“If a person puts even one measure of effort into following ritual… he will get back twice as much” – Xunzi
Have you been struggling with stress, anxiety, worry, sleep issues and difficulty fully engaging in your work or relationships? The past year has presented us with constant changes and endless uncertainty. What do we do when we find ourselves being tossed and turned by the storms of life? What can we do when the stressors are beyond our control?
From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, countless decisions need to be made. Many of us approach each day as an overwhelming series of decisions one after the next, building doubt, anxiety and worry. By the time we’re finally sitting down to work or spending time with family, we’re stressed and exhausted. Feeling drained, it becomes nearly impossible to fully engage in our relationships or cultivate deep insights required for meaningful work.
Engaging in daily routines can provide a safe haven to our body and mind and save our energy for our most important work. By making the details of daily life effortless and non-negotiable, daily routines can be built to be our allies. Here are three ways in which daily routine can reduce stress and help us better navigate life especially through uncertain times.
Calms the body and mind
“In an unpredictable world, good habits are a safe haven of certainty” (Ryan Holiday). The repetition of routine provides comfort and stability, calming the body and mind. Athletes often have a set routine especially in preparation for competition. Eating certain foods, wearing specific clothes or stretching in a specific order. Others might see this as superstition but competitive athletes know, these routines are not based on whether they win or lose. The repetition, the order, the ritual, settles the body and mind for peak performance.
Following routine therefore helps us be fully present allowing us to reach a deeper state of mind, where we feel fully engaged and enjoy the process of the activity – this is often called being “in the flow.”
Some might think following a routine sounds restrictive but having the “freedom” to make decisions about every detail of your day is chaotic and exhausting. Success and true freedom, the ability to pursue what’s most important to us, requires certainty where possible. Our bedtime routine may seem trivial but mastery of these health habits is the “practice of turning an ordinary activity into a sacred practice.” (Ryan Holiday)
“Wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” (Herbert Simon) With too much information, the mind becomes overwhelmed and we become reactive instead of thoughtful. The constant fear of “missing out” and appearing “in the dark” propels us to seek out more information on current trends, gossip and news bites and erodes our peace of mind and ability to think deeply.
Daily routine provides the structure we need to limit unnecessary and even harmful inputs. For example, following a daily bedtime routine, ensures we get adequate rest, even if fear, ego and societal pressures are pushing us to read one more article or watch one more episode of the latest Netflix series.
Deeper awareness of ourselves and the world requires us to cultivate internal peace and stillness by being intentional about what we consume. Garbage in, garbage out. If we want good output, we need good input. Instead of 24/7 news and social media, read books, listen to music, sit in silence.
If we want deep insights, we need to make room for them.
Daily routine is the antidote for “Analysis paralysis”. To see the big picture, Marcus Aurelius wrote “ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary?” Knowing what to ignore and avoid is just as important in our information diet as our nutritional diet.
In his book, Ryan Holiday writes “Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections. Stillness… is the key that unlocks the insights of genius, and allows us regular folks to understand them.”
Saves our energy for more meaningful work
Imagine waking up and having to decide if you’re going to get out of bed or stay in bed. Then you have to decide if you’re going to brush your teeth or do your morning exercise. Then you deliberate whether you want to eat breakfast next or have a shower. And so on. By the time you’re sitting down to work, you’ve already spent considerable mental capacity. Following a routine automates the details of our lives freeing us from the burden of weighing every decision. This reduces stress and anxiety while saving the resources we need for deeper contemplation and more meaningful endeavours. In other words, routine frees the best of ourselves for what’s most important to us.
Daily routine can be based on time such as waking up at 6am or eating meals at 8am, noon and 5pm. Daily routines can also be based on order. Floss then brush teeth then warm bath then read in bed. Daily routine can also be based on the arrangement of things in space such as the placement of supplements and fresh herbs you use daily on your kitchen counter. Routines can also be based around tools, sounds and scents. For example, turning on your diffuser with lavender oil as you get ready for bed.
Intentional or not, you likely already have some form of routine in your daily life. Regardless, daily routines are systems to constantly improve, optimize and master over time. As James Clear says “if you want better results, forget about goals; focus on systems instead.” Start with one simple health routine. As it becomes effortless, look for other daily activities you want to automate. With time healthy routines can make the details of your daily life effortless while cultivating calmness, stillness and more energy for the most important things in your life.
- Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
- Atomic Habits by James Clear