Why We Are Drawn to Routines and Where We Struggle
Have you ever heard someone say that routines are how we get stuck in a rut? And maybe you agree with that notion.
Today I want to delve into this topic and hopefully by the end of our time together you will see that not all routines are bad.
The basic definition of routine is a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program. Sounds harmless enough, right? We need routines lest we drown in details. Let’s take brushing your teeth. When you were first taught how to brush your teeth, you learned each step in the process – get out the toothbrush, open the drawer and get out the toothpaste, turn on the faucet and run your brush under it, turn off the faucet, put toothpaste on the brush, brush all of your teeth in a circular motion for two minutes, turn on the faucet and rinse your brush off, rinse your mouth out, turn the water off and put the brush away. In this scenario there are 13 steps – imagine
if you had to stop and think about those 13 steps every time you brushed your teeth…now imagine applying the same logic to everything you do in a day that is considered routine like driving to work, making coffee, making your bed, etc. By the time 9:00 rolls around, you’d be ready for a nap! My point is routines are what help save time.
Think about the most meaningful experiences in your life. You will probably recall your wedding, or an African safari you went on, or the first time you had sex. You won’t name brushing your teeth. Yet, recent research suggests that the mundane regularities of life can very much contribute to your overall sense of meaning.
As children, routines are what help us feel safe and secure because our lives are predictable, and it helps us to have a better understanding of their world. A regular schedule or routine gives children a way to order and organize their lives. Adults need routines and schedules too. As adults, routines give us a sense of purpose and also helps us organize our lives. Routines are also what bring us success. Think of all the gurus and masters out there; they all have one thing in common that has brought them immense amounts of success; they adhered to a rigid and specific set of routines in order to master their domain.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people believe that routines are boring and that by setting routines they’ll get stuck in a rut. Or worse, they’ll get stuck in a time loop like Phil in Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over and over again. They also believe that certain routines don’t make sense or have any benefit to them personally. And I have to say, that is a completely accurate statement. Not all routines do benefit you personally. Take eating breakfast. People who are intermittent fasting don’t see the benefit of eating first thing in the morning like a lot of people do. For them, they believe that waiting until later in the day has a greater effect on their overall health. Another reason people struggle with routines is that they are just too hard to stick with. This is true if you’ve decided that you’re going to completely overhaul your life in one day – as we do with New Year’s resolutions. This is why so many people don’t keep their resolutions – they try to change everything all at once and it just doesn’t work that way. However, there is another reason you may not be able to stick with a certain routine. Research suggests that if you are unable to stick to a routine that more than likely it’s because you are afraid of something or don’t believe in yourself, it’s not that you’re lazy or lack willpower. Think about that…it’s not the routine itself, but the fear that you don’t deserve to be better or feel more content.
If you’re stuck on creating and sticking to a routine, my advice for you is to start small. Start with one thing. Just one thing that you want to change or get better at. Maybe you want to start journaling but the thought of sitting down and writing pages and pages of your thoughts seems like a daunting task, just start with two sentences each day. You can totally handle two little sentences a day. Maybe one day you’ll feel like writing three sentences, so you write three that day. Or perhaps you want to be better with your money. You don’t have to have this expansive budget program that shows you every little detail of every single cent you spent. Start with writing down your monthly income and expenses and determine if they are in line with one another or not and then figure out your next move. Hopefully, you get my point, which is to not overwhelm yourself with ten different routines you want to start next week. Don’t worry about what your day-to-day life consists of, just decide on what you want and then stick to it. It’s like I said earlier, those gurus you follow, they didn’t get there overnight. They got there by sticking to strict daily routines. And remember, happiness is not how many things you do but how well you do them.