have the same things to take care of over and over again, but I have enough time and energy to spend time thinking over new and different issues and concentrating on these things for a while until something else seems pressing or important or needs attention.
    I have belonged to many different wards in my life. I think there is a good balance for me between things being new and things being the same. My calling is often different. My family is different. Even if I stay put the people around me change. The teachers of lessons and the speakers are different. And I am different. I am still me but I am a 40 year old me with different circumstances than 10, 15, 20 or 25 years ago. Yet it is constant enough that it is still the same gospel.

  5. Craig says:

    I found I had that same problem with the church. It’s true that humans enjoy routine and the familiar (to a certain point), but the reason I had a problem with the endless routine in the church was that over and over you’re told that you’re supposed to be learning more and new things, and growing and changing – but that can’t happen when the information is always the same, when questioning and challenging preconceptions are outlawed, and when everything that is written and said is so tightly correlated to be exactly the same, everywhere. Nothing new can happen in that environment, which is why it’s so frustrating. It’s absurd to be told to learn new things when there is never any new information.

    My point is that while we are creatures of habit, we also need change. The church however is fully committed to (at least the thin veneer of) never changing, ever. In the end, that’s part of what forced me out of the church. My very individuality was being suppressed because of how THE SAME everything had to be in Mormonism. That coupled with the arbitrary rules in Mormon culture which suppress individuality and encourage group conformity (alcohol, tea, coffee, piercings, tattoos, rated “R” movies, swearing, etc.) ended up making the routine of the church completely unbearable and totally void of all meaning or usefulness to me.

    Perhaps because of that experience, I crave uniqueness. I get a new haircut every other month. I cook new things constantly. Listen to new music (in addition to the same stuff I will always love), travel to new places. It’s the combination of the familiar and the new that keeps me sane. Being able to freely choose both what I want to do and who I want to be without any rules telling me how I “ought” to be is what keeps me sane.

  6. CatherineWO says:

    I think the amount of sameness that a person can tolerate or needs really varies from person to person. My husband thrives and is most creative in his work when his life revolves around a very set routine (eating, sleeping, exercising, even going to the bathroom), whereas I love to switch things around, changing the order and timing of activities from day to day, or at least week to week. I’m self-employed, so this is easy for me to do, not as easy when I worked for someone else and had children at home. The best job I ever had was working at an independent bookstore, where every day was a new adventure–new books, new customers–and we had a small enough staff that everyone had to do a little bit of everything.

  7. Angie says:

    I also love variety and a chance to use creativity. I’m a high school guidance counselor, and that’s one of my favorite parts of the job. You just never know what a teenager is going to say! 🙂

    When I was a SAHM, one of the hardest things was the mind-numbing sameness of the endless diaper changing and cleaning.

    Regarding church, I think it’s all about applying the same doctrine to our different stages of life. Prayer is so different in high school, college, middle age, etc. And loving our neighbors looks completely different for a woman working 80 hours a week than for a woman at home with chronic pain.

    We are responsible for making the connections between the commandments and our individual circumstances. I love it – it’s an exhilarating intellectual challenge, an it feels like the most worthwhile work of all others. Basically the journey of integrating God with our selves.

  8. Ann says:

    I think, overall, I appreciate repetition in my life–especially when it comes to the church. I love ritual (as I believe it creates sacred, cyclical time in our lives where we go back to the beginning over and over again). I find that when I study on my own that these repeated rituals in the church truly do reveal more meanings that I initially understood.
    However, I also get tired of repeated discussions…I think there is value in repeating topics, but I like a fresh look at things we talk about something over and over.

  9. Laurie says:

    I really love singing kirtan. Over and over repeating the same mantra, the same honoring of the divine, until the sentiment becomes more heart-felt as I go and the song rises and falls, washing over me with vibration that somehow changes how I relate to myself and the world. Vibration has proven to be a really powerful practice for me.

    I like to look at anything repetitive as a constant chance to wake up, rather than go to sleep.

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