There Are Two Ways To Frame the Concept of Routine
The first is ordinary:
Routine: a sequence of actions regularly followed…
You can choose to think of routine as a boring set of mind-dumbing tasks that you complete just to get through the day. These might include waking up, fixing the coffee, tea, or smoothie, followed by brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and getting dressed.
This is, admittedly, pretty dry stuff. It’s routine in the sense that these tasks are simply a set of regularly occurring steps you take each day that neither vary nor are all that exciting and are completed in a kind of foggy state of mind.
The second is extraordinary:
Routine: A set sequence in a performance as in a dance…
You can also choose to think about routine as the artistic manner in which you life your life. In this manner of thinking, daily life tasks such as the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph are separate from those we’ll designate as routine (please note the italics).
Your routine is reserved for those sequences that frame your daily life. Like a dancer warming up backstage or a singer running through the scales before a performance, this kind of routine is an art form and, when approached like a dancer or vocalist, can elevate your everyday life from the category of daily drudgery to that of performance.
I chose to think of my routines in the latter sense and it transformed my daily life.
‘Your Daily Life is Your Whole Life’
These words, written by Katie Lee in her book, The Effortless Everyday, testify to the experience of realizing that our daily lives, composed of not only the action we engage in, but also our physical environments, compose the entirety of our lives.
Further, we don’t consider the smaller things like fixing the coffee, how we structure our morning or evenings, how we behave while commuting to and from work -to name only a few- as real parts of our lives. We tend to think about those ordinary activities in our lives in lower case: life whereas we place emphasis on those accomplishments or milestones with a capital L and in italics: Life
life: those smaller life skills and boring stuff like commuting, working, eating, chatting, using the bathroom, having sex, sleeping, jogging, traveling, shopping, etc.
Life: the big moments like getting married, graduating from university, having children, publishing our first book, etc.
We’re bored to tears with our daily ‘life’ and count the hours, days, months, and even years between the big milestones that make up our real ‘Life.’ Do you see the false dichotomy that we create to separate life from Life?
To Live an Intentional Quality Life, Merge the Two
About 20 years ago I conducted an experiment. In this experiment I decided to treat everything I did, from the mundane daily life tasks like brushing my teeth and doing the dishes to interacting with professionals on the job, with an attitude of reverence. I’d read Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of ‘Reverence for Life’ and thought to approach everything in my life in the same manner as I revered the important milestone of my Life.
In doing so, I merged the mundane life with the larger and more meaningful Life into what I called LIFE (in all caps). Later, when I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, it summarized my own experience of approaching all my actions as the sacred space of here and now.
I discovered that the apparent difference we create to separate our life from our Life, is false. Every moment, if we wish to approach it that way, can be sacred and meaningful. Merging the two false divisions of our daily experience results in a life of wonder.
If this sounds too woo-woo for you, that’s OK. But in maintaining the false dichotomy of life and Life, you keep yourself from experiencing a truly awesome and quality LIFE.
Life + life = LIFE
Getting back to routine, the way in which we approach our life’s everyday moments determines the quality of our whole life. That’s because, as Katie Lee says, our everyday life is our whole LIFE. We don’t have to have a fortune in the bank, a mansion in Beverly Hills, or a star on Hollywood Boulevard to enjoy a truly quality life. Quality living is found in the approach we take to even the most mundane of life tasks.
How To Create Routines That Add Quality To Each Moment
In the Buddhist path that I follow, there is a foundational teaching call The Eight-fold Path. It speaks of eight appropriate facets of our journey (view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation). Some think of these are commandments set in stone yet they aren’t. They are only suggestions for living a life free of suffering.
They are often referred to in the context of Right Speech, Right Action, etc. However a more accurate translation of right is appropriate.
I bring this up because because it’s important when setting up our routines that they be thought of as appropriate and not right or correct. What is appropriate for you might not be for me or the next person. So as we go about examining what is appropriate for your routine, keep in mind that there is no right routine, only ones that are appropriate for you at this moment in time.
Step One – Observe Your Current Routines: What do you do when you first arise? How do you approach preparing your morning meal? How do you spend the time between your breakfast and leaving for work? Is is frenzied rush or is it carefully planned to allow for an enjoyable pre-work morning? John Lennon wrote that “Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” Similarly, life is what happens when we’re rushing around and living on autopilot.
Step Two – Imagine an Optimal Routine: For each period if the day (morning, midday, and evening), write in your notebook or computer about what your optimal routine would consist of. For example, an evening routine might include ‘coming home and placing my keys in the bowl on the table by the door, I hang up my jacket and give a few minutes of affection to my pet (spouse, children, etc.). I engage in conversation about how my family’s day was giving them each a few minutes of individual attention. I finish the preparations of the evening meal that I started this morning and play some light music while I prepare dinner….’ Now this might seem utopian to some, but I think you understand where I’m going. Your optimal routine may never materialize exactly as you write about it, but doing so will bring you closer to creating some small changes.
Step Three – Bridge the Gap with Small Changes: Identify ways to bridge the gap between your current and optimal versions of a routine. It’s not advisable to change everything at once; without a basis for change and an emotional leverage point (discussed in this post), change is difficult. Instead choose no more than two elements to alter for a few days and see how they fit. Rinse and repeat until you’ve got something that excites you, leaves you calm, and gives you pleasure.
Living a Quality LIFE
By implementing small changes into our daily routines, we can gently combine the mundane elements of our life with the more meaningful milestones in our Life to create a quality LIFE.
Strive to live a quality LIFE at all times. It’s possible and the choice is yours.