As we begin the month of September and head back into a schedule of work or school, it can be very easy to live on autopilot. Our day-to-day routines can feel eerily similar, especially as we focus on all the deadlines and family needs that seem to be played on a loop.
Needless to say, that’s not a very fulfilling way to live. And if you find yourself just going through the motions, it may be time to take stock of where you are in your life and reevaluate your approach to your routines.
Before you counter that you don’t have a routine, let me assure you: You do. We all do! For some of us, the routines we follow are conscious and deliberate. For others, they are established without us even realizing it, much less understanding the impact they have on our lives. And believe me, the right routine can really change your life.
All Routines Are Not Created Equal
The routines that we fall into are usually the ones that trap us at a lower frequency. Feeling confused? Then let me explain.
An unconscious routine might look like this: Wake up, scroll your social feeds or anything on your phone, roll out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, grab some Starbucks or Dunkin and get yourself to work. These kinds of routines are pretty much built into our days without us even realizing they are routines.
Now, maybe yours looks a little different. But the point is this: When we follow routines that are unconsciously established, they are often accompanied by chaos, depression, anxiety, and the sense that we are being pulled by the current rather than charting our own course. Worse, we rarely have clarity on why we feel this way.
Do you go to bed stressing about your “to-do” list because you weren’t able to get things done? This is often because you don’t have a well-planned routine, which makes it tough to complete things.
A conscious routine, on the other hand, could look something like this: Wake up, lie in bed for a bit while setting an intention for your day, express or focus on gratitude and then spend some time meditating, reading, journaling, getting your diffusers going—the list goes on and on.
Imagine if we all shifted over to the latter approach where we were the captains of our own ships! We could decide which routines to implement in our lives and choose the ones that serve and elevate us as opposed to the ones that stress us out.
The Benefits of Routine
Remember those feelings I mentioned earlier around feeling scattered and depressed? Well, good routines provide structure in an otherwise chaotic life. They are grounding and centering and help in times of unpredictability, stress, and uncertainty.
But that’s not all. They are also valuable when things are going well because they contribute to a strong foundation. That way, when we do encounter challenges, we not only have something to fall back on but we have elevated ourselves so that the challenges don’t knock us down or hit us as hard.
Routines provide a sense of empowerment and control over our environment, and they help to promote mental, physical, and emotional health. They have been shown to lead to better eating and sleeping habits, more consistent exercise, improved focus and increased productivity, and overall organization. Additionally, they help build self-confidence and momentum!
Like many of the topics I write about, I know first-hand how important a good routine can be because, for most of my early life, I didn’t have one. Fight or flight was the norm for me, whether it was my home life (which was often unpredictable and lacked boundaries) or school (where I struggled to really connect with people or remain at a single college for more than a year). I was always on high alert, which was physically and emotionally draining.
They say you hit rock bottom once, but I had to hit it many times in order to learn that my life didn’t have to run me. I could run my life by creating rituals and routines that would help ground me and serve as a launching pad for everything else in my life.
Like any sort of inner work, it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I would get frustrated because, in the beginning, I was inconsistent or I would give up when I didn’t like something that I was trying. (Hello, journaling!) But as time passed, I realized that I didn’t have to implement every great idea. I didn’t have to be rigid about routines just because they were “good for me.” I could play with different options. I could do something regularly without doing it every day. I could own the routine without being a drill sergeant about it all.
How to Reevaluate Your Routines
None of this happens overnight, and it’s not about the destination anyway, right? So, why not have fun on the journey? I learned to try on a new idea for a routine, and if I liked it, great. I’d continue with it. If I didn’t, I would write it down and set it aside to try it again in a few months.
And I encourage you to do the same. Devote time to really reflecting on your daily life. What works? What doesn’t? What do you want? What are you curious about? What do you maybe want to try?
A new routine could be basic, like starting to make time each evening to take a walk. It could also be big. It might mean adopting a new mindset that elevates every minute of your day. It could be something in between.
In my case, for example, I spend two to three hours every morning on my routine. (It starts with drinking a large mason jar of water, includes exercise and meditation, and usually ends with sitting outside for a bit, regardless of the weather.) Most people may not do that, and I didn’t when I first started either. But as my routine evolved, so did I, and now I am pretty much a walking ritual. I weave my routines into all parts of my day, and yet no two days are exactly the same. Routines are all about customization and flexibility.
Play around to find out which routines work for you, and be willing to change them if and when you aren’t feeling them anymore. Many of us think that routines mean doing the exact same thing each and every day, but that doesn’t have to be true. In fact, that sounds pretty boring, and I know I personally would burn out doing that. I know many others who feel the same way, but instead of changing their routines, they give up under the pressure of trying to keep up. No one wins in that situation.
So, try changing your lens. Ask yourself how you can be playful with your routine. How can you make it fun? Trying new things out is one way, and being flexible and open are some other ways.
If you’re an indoor person, for instance, go for a walk. Just try it! Or, if you’re a social person, try spending time alone each day doing something you love like cooking or listening to music. There’s excitement in the unknown, and potential in routines as yet undiscovered.
Routines exist in both our personal and professional lives, so examine what’s working for you at work, too—and what’s not. Having a productive work routine, like focusing on tasks that require concentration in the morning and knocking out your to-do list in the afternoon, can boost productivity and reduce stress. What’s more, having a good professional routine means that if and when your day gets derailed by a meeting or an emergency, you have something solid to fall back on the next day.
As you begin to take advantage of this natural time of transition to reflect on and recalibrate your routines, keep in mind that you are in control of your own life. Don’t get trapped in the belief that you have to follow one specific routine that this guru talks about or that mentor suggests. You are a unique being, and it’s all about customizing your routine for YOU and your success!