Routine – a sequence of actions regularly followed.

When I started my Three Rs blogs, exploring ‘routine’ had been the inspiration.  Two-thirds of the way through, ‘routine’ had stifled my thinking.  One word – two effects.

Routine is boring

I had wanted to talk about routine because it is often seen as fixed, unchanging, boring.  Some people dread things being routine, claiming it stifles creativity and freedom.  But I wondered, what if the opposite is also true?  What if routine is indeed one word which can have two effects?

Routine generally refers to things which are not out of the ordinary, so can be seen as boring.  It’s the usual way of doing things, so can be seen as fixed and unchanging.  But does it really stifle creativity and freedom?

There are many things which benefit from having a routine.  Computers have routine processes which enable them to function.  Having your car routinely serviced helps it run smoothly.  Routine health checks can help identify potential issues earlier.  Routine helps keep things running.

Routine is freeing

Routine also frees your brain up to focus on more important things.  Once you’ve created a routine, your brain can switch to automatic pilot for those bits, which means it has more energy to problem-solve and work creatively. 

It’s estimated we are faced with a whopping 35,000 choices per day so ‘decision fatigue’ (the deterioration of your ability to make good decisions after a long day of decision making) is only to be expected.

Most importantly, a good routine can ensure you are regularly meeting your personal needs such as exercise, personal development, feeling productive, meditation, time with loved ones – you know, the ones you tend to say you’ll do later, after work, after the kids have gone to bed.

Mason Currey, author of, ‘Daily Rituals: How Artists Work’, puts it this way:

In the right hands, [a routine] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

Start the day well

Over the past eighteen months I’ve been creating my own morning routine which goes something like this:

  1. Get up early (between 5-6am)
  2. Make the bed (first task of the day completed)
  3. Exercise
  4. See to the pets
  5. Read something inspiring or informative
  6. Meditate or journal
  7. Have breakfast with my husband
  8. Get washed and dressed, and ready for the day

This means by 9am I feel I have not only achieved a lot, but all my personal needs have already been met.  I’m not trying to find the energy and motivation to exercise, learn something new, meditate when I’m tired at the end of the day – remember what I said about decision fatigue?  My physical health has been taken care of.  My mental health has been taken care of.  I don’t need to worry about them because my routine has them covered.

End the day well

Having a good bedtime routine is equally important as it tells your mind and body it’s time to rest.

Good bedtime routines include things like:

  • Identifying your priorities for the next day so you feel prepared.
  • Checking in with your values and where they have/haven’t been met that day.
  • Gratitude Notes
  • Meditation
  • Putting out your clothes out ready for the next day
  • Switching off devices an hour before bedtime
  • Journalling

So if routines are so helpful, why can it go wrong?

When there’s no escape

Routine becomes restrictive if your entire day becomes routine.  If you roll from one routine set of actions, to the next, and the next, and the next, there is no space for creativity and free thinking.

For example, when the lock-down started in the UK I was feeling pretty chipper all things considered.  I had my positive morning routine, I’m happy in my own company, I love my house and garden, it was sunny so we could sit outside, my husband was working from home with me, my work continued without any difficulty.  All was good.

But I stopped going anywhere different.  Normally I work in Taunton two days a week, and make a point of going out at lunchtime – that stopped.  I did as much food shopping online as I could get delivery slots.  Our dog is 13yrs old so doesn’t walk far, and we decided it was safer just to stay home anyway.

Every week  became the same

Everything began to feel a bit pointless.  I had no motivation because there wasn’t much I could do to change things. Remember Bill Murray at the beginning of Groundhog Day?

We were also in the middle of a pandemic.  Evidence from combat psychology tells us the second phase of an emergency, such as a pandemic, is the hardest.  Once the initial crisis has started and everyone has thrown themselves into finding a way to get through it, we reach the ‘regression’ phase.  This is where we’re having to wait it through, we’re not able to fully use our natural skills, everything becomes mundane and routine.  Boredom, lack of new experiences, and monotony can often be more stressful than combat.

I had to press reset.  To break the routine, double down on self-care, and focus on the things which get my brain whirring, in my case learning, and exploring my surroundings.

This experience reminded me of the dangers of too much routine.  Had I written this as I orginally intended you would have only got half the story.  Life in its infinite wisdom created the opportunity for me to give you a more balanced account.

I firmly believe there is a great benefit to creating your own positive routines to bookend your day, ensuring your needs are being met on a daily basis. Even so, it is wise to remain vigilant to prevent too much routine creeping in and making every day the same.

If routine has taken over your life, and you know you need to break free but don’t know how, why not book in for a free call to find out how I can help?

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