Routines & Ruts

I LOVE routine. While I admittedly would like to be more adventurous, I love the familiarity and predictability of having some routines in my life. Routines give me stability. They help me get things done. They prevent tasks from slipping through the cracks. They ensure that the important things get prioritized and the trivial things get automated to leave me with enough energy for the important things.

For instance, every night, I take time to pack breakfast and lunch for the following day. This saves me precious time in the morning, because, let’s face it, I don’t want to get up any earlier than I already do. For the same reason, I set out clothes at night for the next day (or several outfits on Sunday night for the upcoming week). I am not as creative or thoughtful when putting outfits together in the morning in my sleepy state, so this also adds the benefit of being able to put together better combinations.

Another routine I have created for myself is a workout routine. I designate certain days as video workout days, and get up at the same time, exercising for the same length of time, in the same place. I do mix up the workout videos I use, but I gravitate toward only a few channels and have some favorite videos that I do often. I created playlists with videos that target different areas so that I can quickly select videos I know I like, saving me valuable time searching for them in the morning.

Of course, over-reliance upon routines can lead to getting stuck in a rut. It’s really easy to go through life on autopilot when you have routines set up to make things more efficient. Last year, when I was running the same route twice every week, I quickly got bored with it, and I felt unchallenged by it. Since then, I have found that mixing up my workouts (devoting different days to different focus areas, running different routes, etc.) is better for me than doing the exact same thing all the time. It requires more attention, involving more brain activity, and it keeps me more engaged in the activity, since I can’t just follow along with absentminded muscle memory. Different videos use different exercises and movements, continually challenging my body in different ways.

I have found the same to be true in my spiritual life. It’s easy to get caught up in a comfortable routine: devotional book, Scripture, prayer. That’s been my routine for a while now. But then I realized that I don’t approach any of my other relationships with such rigidity. Why should my relationship with my Heavenly Father be that way? Today I’m choosing to break out of my stuffy routine and approach my Father, my Lord, with reverence, but also with joy, basking in His Presence. I certainly will continue to read from devotional books, study the Bible, and spend time in prayer, but not in a fashion that makes each step seem like a task to check off before I resume the rest of my day. I want to be more fully involved in my time spent with Him, and fully engaged in life in general. So even though routines help me make better use of my time, I’m learning to be careful to avoid relying on them too heavily, lest I go through life completely on autopilot.

What steps will you take to create a routine to make your life simpler? In what ways might your routines be keeping you from moving forward, challenging yourself, or fully engaging?


The Energizer Bunny

What energizes you? What gets you pumped up for your day? What sustains you through a challenging set of circumstances or an afternoon slump?

It’s no secret that when we only struggle through one draining activity after another, we will feel depleted of all energy and motivation. We feel lifeless. We feel like we can’t possibly do one more thing because we simply haven’t the strength.

How are we ever going to reach a ripe old age or accomplish our goals and dreams for the future if we can barely make it through the work day? How much longer are we going to keep chugging along this dead-end track, putting our noses to the proverbial grindstone day after day, with no ray of sunshine to break through the gloom or break up the tedium, motivating us to keep working toward our dreams?

We need to figure out what it is that drives us. We need to discover how we’re wired so that we can better understand what we need to fuel us through our days and our lives. Are we fueled by escaping the world? Engaging in conversation? Relaxing with friends? Shopping? Exercising? Reading? Cooking? Napping?

As an introvert, I’m recharged when I take time for myself away from the company of others. I find that spending too much time around people, feeling compelled to “be on” all the time, particularly in larger group settings, drains me of energy. But spending time reading in a quiet environment, watching a favorite show, or taking time away from the world to spend with Jesus fills me back up so that I can go back out into the world and interact with people.

But I also know that having plans with friends to look forward to can motivate me through a particularly challenging day, knowing that something better is ahead. It’s a delicate balance. Knowing that I need both planned alone time and some social time helps me maintain my sanity and push through the monotony that can sometimes seep into my daily activities.

I have also learned that certain things drain me more quickly and easily than others, particularly in the morning when I haven’t fully woken up. If I were to have to decide what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and what to pack for lunch, I would drive myself crazy. On the few occasions which I have had to make these decisions in the morning, I stand paralyzed, unable to make even the simplest decision. I’ve never been good at making decisions, so I do my best to automate these tasks to reserve more brainpower for things that I consider to be more important and leave the house in a less frustrated state of mind.

It’s really important to start the day off right, before I leave the house. I get up when the alarm goes off, knowing hitting the snooze button isn’t an option. To prepare myself both physically and mentally for the day ahead, I build in workout time and quiet time with the Lord before I leave for work.

Throughout the day, I take breaks from my work to physically refuel with (mostly healthy) food and water, making sure I can maintain my energy. I also read or take a lunch break with my coworkers to get away from the humdrum of work in the middle of the day, giving me a second wind when I get back to my desk. The time spent away from my never-ending list of tasks allows me a mental break, keeping me from getting overwhelmed by everything on my plate, allowing me to return to my work with a renewed energy supply.

In the evening, I try to set aside some time to wind down, either watching a TV show or reading a book. This allows me to decompress from whatever might have caused me stress during the day, which, in turn, makes it easier for me to fall asleep. I also ensure that I pack my breakfast and lunch for the next day and set out my clothes, so that my morning routine runs smoothly.

What habits can you adopt to divert energy to more important tasks in your life? What kinds of things energize you, and how can you engage in them more often?