I know, some of you are allergic to the concept of the “routine”. You think it’s a strait-jacket that doesn’t allow for spontaneity and you rebel against it. Okay, fine. How’s that workin’ for ya?
Routines are not our task-masters. They are our tools for making our life work. In fact, I believe that the proper use of routines allows us to be more spontaneous in our daily lives – and still get to where we want to be.
How often do you go through a whole day without brushing your teeth? Unless you’re the mom of a brand-new baby (and no, your 9 year-old does NOT count), I don’t believe this is really a problem area for you. You’ve managed to create a routine around making yourself presentable for the public at whatever minimum personal level you have set for yourself. And it’s rare for your life to get so out of whack that you forget to brush your teeth. Why is that? I’ll bet you don’t lose your toothbrush and toothpaste on a regular basis, either, do you? With rare exception, no matter how messy your house may be, you can pretty much rely on it being right where you expect it to be. Why is that?
It’s because you’ve created a place for your toothbrush and toothpaste to “live” in your house. And, likewise, you’ve created a place in your daily routine, however minimal it may be, for your toothbrushing routine to “live”. You pretty much do it at the same point in your day, every day, don’t you?
Well, that’s what you’ve got to create for anything else that you want to make happen in your life. One of the easiest ways to do this is to tie it to something else you’ve already got cemented into your routine. Like brushing your teeth, if that’s what you have to do. But if you look closely, there are lots of other things that you do every day, pretty much without fail, that you could also tie it to. That’s the next step that many people leave out, but there’s another that goes one step further. Once you’ve identified where the new practice is going to fit into your day, you’ve got to figure out how to remember that it goes there, until you’ve made it a habit.
For example, the first thing I do when I get out of bed every morning is drink some water. So, when I have supplements that need to be taken first thing in the morning, I place them right next to that water glass that I bring to my bedroom each night when I go to bed. And that’s another important point: backtrack your routine until you find how far back you need to start in order to make something happen. I don’t want to run up and down stairs all day every day, so when I get out my dinner supplements, I pick up my bedtime supplements and place them on the corner of my kitchen counter closest to the stairs. I also place my full water glass for the night/morning, and anything else I come across that I need to take there. When I go upstairs to get ready for bed, I take those with me and put them where they need to be. And if there’s anything else I need to do to get those things ready, I do it RIGHT THEN. I have faced up to the fact that I will not remember otherwise, or I’ll forget something in my sleep-fogged brain state when I first wake up. But this is not something I stress over or put a lot of thought into. I just keep putting everything on that corner of the counter and then take them up when I go.
For some people, this is a major hurdle, because they’re still in denial about their ability to remember. Get real, people! If you always remembered to do everything you intended, you would already have accomplished everything you wanted to and wouldn’t be setting resolutions, now, would you?!
I have come to terms with the fact that if I need to remember to take something with me when I leave the house tomorrow, I’ve either got to put it in the car or on top of my purse/keys right now. This is a corollary to Murphy’s Law – anything you can forget, you WILL forget. So deal with it now and you won’t forget it later. If I have to do something before I go to bed, I’ll put the items in question on my pillow. That frees me to put it out of my mind until my action reminds me at the appropriate time. Let’s face it, I need all the available brain power I can possibly have at my disposal, not wasting enormous amounts of it trying to remember stuff that I ultimately won’t remember, only to beat myself up about it later. If I need to remember to send an e-mail or look something up online in the morning, I leave myself a reminder on my keyboard while I’m thinking about it.
I have a friend who sets up reminder alarms for herself on her cell phone. If you’re really absent-minded, make a list of your new routine, so you can refer back to it, if necessary. And don’t try to add too many things at once, if you’re prone to overwhelm. Know yourself and do what works for you.
Julie Andrews has been quoted as once saying, “Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly.” This is how I feel about routine. I mean, why re-invent the wheel every day? And that doesn’t mean that if a routine doesn’t work for you, you have to keep using it. Fix it, change it, make it work for you. Everything I can incorporate into a routine is something I don’t have to think about any more. That gives me freedom to focus my attention on what really interests me. The routine is just a means to an end. Try it!