Growing up, I had the attention span of a goldfish. I absolutely hated repetition. Doing the same thing over and over again? Boring.
Because of this mindset, I hated routines. The closest thing I had to a morning routine was brushing my teeth and the closest thing I had to a night routine was brushing my teeth. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that great at either of those “routines”. Everyday was a space mission to get everything done just in time. And even though I had lots of interests and was excited about many things, I never made real progress on any of them. I always felt like I was floating through life, just barely able to keep my head above the water. No control over where I was going or how I was getting there or even what I was doing along the way. It was just wake up and go. Over and over and over again.
I wanted something to change but I didn’t even know where to start. The internet is filled with tips and tricks that are meant to help you, in fact these days there’s a whole industry entitled “self-improvement”. But where exactly should I start? What should I do first? What actually works? And most of all, how do I make it stick? All of us have set some type of goal (maybe a New Year’s Resolution for example) and did a great job of achieving it… until we stopped.
So what gives? Why doesn’t anything ever stick? I now believe that in order to make a change, we need to have habits in place to support that change. Why? Well, for starters, what even is a change?
To me, a change, if meant to be permanent, is getting rid of an old habit and replacing it with a new one. For example, eating healthy is not just about eating healthy; it’s also about stopping all the old habits you have around eating unhealthy things. So, in essence, change is a change of habits. So if we try to change too big of a habit at once, there is just too much net change. Deleting a big habit and adding a new one? Bonkers.
What can we do then? Anytime I’m looking to add a new change into my life I ask myself, what is the smallest step I can take that will help me move in the right direction? Because even though a tiny step might not be as rewarding as a big step, it’s way more likely to last. And what good is a big step anyways if it doesn’t last.
So, if routines are the basis of all change, what else can they help us do? I think routines are so great because they are so efficient. We often think about optimizing for time, money, energy, but how often do we think about our willpower. It is widely accepted now that willpower is also a limited resource, so when we debate back and forth over whether we’re going to do something or not, we’re not just wasting time, we’re also wasting precious willpower that could help us make important decisions later on in the day. This is why it’s so much harder to stick to changes in the nighttime and why we’re less likely to eat well or go to the gym the later it gets. So routines help us move seamlessly through a series of activities because instead of deciding if we’re going to do each step along the way, all we have to do is complete the first step of the process and the rest fall like dominos. And boom! You’ve completed a whole load of positive habits with almost no willpower wasted. Usually trying something new requires a lot of mental attention because you have to think through every decision for the first time. Saving up your willpower with routines, means you’ll have more later to spend exploring or doing things you love and are passionate about. That sounds like a win to me.
Another reason I love routines is because they provide stability. One of the reasons that travel can be so challenging for us is because we no longer have our normal routines of sleeping, eating, exercise, and even just miscellaneous household chores. This on top of a different time zone and a foreign environment is the perfect recipe to get overwhelmed. However, I’ve found that having a transferable morning routine, something you can do anywhere, really helps to ground you and give you a solid base to work off of for the rest of the day. Maybe this is meditating, then brushing your teeth, then drinking a glass of water. Or maybe it’s doing 10 push-ups, journaling, and then making your bed. Whatever it is, having a few small tasks that you can do no matter where you are, really helps to create a sense of home-like stability. I’ve found that this can do wonders for travelling, but really the same principles can be applied to anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable, which is almost always part of trying something new.
So the more positive steps we can integrate into habits throughout the day, the more willpower and mental freedom we will have to be spontaneous, try new things, and really go after our passions. At first glance, it might not make complete sense, but strong habits and strong routines are the foundation for someone who successfully chases novelty. Because the key thing to remember is that life is a lifetime, so we need habits to support us to look for new things every single day. It’s easy to be spontaneous or energetic every once in a while, but to truly make that part of your lifestyle, it takes a sturdy foundation. And what is that foundation built out of? Routines, of course.