I used to crave variety…in everything. A little bit of this, a dash of that. Unpredictability was exciting. It was also, unfortunately, exhausting and made it difficult to develop good habits. Routines, I thought, were confining and boring, life of beige in a world full of colors.
Over the years, I’ve definitely changed my feelings about routines.
Routines are key to making habits stick. By creating a routine, eventually things just kind of happen on autopilot. My mornings are a prime example. I wake up at 5am, put on my workout clothes, make the same protein smoothie each day and then do my workout, then shower and dress. Even if I’m tired, I find it pretty easy to stick with this after doing it every weekday since the summer. I have all the stuff I need right where I need it and I don’t really have to think much or make much of a conscious choice to roll out of bed and get this all done. Once you have a routine in place, you can then hook new habits onto it and the existing routine will help you remember to do them.
And to old me, this probably all would have sounded awfully regimented and confining. Where is the spontaneity? Doing the same thing each morning…eating the same protein shake…how BORING!
But here’s the thing, because I have that routine down and on autopilot, it frees up my energy for things that I actually want to focus on. It’s similar to Steve Job’s wardrobe of t-shirts and jeans so that he doesn’t have to waste energy thinking about what to wear. That morning routine gets my day off on a good start. No matter what else happens, I started with a healthy breakfast and a workout and then I can go about my day with that checked off my list and without a whole lot of effort on my part.
I was recently reading a weekly email I get about minimalism that pointed out that most of us don’t eat as much variety as we think we do. We like to think we’re eating all these different foods, but by in large, we eat about 20% of our favorite meals 80% of the time. This rule is called the Pareto Principle and it plays out over and over again in human behavior. We’re creatures of habit and we stick with what we like. Most of us wear 20% of the clothes in our closets 80% of the time. We watch 20% of our TV or streaming channels 80% of the time…you get the picture. We are inherently predictable creatures because it takes a lot less brain power to stick with what we know we’ll like or has worked for us in the past.
Instead of viewing this as a negative, the article stressed how freeing this is. Instead of constantly trying to fight that inclination to eat the same things over and over…why not harness it? Embrace it? Go ahead and make a standard breakfast or lunch that’s healthy and easy to make and just stick with it. The article talked about how planning meals this way could save a family money and help make sure everyone was eating something halfway healthy as long as you made sure the 20% meals in rotation were on the healthier side. It stressed that you could still get some variety in there on weekends when you have more time or designate one night a week as a “new recipe” night or just eat something different when you go out to eat.
I couldn’t help but think about how this could translate into other areas of life and I could see how I already gravitate toward certain patterns.
In my workouts, I’m always fighting the inclination to do the same programs over and over. I like them. I feel confident in them. And, they’re designed to change things up enough to avoid plateaus. I’m currently doing my second round in one I had particularly good results in, but I actually felt a little sheepish doing that. Shouldn’t I be trying something completely different? Instead of shaking things up just for the sake of shaking things up…why not just stick with what’s working for me until it isn’t anymore?
I’m giving myself permission to embrace routine. I’m not going to look for a different breakfast unless and until I no longer want to eat this one. If I find a shirt that I really like, why not get a few in different colors rather than try to find another style that I like as much? The more I can pare down my choices to my favorites and free up my brain space for other, more important thoughts and decisions, the better! I can save my non-autopilot time for where it really counts.