If you've been here with me for a while, it's probably common knowledge that my general state of being is one that mixes near-constant exhaustion with a healthy lust for life and excitement for what's to come. It's a good balance of the two, most days. But one thing that I know helps solidify the best states and curb the not-so-great ones is having consistency. Maybe I've said this before, but I have a picture-perfect schedule laid out in my mind that, when followed, makes me feel absolutely unstoppable - even after just one day! It's something like waking up at 7, spending a quiet morning with myself, using the work day for work, going to the gym after, cooking a nice dinner, and then cozying up with my partner, using home for relaxation. Toss in a book that I love (right now, it's The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green), some brainless YouTube videos, a hot shower, a good, long skincare routine, or a little painting session, and I'm the happiest lady around.
But, just being honest, this is not what most of my days look like.
Often, I'll hit the snooze button and go right back to bed until 7:45 or so. I'll have to skip the journaling, the morning hygiene routine, the makeup, and run out the door with coffee to-go and no breakfast. Many days, I'll be so damn tired after teaching three full classes of freshmen in a row, that running on a treadmill or doing squats becomes the absolute last thing I want to do, and I go straight home. Since I'm tired, I'll take a nap, and now that winter fast approaches, I wake up at dusk and decide it's too late to make an elaborate meal, so I opt for pasta, or, sometimes, nothing. This isn't how things always go, but over the years I've realized that a few off-days like these tend to lead to more of them, and more, and more, until every day feels half-assed.
And luckily, I'll always get to a point where I've had enough of it. I won't let myself stay in that mindset for long, because it feels unbearable. I do not want to live a half-assed life. It is in this moment that I return to the 7am wakeup, get out my planner and journal, sit in the quiet, and build it all up again. I'm grateful for this moment, every time. I'm just tired of coming back to it every few months.
What is it that makes a routine so hard to keep? It feels as though most people have it whittled down to a science that I can't understand, or some genetic trait not found in my own body. I envy those people. Though I have some ideas, I've been trying to work through them for years and feel that it's come to little fruition. I have to tell you: if you came here for a blog post about how I've mastered a routine and still have time for all the things I love and how I'm going to transfer all the magic to you...this will be disappointing. Sorry.
But if you want to brainstorm together - if you struggle and want to start considering how we might view the "routine" in a slightly different way - let's hang for a bit.
I worked with a spiritual teacher once, who told her students to abandon what we knew about the standard routine. Western culture, especially in the modern day, puts SO much emphasis on how much we, as an individual, can do. How much we can get done. Produce. I think it's pretty clear that we are not machines nor cogs in one, and though some people like to think of the world as one great big machine in need of human cogs, I believe it's much more realistic to look at the world as an ecosystem, an environment. Our days should not be spent solely on a contribution to this made-up machine; rather, on nourishment for our communities and ourselves so that we all may grow and thrive. That is the ultimate use of a single day.
Now, that teacher also liked to say that she didn't follow any sort of routine because there was no need for one. Her day-to-day was free-flowing, and mine could be, too, if I wanted it to be. I suppose that's true - but I'm a high school English teacher. I work eight or nine hours every day during the week, and I can't manipulate those hours. I don't choose who I work with or who comes into my classroom. And, regardless, I like what I do. I don't intend to leave my profession, at least not in the foreseeable future. So...this idea of "not needing" any sort of structure in the day is off the table.
Not only that, but there's something to say for how we would talk in that group of spiritual women like actually following a routine was sort of bad. Like we were leaning too much into that Western culture of work by following one. Don't get me wrong, I don't look at this as a way to optimize working. It's a way to optimize living and feeling good. That's it. I love having consistency in my life in the day-to-day, perhaps as a supplement to the 9-to-5 or whatever. I don't like it because it makes me feel "productive;" I like it for the fact that when I follow my own set routine, I know that it's one of the best ways of caring for myself.
Going back to the top, what I listed in the grand perfect routine - only one of those list points had to do with work. The rest are for me or for my partner. I could have also thrown in the weekend additions of my friends and family. The routine was never about productivity.
I think that's what we as a Western community need to rethink about the idea of a routine. I believe many individuals already have. But I know that too often when we talk about setting ourselves up for success, we talk about making more time for work, more time to "get things done." What things? Are they things we actually want to be doing?
When we take a good look at our lives, we acknowledge both what is present and what is absent. I can sit for a moment and recognize that I have been allowing in an abundance of social opportunities, but also quiet time, alone time, and great periods of organization. I've been pretty good about staying active in some capacity, though this week was the first time I've gone to the gym in a while. I'm keeping up with work well enough. I'm still skating. I always have fun outings to look forward to on the weekends. But I'm lacking much of what makes me feel healthy and energized - home-cooked meals, a consistent workout, a consistent hygiene setup. A time to journal and reflect.
It's time, then, to recognize what takes away that time. Right now (and usually), it's scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, compulsively checking emails, distancing myself via the internet from what I could be making time for - that nice meal, or a journal meditation. The general question that we should be asking ourselves is this: What do you currently make time for, and what do you want to make time for?
Do you want it badly enough to make a change?
That's where it has to start. And the hardest part, at least for me, is remembering that there is discipline that must come with the wanting. I can't go back to bed if having a quiet part of the day to journal means that much to me. And it does. If I want to devote more time to cooking, I'll have to sacrifice time on social media. It sounds so silly to type out, but it's clear where my time is going once I look at the app timers. I know - but I have to consciously remind myself - how much more important my well-being is than my "presence" online. Do what you can to curb the distractions or temptations in order to make way for what you really want. Set a timer or delete the app altogether, if you have to. I've done both. Leave sticky notes around the house if that helps. I haven't done that, but I'm considering it now as an extra nudge.
Most importantly (note to self), remember that it takes discipline.
Another thing to consider, and something I could surely work on moving forward, is that the routine does not have to be perfectly built up and carried out one day after manifesting it. Thinking it will almost always leads to discouragement in the near future, because it just won't happen. We have to take some time to ease into it, play around with it, and make adjustments. Surely, we'll find spots to back off from and spots to push harder on. But if we take it all on all at once, it won't be sustainable. I listened to a snippet of a podcast recently that described this quite well: When we "manifest" or dream of a better future for ourselves, we cannot look solely at the outcome. We have to bridge that outcome to the present - where we are right in that moment. The only way to do that is to take steps. Start with the morning parts of the routine for example, or, hell, maybe just one thing in that little morning list. Focus on doing that for a few days, then add on. Eventually it will become an easier habit, it will feel more natural, and we can keep building until we're at that desired outcome.
Finally, on that note, celebrate the steps! Oh my goodness, celebrate yourself when you feel the routine settling into your body like second nature. Recognize that this is not how you were living a few weeks or months ago. You're doing something so good for yourself. You're basing the value of your time not on the work expectancies from our high-stress, high-speed society, but rather on your own soul, your own desires, your wellness. You are aligning your intentions with your actions.
That kind of routine, my friend, is going to "produce" so much more in the long run.