Routines, the elusive beasts I’ve been chasing for years and only now, am beginning to understand the true power of.
Going into 2020, one of my goals for myself was to set up a consistent writing and exercise routine that I could automate week after week (yes, I do see it is ironic that I need a writing routine to write this current piece about routines).
As a part of my job with YouTube, I’m pretty inundated on the daily with videos about “Developing the perfect 5 a.m. morning routine!” or “How to build the best, most amazing bulletproof creative routine that works everyday, 100 percent guaranteed!” The videos’ promises are high as the 5 a.m. freshly squeezed lemon water flows freely. Like any good 20-something trying to understand themselves by looking at the people around them, I spent much of 2019 trying on these routines because damn it, I too want to be a productive morning routine goddess.
It turns out, I’m not a morning pages type girl. I’m also deeply unmotivated by the idea of working out in the morning and find it hard to even commit on the weekends to the 9 a.m. yoga class that is literally across the street from me. My body isn’t interested in the acidic taste of lemon water hitting my palette before the sun has risen, and instead, like an over-tired-toddler, all I want in the morning is “TEA! NOW! TEA! MORE TEA, ALL THE TEA! GIVE ME TEA!”
Instead, I need to start every day by making my bed and tending to the cats and sweeping my floors. I need music and minimal conversation and immediate access to breakfast. Then, and only then, can I even attempt to think about putting words together on a page.
According to the standards of social media, my morning routine is a bit of a failure, and in comparison to my friend who wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. to write, I’m not even in the same routine-loving ballpark! But when I actually started talking to friends I admire about how they consistently incorporate things such as creativity, exercising, or hobbies into their daily routines, I realized I was missing a major component: The why.
As Avenue Q’s main character Princeton once crooned about life-post college: “Purpose, it’s that little flame that lights a fire under your ass. Purpose, keeps you going strong, like a car on a full tank of gas. Everyone else has a purpose, so what’s mine?”
It’s not the first time I’ve deeply related to a singing puppet, and it probably won’t be the last. But what I’ve been missing as I attempt to fit together my new habit equations is the reason behind why I’m doing them in the first place. Why do I want to wake up an hour earlier in order to write in the morning before work versus waiting until home in the evening? Why is it important for me to work out? When should I compromise my workout or writing routine for socializing, and when should I not? What is my priority for today? (Note: There should be only one or two priorities per day, that’s the point, I’m learning, of the general priority concept.)
At times, society has made me feel like having a solid routine in place means I can’t be spontaneous or I’m not interesting and open to life’s new experiences. But in talking with a close friend, she blew my mind this week by saying how much she loves routines. She finds an incredible freedom in having a routine because it allows her to focus her mental energy on other goals or priorities she’s working towards — a sentiment I had never thought of and loved.
I am guilty of making everything a priority and in the event of feeling stressed by this, then committing to even more things. Rationally, this does not make sense, but even in saying that, I am still constantly having conversations with myself about not taking on too much or that it’s okay to have free, unplanned moments during the day.
This month, for the first time in a long time, I’ve been stepping back in order to rebuild my basic routines around self-care, exercise, and creativity. It’s like trying to build a house on sand, without the solid foundation of pre-existing routines that are key for my mental health and happiness, everything else falls apart. I am stressed more easily, I overcommit to activities and then have to cancel, or I’m too tired to fully be present when I attend new clubs or groups.
Over the last year, I was trying to do everything and be everything at once. It wasn’t working because every project, every relationship, every opportunity, and every event couldn’t all be a number one priority. By trying to make them so, I always felt like I was failing in some aspect and that is a feeling that I refuse to carry into 2020. Now, it’s about setting up long-term systems that keep me creative and blooming, rather than sprinting towards short-term goals that have previously lead to burnout.
So here I am, working on my everyday routines once again, and the progress is slow. I desperately want to be at the point where I’m taking care of myself AND experiencing so many new things around the city AND hosting dinners for friends AND taking art classes AND dancing every week AND traveling AND volunteering somewhere that makes my heart swell with pride. But for today, I am enjoying getting back to basics.
So why am I do this whole writing/creativity thing? For the joy of it. Because I have a lot of thoughts. Because I’m curious to learn more about other people and situations. For the challenge of taking an idea in my head and seeing it appear before me on paper. But perhaps more deeply, because I truly believe storytelling can help and heal people, and that’s something I want to be a part of.
If you have any routine advice, please send it my way! Until then, I will continue putting my alarm clock around the apartment in different places and hope this stops me from hitting snooze so many times.