Routines and the Middle Way (Or, Don't Use Routines To Feel Bad)

I was speaking with someone the other day about ways to support a productive day. I mentioned that it's great to come up with a simple routine that helps you get off to a great start.

She gave me a dubious look. She countered, "I don't like routines because then I'm just hard on myself if I don't live up to them."

Ahhhh..... right! This is what often keeps people from adding productive habits to their day: they end up using them as a weapon (on themselves). In fact, often the people who opt into routines are high achievers with a penchant for perfectionism. It's just one more thing to pressure yourself to do. Who needs that?

Literally, no one.

The problem isn’t the routine. It’s the mindset that goes with it. This all-or-nothing, I-must-be-perfect, performance-fixated mindset takes all the fun out of life.

But I think we’ve got the problem wrong. The problem isn't the routine. It’s the mindset that goes with it. This all-or-nothing, I-must-be-perfect, performance-fixated mindset takes all the fun out of life. Not very productive.

What if you could hold your productive routines lightly? What if you saw them not as a harsh standard, but as a generous, easygoing support system? What if, instead of getting rid of the routines, you started to dismantle that intolerant mindset that pushes pressure?

I see this a lot with my clients - they approach the day-to-day as a performance, rather than as play. And as a result, they amp up the pressure and miss the progress. Routines aren't here to remind you that you suck, but instead, that you are freaking awesome. Amirite?

Truly, the all-or-nothing approach (I'll do it if I can do it perfectly or I won't do it at all) is relatively easy. It's like the simple on-off switch I wrote about yesterday. On or off: easy.

What's initially harder (but more effective) is the middle way: working with yourself, finding your rhythm, adjusting, accepting, and productively challenging yourself into your own fulfillment and contribution. The middle way means you must be willing to make mistakes and adjustments. You must be willing to let go of perfectionism and, instead, strive messily for progress.

So back to the idea of productive routines. I like to design simple things that will help my energy, inspiration, mindset. I started small and have added elements to my routine over the years. And I switch it up. Most important: I make everything easy. Coffee, water, stretch, sit quietly for a few minutes, read (for learning or inspiration), get clear on my goals and gratitude. Then, move (run).

What one or two things could start your day off to a productive start? You might consider what derails you. Look back on that day that seemed to start off wrong. What happened? Is there a way to create a routine that protects against that?

Consider the rushing vibe that can derail even the best intentioned. You’re trying to get yourself and everyone else out the door, dressed and fed, but what if something doesn’t go as planned? What if your daughter has a meltdown about her sweater? What if your son can’t find his shoes? What if you have no idea where the homework is? What if your dog takes longer on the walk? What if you have to (heaven forbid) iron something? Or take a call?

So maybe you decide this adrenaline-pumping rushing isn’t setting you up well for your day. You might consider waking up earlier to give yourself more runway in the morning.

You might find that reading something inspiring puts you in a good mood that energizes you.

Or that a walk around the block gives you the perspective and fresh air and energy that sets you up for success.

Little things. Not big things. The little things make all the difference. It’s the small actions that exercise our power.

Experiment. Be easy. See if there is a routine that might fortify your energy, outlook, peace of mind, clarity, and focus. Don’t make it hard by being rigid about it, by burdening yourself with the expectations of perfection, by the all-or-nothing mindset.

No, don’t do that.

Instead, find the middle way with your routines. Tweak, test, try. Play around. Have fun. Find that routine that’s like a supportive friend. Steady, helpful, encouraging. The routine that brings out the best in you.