I have a love-hate relationship with routine.
There’s so much buzz around the absolute necessity of having intentional routines and systems in your life — systems of organization, systems of wellness, systems of productivity, systems of success, systems of positive thought.
The truth is, most of the time “routines and systems” feel like the Pottery Barn catalog to me…I imagine how incredibly gorgeous my life would be if I lived with more of them in my life, but somehow I can’t seem to muster the upkeep they require.
Recently a woman in one of my courses felt frustrated because she found herself setting up detailed lists around how she wanted to care for herself daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. And it didn’t take long before she lost steam and hardly looked at the sheets again, let alone kept up with them.
Whenever I recognize a lot of resistance coming up around something in my life, I do my best to step back a bit and take a macro-lens view, put on some x-ray vision goggles, and ask what’s happening underneath.
As I thought about how this worked out in my own life, it occurred to me there was already so much fixed and firm about my schedule, if I was going to bring in systems and habits around my own personal growth- my well-being, my creativity, my nourishment, my productivity- I needed to have those systems hugely flexible in nature.
I need categories of goals that have lots of ways to meet them.
For example, if my goal was to eat a healthy breakfast each day, I’d write out a list of 2 or 3 healthy breakfast ideas so that in the morning depending on my own preference and energy level I could grab the breakfast that felt best to me. I’ve never worked well with a pre-determined menu for all my meals, but I also don’t work well with no thought-out options either.
In fact, this is how we do dinner in my home. My meal planning has evolved into a process where each week, I choose five meals I’ll make during the week. I make sure we have the ingredients for those meals from the store. Then each day I choose which meal I want to make that evening. It’s the sweet spot between systems and freedom that really work for me.
This translates into other areas of my life, too.
It’s important for me to have elements of creativity and self expression woven in my days. Trying to write that into my schedule in pen just didn’t work. I often don’t know when small cracks of time will open up.
So I stocked a “Lisa” bag with a couple journals, some colored pencils, my iPod loaded with my favorite music, and whatever book I was reading. Now I’m prepared to steal away 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there, as they open up, to fill my creative tank. The fact that I have the bag ready to go is a huge motivator to take those small chunks of time and make them meaningful.
I think many of us are naturally drawn in to the idea of living a life that is polished and organized; a life where we can schedule and control things down to the minute. But, I also believe, the majority of us simply don’t have a life that works that way at all.
Our lives are a little bit crazy, a whole lot messy, and utterly beautiful.
The way to keep them moving forward in the ways we want them to be moving is often to find the sweet spot between routine and responsiveness, between systems and flexibility.
If there is an area of your life where you want positive change but previous attempts have failed, try to identify the core element of what you want more of in your life. Then brainstorm a handful of ways you could get more of that in your life; make a list of options, rather than a firm schedule.
Now consider riding the wave of your life and allowing your present moment to determine which of the options is best to choose. You may be surprised at how fast you meet and exceed your goals this way!
What works for you with routine and systems? Are you more of a rigid schedule follower or do you need more flow and flexibility in your days?