The Serenity in Routines: From Someone Who Used to Hate Routines.

This is not another post about using routines to increase productivity, efficiency or accomplishments.

Instead, this is about using routines to find serenity.

In this stay home period, though well-intentioned, the inundation of ‘make this time useful / productive / meaningful’ has been incredibly stressful.

I’m constantly swimming against a tide of self-applied pressure, worrying about ‘progress’ and ‘achievement’.

The first thing I lose sight of is taking care of myself. I sleep less, I forget to say good night to my loved ones.

This is a paraphrased quote from Pico Iyer, renowned travel writer, speaking on making time for meditation:

“When I don’t feel well, I take my medicine. I don’t ‘forget it’ or say ‘I don’t have time for it’. Why should it be any different with the medicinal activities which nourish my body and soul?”

Indeed. Why should it be any different?

To take my medicine, I’ve recently designed a morning and evening routine.

Here’s what my morning routine looks like:

  • 6:20am: Alarm, good morning to loved ones
  • 6:35am: Stretch (5min)
  • 6:45am: Meditation (30 min)
  • 7:30am: Set intention for the day
  • 7:35am: Water & vitamins
  • 7:40am: Breakfast
  • 8:15am: Tidy kitchen
  • 8:25am: Brush teeth
  • 8:30am: Read (30 min)

Yup. Right down to the minute and exact activity.

Writing a routine in such detail is pretty weird for me because I used to hate routines.

I used to hate them because the routine often became a source of anxiety.

  • Dropping the routine was “failure”
  • I constantly stressed about being “behind time”
  • Things outside of the routine were “distractions”

So what changed?

Instead of routines being master of me, I became master of routines. Routines are a tool. I will drop a routine when it no longer serves me.

That’s not failure. That’s mastery.

(Dare I say… Maostery?)

Buffers of 50% more time are included in the design of the routine (a tip from the book Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeown).

Now, I’m usually ahead of time.

Going at a comfortable pace in a set sequence allows me to embrace things which pop up, knowing I have the space and time to do so.

Instead of distractions, these are delights.

Having a routine frees me from the “what do I do next”? trap.

The trap always starts the same.

I have a couple of hours, I’m on my bed, exploring the possibilities of all the wonderful things I could be doing.

Wooo, lots of time!

Maybe I should do something productive, like read a book?

Oh, was thinking of clearing out my wardrobe…

Hmm maybe plan what to cook for dinner later…

…. next thing I know, I’d just spent hours watching cat videos on facebook. Shit.

Setting what matters to me in a routine protects these activities from being inadvertently substituted by cat videos, and frees me from the fatigue of deciding what, where, when, how for each of those moments.

In the stillness that takes the place of the decision chatter — this is where serenity can return.

I’m a routine convert, but I keep it to the essentials.

I initially designed it with activities that are already familiar to me. Nothing new, just set in a sequence and timed. This made it easy to start.

Within my routine, I have one to two key activities that I enshrine as Most Important Activity (MPA).

When the unexpected happens, as it always does, the MPA are the ones that I absolutely won’t miss. It’s easy to maintain the routine this way, and keeps me motivated to pick up in full the next day.

An activity is only routinized (new verb!) if it holds up against the selection criteria, “is this nourishing?”

When adding new activities, I go slow, giving myself a few days to try it out.

This recipe is what makes a routine work for me:

  • Having buffers of at least 50% more time
  • Starting with the familiar
  • Enshrining the Most Important Activity
  • Having a selection criteria
  • Adding new activities slowly

Time used to be my enemy, and it was a battle I always lost.

My routine has greatly improved our relationship. I enjoy floating along her unpredictable ebbs and flows, comforted in knowing that my Most Importants are taken care of. My soul is calmer, being constantly nourished.

Instead of reminders that I’m racing against a countdown, I now hear the clock’s ticking as whispered invitations to be present in the moment.

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