Yesterday I wrote about my own methods for structuring my life. Now, I want to look into some of the reasons I've had to think so much about this, when it comes naturally to most people.
With all its ritual and taboo, religion is a fantastic source for lifestyle structure, if you're not too worried about the consequences of that structure.
With most major religions, varying levels of commitment allow you to take as much structure from it as you need, and let the rest slip away. You can either be devout, going to Church every Sunday or eating Kosher or Halal, or you can celebrate the high holidays and keep a rough sense of moral expectations while you fit into the structures of your industry or community.
The main problems with religious structure are:
(a.) It has a false center of purpose -- the rituals aren't for god, they're for the institution, or the community from which they originated, or they're just OCD-style quirks that found their way in through the early years of the religion. But they claim to be designed to please a god, so there's no way to check if they're working, or if you even want to be accomplishing the end they actually serve.
As a consequence, (b.) most of the rituals have long outlived their benefits, and even the ones that work are less than ideal. In the bronze age, the dietary restrictions of a religion were good ways to keep from dying, and rituals like confession or prayer for others are good bronze-age substitutes for therapy and conflict resolution skills.
Law provides a structure for a lot of behaviors, if you want to toe the line. The main problem with getting your guidance from the government is that it's mostly restrictive -- laws tell you what not to do, not what you should be doing.
Society has elaborate structures set out for everyone, and it's impossible not to pick up at least some of your lifestyle, probably most of it, subconsciously from the world around you.
The main problems is that they're invisible -- you don't tend to be conscious of your conditioning, and they're not organized around your own priorities. Societal conditioning is where most racism, sexism and other isms.
Coming up with your own
Personally, I think this is the way to go. It's an excellent route to self-improvement, and it lets you maximize your realistic adherence to your own moral values.
The main trouble is that it's hard. And it makes you seem weird. And it requires that you study sociology and postmodernism to learn how to unpick all the values and structures that have been instilled in you over the course of your lifetime.
But, hey, that's fun, right?