How many articles have you read online that say having a great morning/bedtime/bathroom routine is the key to having a healthy, happy and productive life? Hundreds. Thousands. Countless articles all saying the same thing: routines = a life-chinging miracle!
Oh, I’ve read them too. I’ve read them all. I am a person who loves structure and wants to believe that routines will give me the comfort and peace of mind to help me become a happier person.
But for some, having a daily routine is terrifying.
“If every day looks exactly the same, then they’ll all just blend together.”
Understandable concern. After all, what kind of lives are we living if every single day looks and feels the exact same? Especially when we find ourselves spending our days doing things that don’t even make us happy.
So it begs the question: are routines helping us or holding us back?
Are You Functioning on Autopilot?
The biggest argument for (and against) routines is that once you’ve established what each day will consist of, you will continue doing the same tasks and activities without even having to think about it. Not having to decide what to do next, simply knowing, frees you up to consider more important decision throughout your day. Because of this, I would argue that routines are good—they help you achieve your goals faster.
The problem? Some people simply have bad routines.
For those plagued by indecision (like me), a good routine will help you be more efficient in doing the things that improve your life.
Pros for Having a Positive Daily Routine
- Provides structure to your day
- Helps create good habits that keep you healthy and happy
- Increases efficiency
- Negates the need for willpower and motivation
- Builds momentum (a body in motion stays in motion!)
In contrast, a bad routine will cause you to disengage, leaving you exhausted and unmotivated. “Not having to think about it” suddenly becomes a great way to end up on autopilot. As each moment of your day becomes scripted, the more your mind turns itself off. The more you simply….exist. And before you know it, it’s the end of the week and you’ve lost part of your life to the void.
Signs of a Negative Daily Routine
- Feeling of sameness
- Feeling busy, but not accomplished
- Feeling tired, but not satisfied
- Wondering what to do with your time
- Feeling like your life is passing you by
For this reason, I think routines are beneficial…but treacherous. They free up our minds, but once free, we need to stay occupied and focused. We need to stay alert in order to stay in control of our time.
Being Aware Means Being Mindful
If you’ve read articles about routines, you’ve likely come across a few posts on mindfulness as well. It’s the practice of being aware and conscious of every moment, and it’s a powerful idea.
Being aware of even the most inconsequential moments helps stop your days from blending together. It provides a sudden clarity in the otherwise mundane fog.
Take a moment to watch the second hand on your clock tick by for a full minute. Don’t let your mind wander — just watch the clock. Suddenly, a minute feels excruciatingly long.
This awareness keeps us in the moment, our minds on the task at hand, rather than distracting us with what’s happening tomorrow or the next day. Instead of getting lost in our worries, we’re present. We remember more, and the day doesn’t slip by. We get more done and spend less time trying to decide what to do next.
The key is that your brain is active.
Mindfulness is a way to stay mentally active while doing the unavoidable, but necessary tasks in life (like cleaning or paying bills) that would otherwise cause your brain to wander and disengage. As long as you’re mentally engaged, you’re aware. You’re efficient. You’re focused. And the day won’t disappear around you.
A mindful routine can improve your life, but a routine without mindfulness (or active thought) is a slippery slope toward endless autopilot and time spent on things that don’t fulfill you.
When Every Day is the Same
We are the sum of our days.
Every day, we head to work and home again to make dinner, relax, and off to bed…just to do it all over again. Each one of these days, punctuated by a (potentially negative) routine, simply feels like a drop in the bucket. You tell yourself you’ll do something exciting this weekend, but you’ve still lost a week mindlessly doing the same things over and over again.
The people that struggle most with routines are terrified that their lives will be defined by their weekday personas. And I can’t argue with that. The majority of our days are weekdays. Discounting how you spend a Monday because it’s just a Monday is discounting nearly every day of your life. You aren’t going to “get started living” in a week or a month — do it now. By giving in to a daily routine that doesn’t fulfill you, you’re putting off the life you want. We should never discount any day we spend alive.
Live with intention! Even if a day is just another Monday, still decide how you will use it to work toward the life you want. Fit growth into your routine. Don’t waste greatness by setting yourself on autopilot.
[Tweet ““How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard”]