The Power of Routine (Part 1 of 2)

Last week I wrote about how to define priorities and how to use a priority map for decision making. However, in my experience, once I mapped out my priorities it became apparent that just knowing what they were wasn't going to be enough to keep them intact. I had created this great tool for making decisions, but how could I protect my priorities from all the noise of the rest of the world?

And very slowly, over time, the answer revealed itself to me: ROUTINE. 

This week and next I'll be sharing the power of routine: why it works, how to get started, and what works for me.

Before routine, I woke up every morning in a sort of state of shock, as if I couldn't believe the sun had the audacity to rise again without giving me a personal heads up. I didn't know how to get myself started. Do I brush my teeth or get dressed first? Do I feed Piggie (my guinea pig...long story) or myself first? Should I pack a lunch or buy one? It was decision overload and I hadn't even been awake 60 seconds.

As I evolved into this world of okay over a year and a half ago, I learned more about the benefits of routine. Today I live by the acronym, TTYR: Tend To Your Routine. Nothing soothes frustration, anxiety, or confusion for me quite like routine.

But before I could tend to my routine, I had to find one. Since I didn't know where to start I just started at the most logical place for me, the morning. I can't really explain the origin of this next thought other than to call it an intuitive nudge, but over the period of about a week or so I felt strange every morning I woke up and didn't start my day with some kind of formal this-is-me-officially-starting-my-day action. I felt "off," but a different kind of "off" than the typical erratic morning confusion. But I ignored the feeling (because isn't that what we do 99% of the time when it comes to intuition?) and went about feeling hectic in the morning because hectic was my routine. I just didn't know it.

That "off" feeling caused by not starting my day with something intentional persisted to the point that I could not not acknowledge it any longer. Not knowing where to start and feeling completely turned off by the notion of prayer or meditation, I started each morning by saying, "Whatever." I'm not sure who or what I was saying it to, but my intention, no matter how sarcastic or drenched in negativity it was, was sincere--I was open to whatever the Universe was going to bring to me that day (but please don't let it be too crappy). And for a long time that was the first and only piece of routine I could muster.

Over time, that same intuitive nudge would reappear that I just couldn't ignore, and it would say, "Come on, Kate, you can do a little bit more than that," and slowly I would fold something new into the routine. I went through a pushups routine then a juicing routine, just to name two. Defining routine became, and still is, this ongoing experiment figuring out what does and does not work for me.

That's the big misconception about routine--it isn't boring, it isn't always the same. It's what works until something else works better. There is so much value in being able to say, "This works really well for me," or, "This really slows me down and makes me miserable."

For me, a routine serves three main purposes:
1. It frees my mind to make bigger decisions. The less decision-making I have to do about unimportant tasks like what to eat for breakfast or what to wear to work, the more I avoid decision fatigue. Personally, I'm not interested in wasting my decision-making prowess on things like breakfast or what to wear (which is why I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning and wear almost the same thing to work every day). I want to save my best decisions for my biggest decisions.
2. It allows me to get into action immediately. There's no more wondering, "How do I get started? What should I do first?" I know how to get started. I know what to do first. My routine serves me. I do not serve my routine. The day that starts to happen, and it does happen, it is time to change the routine.
3. It protects my priorities and shows me where they are shifting. Just like priorities, routines change. No routine is forever. Maintaining good health is a priority for me, but I no longer wanted to wake up 30 minutes early to make my disgusting kale juice. Sleep was more important, so I stopped juicing. Getting 30 more minutes of sleep was just as beneficial to my health as juicing, and I was way less angry in the morning when I did not have to clean a pulp catcher with a tiny toothbrush. When my routines stay malleable, I'm primed for growth.

So what's the takeaway? Start with one, small "whatever" thing--see how it feels each day when you repeat it. Does it bring you relief? Comfort? Anxiety? What happens when you skip it? Do you feel relief? Comfort? Anxiety? Fold in another. Then, like any good routine, rinse and repeat.

Next week, I'll dive in a little deeper to the evolution of my routines, the benefits I've experienced as a result of them, and why TTYR will never let you down.