“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”
– Pat Conroy
There are dozens of business books, seminars, videos, podcasts, articles, blogs and advice columns that tell you that successful people have routines they do everyday that set them up for that success.
For instance, this is my forty-fifth day getting up at or before 5:00am to write for an hour and a half before I exercise, stretch, meditate, shower, have tea and get ready for a full day of work, evening events, dinner, reading and finally sleep.
People tell me I’m crazy, and I’m OK with that. Because for me, I want to do the things I want to do, including writing this. So I set myself up for success by finding time to do this and the other things I want to do during the day. I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t make time in the morning, quality writing time just wouldn’t appear like magic in my day. I am freshest and have the clearest thinking when I first wake up, plus I have the benefit of focusing deeply and working when almost everyone else is asleep. The benefit of that is that my flow is not being interrupted by anyone else’s agenda. After all, you can’t sleep and have an agenda at the same time.
By no means am I suggesting that you do what I do with your routine. I have plenty of night owl friends who do the opposite, starting work in earnest around 9:00pm and finishing at 2:00 or 3:00am. It really doesn't matter what your routine is. You don’t even have to have any routines. But for many people, a routine is a beautiful and easy way to set yourself up for success. I’ve found my own over time, experimenting all along the way, and I’m happy and excited with what I’m constantly discovering.
What is the power of routine?
First, it does not require thinking. You just do it because it’s what you do. There is no negotiation about it. Every single day, no exceptions, no explanations, no excuses. It’s just what you do.
Second, it saves your mental and emotional energy so you can spend those on other things. I once heard an interview with Seth Godin in which he posited that if you did the same routine every morning and ate the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, you were actually saving your mental capacity for the things you want to spend your higher-level thinking capacity on. The idea was to avoid fatiguing your mind by having to make a decision you don’t need to make. So, a routine can help you save energy.
Third, it’s a way to start and stick to healthy habits. The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg introduces the concept of “keystone habits” like making your bed and exercising daily. These keystone habits are important because they are often correlated with other beneficial habits and behaviors; they create “a structure that helps other habits to flourish.” For instance, if you exercise regularly, you will probably have a better diet and better sleep, allowing you to feel better and more rested and get through the day with increased stamina.
Fourth, routines can help us feel good. For instance, if you exercise or meditate as part of your routine, you are probably starting (or ending) the day feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that you did something good for yourself. That sets you up for a different kind of day.
Fifth, a routine can help you carve out time for yourself that otherwise might be scarce. A lot of people, particularly a lot of women, spend most of their days giving and doing for others. While this can be fantastic for the people around them, it can also be draining for them. Unless you purposely build into your day some time to refill your well, you may be likely to have a chance to refill it at other times throughout the day. The later it gets in the day, the less the likelihood of that happening. Over the span of a week or a month or a year, or years (!), this can cause real depletion, low energy, depression, even exhaustion. If you commit to building in as little as ten minutes for yourself, your day will go differently.
There are as many ways to set yourself up for success as stars in the sky. It really doesn’t matter what you do, when you do it or how you do it. It matters that you do it. It also preserves time for you, which you need in order to live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life. And setting yourself up for success means that you will also feel the impact in the way you approach and the quality of your relationships, your family life, your work or career, your finances and beyond.
But enough about habits of doing. Let’s talk about habits of thinking and feeling.
Part of being a happy human is understanding that you have incredible imaginative capacity. And using it.
When was the last time I really used my imagination just for fun?
If the answer is not very recently, it’s probably time to warm it back up. Let’s give it a go.
What if, as part of your daily routine, you built in the opportunity to think and feel on purpose?
Here’s a list to start with. Feel free to expand it to include your own questions. But most of all, say the questions and answers out loud so you can really be honest.
What would you want to think and feel?
What would you want to imagine?
What would you want to dream about?
What would you want to appreciate?
What would you want to create?
What would you want to celebrate?
What would you want to bask in?
Now step back.
As you spoke your answers to the questions, did you come to any realizations about what you are normally thinking and feeling? Do you have routines of thinking and feeling that aren’t serving you?
Do you notice anything missing in your life, now that you look back and see what you would want to think and feel?
What would your life look like and feel like if you were thinking and feeling those things more often, perhaps even every day? What if you established your own thought-routine or feeling-routing that you do daily?
A new habit or a new routine starts with a decision. With action. Is there one thought, word or action you can take to put yourself on that path right now? What one thing can you do daily that will help you move your life forward?
Go for it! And remember, you can always engage your imagination if you get stuck.