Every headline with the word “routine” in it boasts that those who do not have one will never reach their full potential.
They aren’t necessarily wrong: having a routine has become synonymous with healthy lifestyle habits and productivity. This is also why many people are taken aback if I tell them that their routine is actually a liability.
A collection of obligatory steps that bind you to an unspoken agreement and turns your day into shambles the moment something out of your control happens, to me, is the furthest thing from productivity.
Let me explain:
While rituals are a source of grounding, they are also a form of fragility.
Charles Duhrigg’s book The Power of Habit gives insight into the step-by-step routine Michael Phelps completes before any competition. He eats the same thing, listens to the same music, and steps on the block the same amount of times before diving into the water — without fault. Many athletes attribute their success to a similar formula.
What if one of these steps were to go awry? The iPod can run out of battery or his eggs can go bad overnight. Wouldn’t the comfort and confidence he takes from these practices suddenly turn into a liability?
Our mental processes are calming and reassuring in our chaotic worlds. However, they also throw someone entirely off of their game, if ever something were to go wrong.
Routine withdrawal is real.
Routine addicts and control freaks will tell you what happens when your routine is thrown in the air. Frustration. Irritation. Racing thoughts. Pounding heart. Total flow-breaker.
Sure, doing the same things — the same way and at the same time — creates comfort and order. But we get addicted to that, and your brain hates when your trigger cues change. And like controlling any addiction, it takes even more discipline to implement moderation.
“Discipline is a form of freedom, but left unchecked becomes a form of tyranny.”
— Ryan Holiday
Anyone who is prone to mishaps can tell you this. Anyone who has children can tell you this — real life is entirely unpredictable. It will get in the way of rigid structure and routine, so drop the rigidity you force upon yourself and accept that a large portion of life is unpredictable.
Instead, create several routines to choose from depending on the day or your plans. The opportunity to choose will keep you structured and at the top of your game, regardless of any schedule change.
If you are not flexible with your ways, you will never succeed.
While routines don’t guarantee success, I don’t necessarily advocate for winging through life — I’m a firm believer that a delicate balance between structure and loosening your grip is key.
The only constant in life is change, and you will drive yourself insane thinking otherwise. So welcome the inevitable, create many routines, and be as adaptable as you can — then you’ll truly be invincible.
“Stay committed to your decisions, but flexible in your approach.”
— Tom Robbins