In the cult of The 5am Club, it’s easy to see yourself as less of a productive or successful person if you’re not an early riser.
Or, if you don’t wear the same clothes everyday like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
I could go on, but you get the drift.
Except that historically, habits have always been linked to the type of person that we are.
Or the type of person we want to be.
So before you feel despondent or overwhelmed as you attempt to transplant someone else’s routines, perhaps the question we should be asking is, “Who do I want to be?”
As it is, our chosen routines must align with our personality, lifestyle and goals.
For instance, if someone’s goal is to have more meaningful connections during the week, it’s silly to expect an introvert to socialise like an extrovert, and vice versa.
The essentials of a routine
- Prep— here’s where you ensure that your essentials are sorted, rather than fumbling in a fluster and therefore wasting more time. This would include having your files in check and your meals and clothes sorted.
- Movement— key to ensuring that your hormones are kicking in, so your body wakes up and you function optimally.
- Wisdom— time to reflect. One of my favourite Taoist dictums is 无为— the wisdom of inaction. Even if you’re sitting down and journalling— supposedly ‘doing nothing productive’— you’re integrating insights, allowing your brain to cull what it doesn’t need, and processing your experiences.
- Regulation— everyday, we experience a lot that triggers the fear centre in our brains. When left unchecked, this can easily lead to anxiety or trauma. Carving time out to breathe deeply and consciously is the easiest way to regulate our nervous systems. All you have to do is (1) make sure your belly is filling up with air when you’re breathing in, not sucked in; (2) all your attention is focused on breathing, so much so there’s no resources or bandwidth to think. Repeat till you get it right.
- Giving and connecting— who are you responsible for, who do you give to? This could be your family, pets or plants.
- Self-care— these are the things you do to replenish yourself, and which give you meaning, order and a sense of mastery into your life. (Here’s a piece I wrote which better explains it).
The Haute Couture of routines
Sure, you can transplant someone’s routine.
But here’s the truth, I’ll never wake up at 5am unless I have no choice, like catching an early flight.
And I know I can function better later in the day, because of my chronotype.
It’s wiser and more effective to tailor your routine.
- Ask yourself “Who do I want to be?”: It’s easy to throw on every single extra action, that we want to develop into a habit. But truth is, they’ll overwhelm, and we’ll drop off. Then we’ll feel despondent. Handpick the rituals that align with your values. For instance, just because everyone is learning a third language doesn’t mean you should, if you’d rather learn how to cook.
- Experiment: It’s better to try and see how or when a certain ritual fits into your life, rather than to doggedly design the perfect schedule and never begin. Don’t be too precious with it, give it a chance, and if it doesn’t work, try something else. As Seth Godin says, winners quit faster and more often.
- Cull the non-essentials: What are the ‘just five minutes!’ things you do everyday, that really aren’t just five minutes. For instance, that phone call you make out of obligation, that you dread, and which drains your energy credits way before and after the call. Run an inventory of the energy vampires in your life, and create a systematic strategy to cull them.
- Do it at night or at another time: As a night owl, I prep for my next day and journal at night. The point being, I’m still doing it, and I win myself a longer lie-in the next morning. Or, I hate the idea of cleaning on a weekend— they’re for fun or relaxation! So I do my cleaning on a Thursday.
- Pair your activities: To start my quota of movement everyday, I do squats in the morning. But I know I’ll never do them on their own. So I do them whilst brushing my teeth; this way, I also brush my teeth more thoroughly. It’s a win-win for my glutes and dental health.
- Create situations where you are forced to do something regularly: I hate cold showers, even if I know their metabolic benefits. So once a week, I stay over at my parents’, where I have no choice but to take a cold shower. If I want to practise longer bouts of deep breathing, then I book in a facial or a massage. Lying down on the table, I have no choice but to do that.
- Know there are periods where you can just chill: Winter, dark moons, cold weather, feeling under-the-weather, hormonal changes. The list goes on. It’s not a sign of weakness to chill, when we listen to our body to replenish, we buy back exponentially more sanity, peace and productivity. In fact, I often tell my clients, if Darwin and Dickens worked for four hours a day, then it’s a sign that you can afford to rest too!
Need help in creating your #smashingit routine? Please get in touch.