The power of routine

Posted on: 23 November 2023

What do holidays, illness and work trips have in common? A loss of routine. After almost a week of being ill recently, aside from feeling better again, the thing I craved most was my routine.

If you're showing symptoms of burnout, a break can be a wonderful way to recover and kickstart your vitality for life. A break from the norm adds variety and perspective to what would otherwise be a very monotonous life.

But towards the end of such a break, if you don't long to return to your life and your routines, it's time to reevaluate them. A life well lived is a life built around routines that brings you joy.

I love my routines. Among other things: journalling, the daily Wordle challenge with my mum, a scheduled run, a workout, my mid-morning coffee, lifting my daughter out of her cot in the morning, reading to my son at night, making porridge in the morning, the first walk of the day, Monday night football with friends.

If the things you do every day drain your energy rather than revive you, it might by time to start thinking more intentionally.

Do it till it becomes habitual

The little things you repeat that make up your day are the things that make up your life. Cultivate a life of routine, and your routines will become powerful habits. This is the route to building an intentional life well crafted and meaningful.

What makes a routine become a habit? Nir Eyal describes a routine as simply a series of actions regularly followed. Whereas a habit is an ingrained behaviour done with little or no thought; not doing it feels uncomfortable. Whereas skipping a routine “doesn’t feel bad and without proper forethought, can be easily skipped or forgotten”.

You are in control of what routines you build into your life.

Bad routines sneak in

Our lives are full of routines, for better or worse. Our brains are clever and are very good at performing repetitive tasks on auto-pilot. If you don’t intentionally program your own routines, your mind will do it for you. And before you know it, your life will be full of routines that don’t represent the person you want to be.

Start with intention

Intention is the key to Cal Newport's “Deep Life Stack”. I recently listened to The Deep Life podcast episode #274, where Cal revisits his framework for living a deep, intentional life.

The key to starting to build your deep life is a level of discipline. Without discipline, you will struggle to build meaningful, positive routines. With it, you’ll build good routines, which will grow into habits, and habits are a vote for the person you want to be.

For building discipline, Cal breaks initial habit-forming into 3 categories: body, mind and heart. 1. Move your body with the aim to make yourself healthier. 2. Make your mind sharper; “you have an instrument, you have to train it how to think”. 3. Caring for other people.

The Deep Life stack is a rich guide for building the life you want for yourself. But it starts with disciplined routine-building and the forming of keystone habits.