What if your habits were the secret to a healthy work-life balance?
Routines are the perfect tool for resilient people because they can help you change amid a global pandemic. And here’s how.
I started looking at routines with a fresh perspective in April 2020 and seeing them in the world everywhere. Routines became my mind’s Joker Jack, and I discovered a proven concept transcending many disciplines.
You’ll find routines highlighted in product design, business books, personal development books, health publications, spirituality, and even Tony Robbins’ New World, New You virtual program for 2021, empowering you to craft your new routines as well. What a trend, eh?
I used to feel that “having routines” was boring. They were outdated, good only for old behavioral organization manuals, but certainly not to improve my life or professional efficiency. Until the lockdown.
The Lockdown Call
The lockdown highlighted a more introspective period in my life – like many other humans on earth – but only if they had the time privilege for personal care. I clarified purpose and stuffed my head with all the personal development things I could. I started reading stories from anonymous or more famous writers and discovered a new world. I trusted the popular verdict for book reviews, and as soon as a book was recommended multiple times, I added it to my reading list.
In the best-self-help books, it’s a repeated equation used by the most successful authors of all times: Napoleon Hill with Think and Grow Rich, The Miracle Morning of Hal Elrod, The Power of Habit of Charles Duhigg, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People of Stephen R.Covey and Atomic Habits from James Clear. And It often starts with changing new habits and routines.
The Miracle Morning was a top recommendation from most of the reviewers, so I started there. It’s a concise book, and you learn how to set up your morning routines by getting up very early. 5am is recommended. I did 6am. It was enough, and it’s still good enough for me.
You learn how to structure your life with a morning routine that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to one hour or more. I usually do 45 minutes to one hour before my family wakes up.
The process is the best of the sum of many successful people’s practices over time. I read in the introduction that Oprah woke up very early to fuel her inspiration and decided it was the right thing to follow the book’s premise. The SAVER method is all about Silence, Affirmation, Visualization, Exercising, Reading, and Scribing. These activities are very beneficial, but putting them together into a daily habit has proved powerful. I could boost my creativity and increase my confidence. I was proving to myself I could follow through with courageous daily commitments.
“Greatness is consistency.
Meditating once is common.
Meditating daily is rare.
Exercising today is simple.
Training every week is simply remarkable.
Writing one essay rarely matters.
Write every day and you’re practically a hero.
Unheroic days can make for heroic decades.”
So, what’s going on with routines that makes them such a magic tool?
Your routines are your tool to achieve your dreams.
They make things happen. In short, they activate your auto-pilot mode to get things done while saving some brain energy for more exciting stuff. But beyond that, they help you change by creating a path to your goals or purpose. They are your engine running on your sustainable energy, the energy you save through routines.
Routines allow you to gain more power for dreams. Hopes are allowed and recommended for resiliency.
As Mark Mason says: “They can crush your dreams, but they can’t crush your ability to dream. […] The world can’t change you. Only you can.”
Now, let’s start small.
For what purpose would you like to save your energy for the next day?
In this new world, if we are not careful, our worst enemy is our environment.
The environment can be our dictatorship. It can control us. And the best advice is to spend your energy only on what you can control. For the rest, be an observer. You don’t want the environment to drive your decisions. Let your values put you on a purposeful trail. It doesn’t mean that you don’t take into account the context or appreciate momentum. You want to be able to recognize yourself even though you’re under the world’s worst pressure.
You want to create your structure to act with your values and purpose. Routines?
Routines are productivity or creativity boosters.
Before, my yoga instructor always used to invite us to step back by changing our route, the sidewalk or road we took, to enjoy some fresh perspectives in our lives. I was more in the category inspired by new experiences than the repetition of small daily actions. I was a pre-pandemic snob.
Now I understand the benefits of routines and why one of my friends, both a productivity geek and a very creative guy, is the smartest.
If you put yourself on auto-pilot at the cognitive level, it doesn’t mean that your mind is not working backstage. Having a plan is an energy saver and protects from decision fatigue.
And it’s recommended for healthy creativity.
“ A lot of times, creativity comes from structure. When you have those parameters and structure, then within that, you can be creative. If you do not have structure, you’re just aimlessly doing stuff.”
I learned later that professional artists repeat the same habits every day to prepare their new art. Eventually, I understood routines are not the monopoly of artists, athletes, spiritual people, and hard workers. It’s the most effective tool for reaching your full cognitive potential.
How do routines work at the cognitive level?
This is rather complicated, but the latest research shows that habit formation comes from a tiny part of our brain called the striatum. MIT researchers have found specific neurons play a critical role in our brain machinery. One habit is the sum of small actions put together, and the neurons’ job is to signal what effort is worth continuing based on the outcome. I imagine this might be why it takes so long to form a habit and then break it; the final result is often so terrible the first time.
However, according to Tony Robbins, my own experience, and yours, we know it’s possible to form a new habit if we believe in the reward.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Dehig also gives a solution to change your habit. You keep the same trigger and reward, but you change the middle. Good luck with that. I’d say your faith is the only critical factor. I wouldn’t have quit smoking 14 years ago if it hadn’t been for my baby.
And I got confirmation from listening to a Ted Talk with a researcher showing that the best lever for permanent change is the meaning you can find in the new behavior. Huh? Meaning is more powerful than pain. Interesting.
Now, how will this new habit serve you, and why? My new routines are serving my purpose of becoming a thought leader or fueling my creativity. And you?
Routines are a game-changer.
If your recurring behaviors are paving the way for something new, the most powerful thing to grow your potential is to change your identity. In other words, the way you see yourself.
By embracing and believing in who you want to become, you can start being that person today with small actions. You can reach the next level in your life game.
While pain might not be the most inspiring reason for the change, it remains the best trigger. It’s called a forced situation. When everything is chaotic, your survival instinct helps you to start over.
When I began thinking through my new early morning steps a year ago with reading, journaling, and walking, it was more work, but I got many benefits on a professional level. It allowed me to gain clarity, believe in my purpose, and better define my goals or learning activities.
Ultimately, routines are good pandemic medicine.
Habits are good for your health because it helps you manage your anxiety.
In psychology, according to Desiree Dickerson, in her excellent article published in Nature, “it helps to manage anxiety, and will help you to adapt more quickly to the current reality.”
On a spiritual level, in his book, Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty (before becoming an Influencer and a successful bookseller) tells stories about his apprenticeship in an ashram in India and how the monks’ morning routines have been built over decades to improve spiritual learning.
One of these is to take the same morning walk every day and play the game of noticing something new: a stone, a tree, a bird, or anything else that can help you be present. It’s another wisdom perspective.
In his case, it’s about becoming an excellent observer, fully aware of each moment. Still, I’d also interpret it as wiring the mind to cultivate astonishment like a gym for cognitive and analytical abilities.
Routines can be extraordinary. They can help to feel the present moment while being in the trusted processes that move everything forward step by step. It reminds me of that great song.
When routines serve a purpose and long-term thinking, they are the easy steps to move toward your dreams, which is why I recommend them to you.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and was published here with permission.