can you take a routine and needs too far?

i’m a huge fan of routines and i write and think about them often, especially with people i coach. one of the biggest benefits they provide is (ironically) freedom. having a routine defined for a particular area of your life allows you to move through somethign without having to think about what you’re doing; you can just do it.

for example, having a morning routine where you wake up and workout before going to work frees you from having to decide whether or not you’re going to work out. because it’s already in your routine, it frees you to just focus on the workout itself. and not having to make the decision is good for your cognitive budget.

that said, i think it’s possible to take routines too far. routines shouldn’t be so rigorous as to prevent us from making decisions and adjustments to the routines in the moment. for example, if you workout everyday, but your child needs you to help them with early morning homework, holding too strongly to your routine can prevent you from doing somethign really importing for your family.

that’s somewhat of a benign example, but superstars and elites of all types often have stories following them that exemplify the downside of holding to routines too tightly. for example, the actors who need to have a very specific type of water or liquid before performing. or the writer who can only write with a certain type of pen. or the athlete who can only workout with a specific type of snack or food in their body. this type of holding to routines can actually be destructive and is often (but not always) a sign of privilege.

the best routines, in my opinion, are the ones that help us structure our lives so that, in absence of shocks to our systems, we’re getting as much done and moving towards our goals as often and effectively as possible. but when things do have to change, we are able to making the adjustment as necessary and then return to the routine when we can.

on a different but related note, change in the only thing that’s constant in life. sometimes we experience the occasional shock to our system that requires a temporary shift, but one we can return from. other times, the shock was so great or sustained that we actually need to change or drop the routine. this is natural and normal. mastery of your routines and personal system will allow you to identify what type of shock has occurred and then act accordingly.

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