Master Your Routine or It’ll Master You — A Beginners Guide
You’ll have a routine whether you like it or not.
My ethos = routines are for losers. (circa 1 year ago)
Rewind to a year ago and I hated routine. I found it boring, irrelevant and the quickest way to make your life a conveyer belt of activities. I thought, it sucked the spontaneity right out of life. So I avoided it for the longest time.
No, I was not going to get up at silly-o’clock to read, meditate and then go for a morning jog. Although secretly I envied those people. I thought:
I could never do that. I’m too lazy.
What I didn’t realise is though, is that I was already in a routine. We all are. Whether you like it or not. And I definitely was not the master of it.
I woke up at roughly the same time every day. I rushed to get ready, left the bed unmade and ran out the door off to work. I would often forget that I didn’t have enough petrol so I would detour to the petrol station. I was rushed and good at getting myself in a bad mood ready for work. I’ve skip breakfast because I didn’t leave enough time so I would routinely be hungry and tired on the way to work. I never made lunch (I still battle with this. I don’t know why it’s so hard to prepare lunch the night before!) So I would often buy it or miss lunch it altogether. I’d get home, fall asleep and repeat the day. In summary consuming less than a thousand calories, remembering about ten percent of the day and 100% wishing for the weekend.
It’s quite ironic that I was avoiding routine because I didn’t want life to become boring and repetitive but by being unorganised, under-nourished and always thinking about what was next, I wasn’t enjoying life in the slightest.
This was at the time I just getting used to work and to be honest I was so busy concentrating on staying awake that I wouldn’t have had time to think about optimising my routine.
But by not mastering my routine, it was mastering me.
Fast forward today and I love routines. I’m a total novice (can you be a novice in your own life?) but I’m loving testing and trying new things and seeing how they impact my day. I stumbled upon routines after reading James Clear’s fantastic book ‘Atomic Habits’. Before this book I found myself a little frantic about improvement. I thought that there was some silver bullet to this whole self-improvement. I think we all are guilty of this from time-to-time. We think “if I could just figure out what’s missing, then I’ll be a master of my life”. You pin your hopes on finding that one thing that’s going to solve everything.
The thing is, there isn’t one thing. You are a culmination of your habits, otherwise know as your routine.
Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. (W. H. Auden)
One biscuit on one day won’t make you unhealthy. And nor will one bike ride on one day make you a cyclist. But every day, every day for the next few years. That’ll do it. Quite quickly into Clear’s book I realised that I had it totally wrong. And to be honest, if I really think about it, I knew there was no silver bullet. It doesn’t make sense that there is. It’s illogical that all these successful people start a business on Monday and are raking it in by Friday. But that is sort of what we’re trained to think. We don’t really talk about the boring bits. It’s normally all about the fancy jets and the seventy-six bedroom houses with ensuite this and heated pool that. We sit in disbelief as we read the headlines or watch a video about these successful people.
“They’re so lucky”
“If I could just think of a business idea I could make it”
But we know, I mean if we really think about it, we know that they have got there through a shit-load of hard work. And to package hard work into manageable chunks people create habits and in turn, routines to get to where they want to.
There is no magic. No secret to success.
Go on, go online and google it. Find all the articles entitled ‘Millionaire’s Secret to Success’ I bet my bottom dollar there will be the words ‘hard work’ and ‘good habits’ in there somewhere.
So, upon this discovery I realised that if I wanted to achieve all the things in my head, the things that I never really tell anyone about but just dream up, then I’d have to set about getting some decent habits.
I can now say that I am the proud owner of a morning routine that works for me. I feel like a proud mother watching my child at sports day and I’m stood there screaming:
“That’s my kid that, I made that”
Well I am abit.
“This is my morning routine, I made it”
If you try and start seven habits at once you’ll fail. It’s too many to track or think about. Sure there’s probably someone in the world that tried to start seven habits in on go and is still doing all seven now. But they’ll be 800x as many people who tried and failed.
Be kind to yourself and remember that we all walk before we can run. I find it’s the same with habits. Once you get into the swing of it you can master habit formation and you can do two at once, it’s like reaching the next level on your Playstation game or whatever (I don’t play Playstation, if you couldn’t tell). It’s important to start slow, build some rapport with yourself. It sounds silly but if you manage to do the same habit a couple of days in a row you’ll find yourself getting attached and invested in it. It’ll become important to you to achieve what you set out to do. That’s important.
Work on one habit for a week. And it shouldn’t be something really audacious. When I first started I tried to run round the block with the dogs every morning at 6am. At that point I wasn’t going on morning walks so it was a total shake up. Needless to say that failed quickly. It’s too much of a shock to the system to try and create habits that are so different to the ones you have now. It’s the reason fad diets don’t work. Our bodies and minds are programmed to do the things we do now.
Whatever habits and routines you’ve instilled so far that’s what you’re contending with. It’s good that they are so hard to break because when you have mastered your new habits you’ll have some confidence they’ll be sticking around for a while.
Do things that work for you.
My morning routine is probably my favourite part of my day. I know exactly what I want to achieve and what’s in store and I love that. It’s easy, it makes me feel good and it gives me a kick start on the day. But what I do everyday won’t work for anyone else. Currently my morning routine goes like this:
5:30am — Wake up
5:35am — Coffee and read
6:00am — Write
6:30am — Walk
7:30am — Start work
I think some form of learning, moving and doing is a good formula but it’s what works for me. It might not work for you. I’m a firm believer in experimenting in what works for you. It took lots of different iterations to get to this formula and it probably will evolve and change as life goes on. It’s quite funny really because I watched American Psycho and when I saw his morning routine I thought:
What a loser.
“And now I’m thinking, hmmm do I need to put a face mask on in the morning?”
Well you probably want to figure out how your goals work into your routine and habits.
I think there is a potential here for things to go wrong. When I say understand what goals you have and how they fit into morning routines I just mean ‘fag-packet’ calculations. Nothing to strenuous. Just simple maths. Dead quick. The risk is that you end up writing for hours on end. You’ll write out all your goals and cutting them a hundred five different ways until you figured out the exact amount of minutes you need to spend each day on social media to get to be a millionaire by next year. That’s not what I’m talking about.
For me, one of my goals is to write two hundred articles this year. In order to do that I need to put an article out every other day on average or just about. In order to do that I need to make sure I’m writing every morning. Or most mornings. By allocating the time to write I’m pleased to say I’m on track for that goal. Nothing more or less than that. I know if I write in the morning I’ll kick out an article every other day or so and that’s exactly what I need to do to hit my goal. As scientific as that.
Lastly and most importantly…
Understand what makes a good day for you.
This one is so, so, so important. It’s dear to my heart because I really think you can orchestrate your days to be much more enjoyable. But in order to do that you need to figure out what makes a good day. This is incredibly fun and insightful.
It’s about running some experiments and figuring out what variables make up a good day for you. Once you’ve done that you can add it into your routine. I was finding that on the days that I read in the morning I felt happier. Hence it’s now part of my routine.
We are all in a routine, whether we like or not, so we may as well master it. I find life is much better with a routine mastered.