In my New Year’s post from last year, I laid out an ambitious daily routine that I wanted to try, in hopes of getting onto a more productive schedule and finding more order in my daily life. I had been reading about the benefits of morning and evening routines, and though I had never really followed a routine like that before, I wanted to try it out, to see if it could help to tame the chaos of my days and help me improve my sleep at night. Also, I wanted to develop some habits that could improve my overall health. Now that we’re a year out, I thought I’d take a look back at my hopes and plans, and see how they played out over the course of the year.
My ideal routine, as laid out on 1/5/22, was pretty ambitious and tightly scheduled. Here’s the plan:
6-6:30 – wake up, make coffee and lemon water
6:30 – walk one mile (conveniently, the distance around our “block”)
6:50 – sit-ups/core routine and 5 minutes of yoga
7:00 – planner and journal
8:00 – get daughter to school
8:15 – start working
5-6:00 – exercise or work out
6-7:30 – cook dinner and eat together
8-9:00 – wind down (reading, family games or tv)
9:00 – Hot tub
9:30 – Evening stretching/yoga
9:45 – 10:30 – Reading in bed with herbal tea
Pretty structured, right? I figured I would make it a couple of weeks, maybe until the end of January, and then it would fall apart. But you know what? I stuck with most of it! Well, if you shift the whole schedule about an hour later, anyway (I keep trying to be an earlier morning person, but it just doesn’t stick.) And also, our hot tub broke, so that item had to be dropped (and it was my favorite!). I don’t work out every day, and we don’t cook every night (we have a system, but that’s another post), but my mornings and evenings tend to look pretty much like this.
And it has made a difference. Each one of these items is pretty small alone, but collectively, they’ve given my days more predictability, which in turn has eased my stress and given me structure (plus, I’m more flexible!). It’s like an onramp in the morning, easing me from bed to work, and then an offramp in the evening, gently leading me back toward sleep. I don’t have to think about it, there are no decisions to be made – I just do it. On the days that I stick to the schedule, I find that I’m calmer, and have a sense of being more organized, which helps me to be more productive.
But why does this work? And why was I craving this kind of routine now, when for my whole life I have avoided routine at all costs? It turns out that there’s quite a bit of research showing that our brains need the very structure that I tend to avoid. Because our brains are predictive, using past experience to anticipate and adjust to events and challenges, we can experience anxiety when there isn’t a familiar or repetitive pattern to our lives. And the last few years have been nothing if not unpredictable, am I right? Between the social and health uncertainties of Covid, big changes to my own business, and the chaos of suddenly having our whole family working and schooling from home, 2020 and 2021 were uniquely unpredictable. Having a reliable routine over the past year has given me a sense of order over chaos. It also gives me a chance to start my day without having to make any decisions. As a Libra, a lot of my brain power throughout the day is spent on making decisions, so the fewer I have to deal with the better. Decision fatigue is real!
I also think there’s a little magic it transferring your worry or anxiety onto a routine. It’s an action you can take, and whether it actually helps to solve the problem or not doesn’t matter – taking the action, and believing that it will have a positive effect on the outcome, allows you to set the stress aside and move on with your day with a clearer head.
This year I’m resolving to continue my routine – and try a little harder to shift it earlier than my current comfort zone. I also want to add in a little mini-meditation in the morning after my mini yoga moment. One of the nice things about having this routine is that it’s easier to add things in – I already have a structure in place.
Do you have a morning or evening routine that you stick to? If so, are you changing it up this year? What do you find works best for you?