Power of Habit

I have a confession. I used to abhor habit and routine. I liked flying by the seat of my pants every day. Things got done, but it was more a function of inspiration and less a power of habit. I thought habits were annoying and too confining.

Then I learned about decision fatigue.

We all bombarded with decisions every day. What to eat for breakfast? What to wear? Which route to take to work? Homework before or after dinner? When to do laundry? When to run the dishwasher? Should I run it ¾ full or wait for an extra meal and really cram it full?

These little issues add up. Eventually, after a morning of constant decision making, a person is exhausted. If you think about your ability to be productive as a function of how many decisions you make, you realize that you’re spending way too much time on little stuff that doesn’t matter.

Think about your day as a series of decisions and start adding up how many you make.

Now, ask yourself, if you only have the ability to make 100 or 50 decisions per day, how many of them do you want to waste? If you could automate some of them so that you’re not making little decisions, how many could you save for bigger issues, and being more productive?

For example, eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch. Pick a rotation of dinners. Decide ahead of time what you’ll wear the next day or even the next week. If you get incredibly micro in the morning routine, and always do the same things in the same order, you’ll free your mind for much bigger tasks.

My own experimentation with daily routine has transformed my life.

After staying home with the kids for a year or two we got into a grove. A grove of constantly fighting fires. I discovered I needed personal time and space to think and breathe. I realized I was trying to get personal time by staying up late and checking the inter-webs.

Then I realized I wasn’t accomplishing anything meaningful. Instead of giving me the break I so craved, it was throwing me into a tunnel of comparison on social media. Comparison is the thief of joy, for real.

So, I started waking up extra early to journal. I would write and draw and come up with tons of ideas for random stuff. It was refreshing in a way that nothing in my life to that point had been. It was better than a vacation. I focused my thoughts. I meditated. I worked on discovering my own personal likes and dislikes.

It is funny to me how we are raised in this competitive environment of school where we’re expected to try our best to get good grades. Eventually, if you’re like me, you don’t even know what you like anymore because you’re so focused on getting through the next thing. I pursued medicine for so long, in love with the idea, but not actually in love with what it took to become a doctor.

This routine has changed and evolved as our circumstances changed.

The kids started school, I started a job. I’m transitioning from painting to writing as my interests change. And still, I maintained my extra early wake-up time. A time to ease into the day and focus my priorities. I do the same things in the same ways to set the tone for the day. To me, it’s worth being slightly more tired at first, to have a sense of calm all day. I no longer feel rushed in the mornings, which translates to feeling calmer all day.

Tim Ferriss and Donald Miller talk a lot about this morning routine to increase productivity. Set up your routine to get you into a focused state to work and you’ll accomplish more by noon than most others.

As a former habit-hater, a free-time junkie, and recovering fun-a-holic, I now stand in firm belief of the power of habit.

Giraffe Reaching Watercolor
Giraffe Reaching Watercolor

 

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