If you’ve been reading this newsletter or listening to my podcast for a while, you’ll know that I love questioning things.
And yet something I’d never questioned until now was routine. In my previous, pre-pandemic life, my routine was my lifeline. My mornings used to look like this: I would get up, make a cup of tea, do my gratitude practice, plan my day, do an hour’s work and then take the dog for a walk before coming back and doing more work.
What I realise now is that I was telling myself I was doing these rituals in the morning because they made me feel good, but really I was just trying to optimise myself for work. I was having a peaceful morning because I wanted to be on my best form, able to smash through my to-do list.
And then lockdown happened. For the first few days, I kept trying to implement my usual routine and it just wasn’t working for me. And I couldn’t understand why. I already worked from home, my partner already worked from home, nothing had actually changed for me and yet I was really struggling.
I now realise why. Aside from just feeling really worried, being in the midst of collective anxiety has thrown everything that wasn’t working into sharp relief. When you don’t have the veil of busyness to hide behind, things become frighteningly clear. My routine wasn’t working because it was broken in the first place.
Up until now, I’d never stopped to think about why I actually need a routine in the first place. Sure, it gives me structure, and as a generally well-organised person, I just like routine. But what I’ve realised is the real reason why I need routine is because it brings me comfort, safety and that it grounds me.
This is not, however, the same thing as having control. Creating order in the middle of chaos helps you find serenity, but doesn’t mean you can control that chaos. It’s a very subtle difference. The way I’ve come to think about it kind of like the difference between exercising to lose weight and exercising to be healthy. The latter is not only sustainable but it also won’t leave you feeling bad about yourself. The opposite is true of the former.
As for my routine now, well it doesn’t actually look all that different than before. I still get up early, but I walk the dog first. I still make tea and do my gratitude practice but I spend longer on it, I don’t try and speed through it. I still do some work in the morning. But each day things vary slightly. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I read, sometimes I lie on the sofa scrolling.
I’m less rigid about how I do things. It’s no longer about doing a specific thing in a certain sequence. It’s now about purposefully doing a task in order to fulfil needs that I’m finally actively listening to. I used to know how to do a routine, now I know why I do it.