A year ago, I had the following morning routine:
Get out of bed (generally, before 8am). Make coffee. Get online. Scroll through Facebook. Play a game or two on FB. Consider what writing needs to be done, finding time to meditate, and what work will need to go into project ‘X’ for the freelance gig.
The structure was pretty much non-existent. And, as such, my satisfaction level for my day tended to be massively variable.
I began to work on making a better, more focused routine. What I was doing was so by rote that I know it would take active, mindful rewiring to change.
As the uncertain strangeness that was 2020 drew to a close, I created my spreadsheet of to-dos that I leave open on my desktop. This is divided into morning to-dos, afternoon to-dos, and all-day to-dos.
One reason I did this was to build a new routine. But that was the surface. The reality is that I deeply desired to create new and better, more productive habits.
After a lot of work on this — and writing about it — I deduced my best approach was to create new routines.
Living with a new routine
From the unstructured morning routine of a year ago, now my morning routine looks like this:
Get out of bed (by 7am). Drink a 12oz glass of water. Sit with one of the cats (if she chooses to join me) on the couch in the living room and read at least one chapter of fiction and one chapter of non-fiction. Make coffee. Edit the blog written the day before to post before 9am. While editing, consume 1 to 2 mugs of coffee. Get on the exercise bike for 10–20 minutes (while playing Words with Friends on my phone). Drink another 12oz glass of water. Write tomorrow’s blog post.
I follow this routine 6 days a week now (save the reading — that’s 7 days a week). Without fail. And I feel much more satisfied with my life, how I do things, and how I feel overall.
I have built a new routine that has become habitual. Which is what routine turns into.
Routine tends to become rote and subconscious. That, in turn, becomes habit. Habit, buried in your subconscious, can be difficult to change once it sets in its roots.
Mindfulness is conscious awareness of your self, here and now, in the present moment. That mindfulness begins on the surface via sensory input from your six senses, which then meet your thoughts, feelings, actions, and intentions.
That moves you into your mindset/headspace/psyche inner being. And that is where you consciously make all choices and decisions here and now.
When you have a routine that you need to create or change, mindfulness is where you begin. But it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not the routine, ultimately, that you’re changing. It’s habit.
Habits, beliefs, and values
Routine is what you do on the surface. Much of our routine is utterly by rote, subconscious, and with little to no thought.
Brushing your teeth, eating at your desk, chewing fingernails when nervous, doing dishes, scrolling through social media, and the like all just happen. I know that I, for one, tend to give very little, if any, thought to these things as I do them.
In Buddhist philosophy, however, mindfulness practice is to be given to these. Don’t just brush your teeth — think about how you are cleaning them as you do so. Don’t just do the dishes — feel the warmth of the soapy water in your hands and satisfaction as the dishes are cleaned.
On the one hand, to most people’s sensibilities, this seems kind of silly. But if you think about it — and the overall limited time we have in these bodies on this planet — it makes a lot more sense.
When we do things by rote and routine, we embed bad habits right alongside the good. Smoking, chewing your fingernails, eating for comfort even when you aren’t hungry, and so on. Habits embed themselves in your subconscious alongside your beliefs and values.
I don’t know about you, but that tells me they’re related. Because they are. Bad habits, in particular, tend to be an arrow pointing to a belief or value that’s not aligned with who you consciously work to be.
Mindfulness of thoughts, feelings, actions, intentions, and sensory input — in the here and now — makes you consciously aware of who, what, why, where, when, and how you are. But more than that, it opens the path to become aware of the subconscious habits, beliefs, and values you hold that might be contradictory to who you desire to be.
Change on the surface is a path to change in-depth
Before I focused on creating a new routine for my morning, I tended to get to lunchtime feeling unaccomplished, unfulfilled, and frustrated with myself. That, surprise surprise, spiked my depression. Since my main exercise activity was gone due to COVID-19 — and the release therein — I found comfort in food like I always have.
I gained 30 pounds, felt like a lumpy sack of crap — and that created a feedback loop of depression. The ongoing pandemic, a bizarre and terrifying presidential election, and seeing lots of loss all made it that much worse.
Since the best way to fix the outside pictures we get in life is to start working on our own internal ones, I knew I needed to create a new and better routine. Which I did.
There have been alterations to the routine. For example, the morning exercise bike ride was added in February, following reading an article about fasting exercise coupled with caffeine for as little as 10 minutes makes for excellent fat burn. Having become the heaviest I’ve ever been in my adult life, fat burn seemed like a great idea.
This new routine makes me feel good. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I have taken my life, chosen to assume control over who I am and what I am doing, and actively been working to improve.
And it’s working. I’ve lost almost 10 pounds since January, my A1C and cholesterol are down, and I feel more focused and content. That’s allowing me to practice what I preach and give more energy to conscious reality creation.
Choosing to change my routine opened me up to other changes. And as I build better habits, I also see what beliefs and values — rooted in my subconscious — should stay or be changed.
Changing your routine changes much more
While this has been an excellent experience, it’s not done. Changing my routine has changed my outlook, approach, and perspective for the better.
It is far easier to practice being mindful when you have good habits. Routine builds habit. Good routine builds good habit just like bad routine builds bad habit.
You ALWAYS have a choice. If you have routines and habits you do by rote — you have the power to change them. Big or small, all of it is in your power to change.
But also — know that change takes time and effort. Allow yourself to stumble, get it wrong, and course correct appropriately.
I stopped chewing my fingernails — a habit embedded in my subconscious for over 40 years of my life. I still find myself, from time to time, chewing off a nail. But mostly I must take clippers to my fingernails to trim them regularly.
I could get mad at myself, berate myself for failing, and find some way to punish that. To what end? None. Instead, I see it, acknowledge it, forgive it, and move on. Yes, I chewed off that thumbnail — but look at the other 9 nails I need to trim. Go me for getting that far!
When you decide to change a routine, you are making a choice. The more choices you make the more control you gain for your life. The choices and decisions you make can alter your habits, refocus your beliefs and values, and help you be the person you most desire to be.
Finally — know that you are worthy and deserving of those choices. New habits and routines are yours for the making. You have choices all the time — and it’s your birthright to make them.
What routines have you changed/are you changing?