I also hat the chain and first row- I've tried using a larger hook (several sizes, even) and I still have trouble. So, I just crochet into the back loop...not as perfect, but it saves my sanity!
I get what you mean about the calming repetitiveness! I still have to be careful when working a pattern or else I'll screw things up. But, one of these days I'll dig out that queen sized afghan I started a few years back and do some repetitive stitching on that. Lots of double crochet...and now that I know that crocheting into the back loop is an actual technique, I don't have to admit to anyone else that I didn't know what I was doing at the time
Now, I can say that I was adding "texture" to my afghan...
I have yet to try anything wearable (beyond a hat), so I need to challenge myself with that, too!