Back in November, I realized I needed to make a big change in how I was approaching my day. I decided that meant I was going to have to create a routine. More specifically, and more than slightly repellent for me, a morning routine.
You see, I am not – NOT – a morning person.
As a function of that, I’m also NOT a morning routine person. I don’t love getting up early, unless I have a reason to do it. I like a very natural day, and the ability to flow with that natural rhythm from day to day, week to week. And at times, I’m able to approach my day in that way, achieve this natural rhythm. The pandemic, however, quashed that ability slowly but surely.
Through the Spring and Summer, I was able to work and live in flow. Wake up at a reasonable time, eat breakfast, probably drive to a park or trail and take a walk, work about half a day in the afternoon, work out in the late afternoon before dinner. But as the weather got cooler, and I started to get a bit busier, this nice flow turned into rolling out of bed, heading directly to my desk in my PJs to work, not really being too productive, and then scrambling at the end of the day, pushing my workout later and later, which pushed into my evening time with my husband.
And while I’m totally great with working in PJs and living in flow, this version of it was not a good fit for me long term. Over time, I just generally started to feel worse – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Habits I didn’t like for myself crept in, and I just wasn’t taking care of myself to the level that I know I want to do. So, almost overnight, I made a plan.
I decided I’d set my alarm for 6:30am and get up after one snooze. I’d do a Peloton workout – mostly rides, but alternating in with yoga and pilates as well. I would shower and put on real life clothes, go down and eat breakfast at the dining table and read. Then I’d head to my desk by about 8am, work till 5, and do my strength workout in the afternoon. Voila!
And voila, indeed. It worked like a charm.
I knew I needed some structure and separation in the phases of my day, and this gave me enough. But not so much that I would rebel against it after two days. It was kind of like giving myself those rubber bumpers in a bowling lane – you still have to participate and stay on track, but you’ve got an assist.
Really, I surprised myself by how easy it was to transition into this new routine. Historically, I hate working out in the morning, and I suck at it. (#ineedcarbz) With that nudge of structure, but still enough freedom to decide what felt good for the day, it became easy, fun, and something I looked forward to. My afternoon workouts were better too, because my morning routine had set me up with more energy throughout the day. Of course, better sleep followed as well.
And, too, I was surprised by how this new routine increased my level of focus in the morning hours. Typically, I struggle to get my thoughts together for anything other than scrolling my email before 1pm. This new approach to my day opened up new opportunities for and applications of my energy earlier in the day, for both work and personal stuff.
Most of all, I surprised myself with how easy it was to maintain this new routine. And isn’t that really the goal of creating something like this? To make aligned decisions that move your life more toward the container that supports who you want to be and what you want to do for the long haul? Well, it was for me, anyway. And that’s a big reason why the new routine so effortlessly became the usual routine – because it was well thought out, aligned with my values, needs, and wants, and put into place with a balance of structure, freedom, and understanding.
And that right there is a key reason why I didn’t even think twice about sleeping in this morning.
I didn’t feel any guilt in skipping the workout, going straight to a nice, long shower, and getting to breakfast, and also work, an hour late. I didn’t feel like I messed up, fell off the wagon, ugh, failed again, gave up, none of that. Because the routine wasn’t just for the sake of it, one more black and white box to check in my life. It was never about that. It was always about gaining a deeper connection to and understanding of myself and my needs physically, mentally, and emotionally, and being able to intentionally make the choices that best support them on any given day.
I believe that’s the missing piece in all this talk of creating a morning routine, or a workout routine, or whatever. People look outside themselves for all these supposed answers about what’s going to make their lives run more smoothly, make them feel better physically, mentally, emotionally. They don’t take the time to really think about what their wants and needs are, the actions that will support them, and what is actually going to move toward creating the life container they’re looking for. You have to know what you’re actually trying to achieve before you start picking steps to achieve it all willy nilly.
Because a forced or unintentional or overwhelming routine is only going to work until it doesn’t.
Just like a diet, just like an overly aggressive workout program, you’re only going to be able to white-knuckle your daily life for so long. You’ve got to have buy-in for this stuff, you know? It’s got to feel like you. Whatever you’re choosing to do with your body, your schedule, your energy, should feel like it’s benefiting you, enhancing how you feel, helping you to feel more like you.
Don’t fall into this trap of becoming a routine robot, falling for every productivity and self-care snake oil salesperson’s pitch of better well-being through better adherence to strict external structure and standards. Instead, understand first why creating a routine matters to you (if at all), what you’re wanting to get out of it, and how you’ll set it up to feel more self-determination instead of self-recrimination and restriction.
This is definitely a case of learning to stand in your power.
Or, in my case, sleeping in it. There is so much power in being accommodating toward yourself rather than being rigid. Giving permission as opposed to withholding it. And realizing that forcing yourself to do something just for the sake of it usually isn’t actually all that powerful, but just another way we give it up. Let’s agree to not make a routine of that anymore, OK?
At the end of the day (well, and at the start of it), any routine you choose should be about more autonomy, not less.
If creating a healthy routine is on your radar (whatever that looks like for you!), check out this workshop about it. My friend Lauren and I are giving you some high-quality info and tips for incorporating truly feel-good fitness and food into your everyday life, long term. It’s free, but you have to get a ticket to get the Zoom link!