I have a very strict morning routine. Each morning my alarm goes off at 6.20 and I allow myself two snoozes. Then I stumble into the bathroom for morning wee, cleanser, toner, and moisturiser. Back into the bedroom for deodorant, clothes, hair. Then I have tea and cereal while I watch TV, take my pills, clean my teeth, get my bag together and head out to work. Always the same routine, in that order, but this week things did not go to plan.
It started when James decided I’m not getting enough protein in my diet so he ordered breakfast-replacement protein shakes. So Tuesday morning I got ready as usual, moved the cleaning teeth part of the day forward, then grabbed my shake and headed out the door with time to spare. This is great, I thought as I strutted towards the station. I get chocolate milkshakes for breakfast, I’m cutting down on my tea and TV habit, AND I had an extra half-hour in bed. It was working so well, until I got halfway to the station and realised I hadn’t taken my pills. I didn’t want to start throwing up halfway through the day (funnily enough) so I went back, grabbed my pills, and ended up being half an hour late for work. Some time-saver that protein shake turned out to be.
The point of a morning routine, or any habit really, is to help keep you on track and not let anything slip. I’ve never been very “with it” first thing in the morning, but I do the same steps in the same order, which means I turn up to work on time, with everything I need to tackle the day, and I haven’t even had to use my brain yet. It’s a great system, enabling you to bumble along without much thought, but when something disrupts your routine and you have to switch off the autopilot setting, you suddenly realise how much you’re just going through the motions, how much of your life is dictated by routine.
For months I’ve gone down to the canteen at lunch time, and bought a can of Pepsi and a chocolate bar to take back to my desk for the afternoon. Some days I’ve tried not to. Some days I’ve told myself, “You are going to eat your lunch, read your book and then return to your desk without wasting your money on sugar and caffeine.” But somehow, I still end up at the counter, walking away with snack and can in hand, even when I didn’t really fancy them that day. But then, in an attempt to save money, I bought a multipack of Pepsi, and I was given ALL the chocolate eggs for Easter, and suddenly I haven’t really fancied my afternoon Pepsi and chocolate hit. They’re right there, sat under my desk ready for me, but now I’m free of the habit. It was the routine, the going-to-the-counter-and-buying-the-things, that had had a hold over me.
And that’s the risk of routine, it can keep you stuck in a rut. You do the same things, day after day, for fear that changing one small thing can throw everything off course. But how quickly can you become trapped in a habit that needs changing just because, well, that’s just how you do things? How stale and mindless do your days become? Even if you’re forming a good habit or routine, like reading your Bible every day, is it really worth it if you’re only doing it because it’s a habit and you’re just scanning the page to tick it off your to do list?
That same Tuesday, when messing with my morning routine disrupted my day, James had people coming round to watch the football. Usually on a Tuesday we’re both knackered and end up watching TV together, but as my TV was about to be hogged by a load of dudes I decided to go to an event at church. Plan made. But then I got ready, went to church, and found it closed. Turns out, I’d got the date of the event wrong. I sat in my car not knowing what to do. That was the plan. But the thought of going back to my default setting – heading home, skulking upstairs and watching Netflix on my laptop – suddenly didn’t appeal.
I’d already decided to do something different with my evening, something off-routine, and now I was outside of that bubble and I wasn’t eager to jump back in. I ended up calling my cousin Emily, who was at her mum’s, so I drove to my Aunty Kate’s for prosecco and a chat. I hadn’t seen either of them in ages, it was a much preferable evening to doing the same old thing by myself, but it only happened because my best laid plans had gone awry. We haven’t ever hung out just the three of us on a Tuesday night before, simply because, well, that isn’t part of the routine.
I understand that routines are necessary. I get that forming certain habits with your time can help you keep your family organised, make space for God, reach fitness goals, whatever it is. But maybe we need to take a look at our routines and make sure we’re not going through the motions instead of really living. Maybe we need to assess how much we’re living life on autopilot, how many days we’re spending just like all the other days that have gone before. Maybe we need to ask ourselves, if all of our habits were put on pause, which ones would we start up again?
Because breaking out and doing something new might throw your day off track. You might forget your pills, miss your train, end up late for work. But that happened to me and I’m fine, I’m still here (my boss didn’t even notice). And think what might lie ahead of you if you did something different, even if it was something small. Imagine what new adventures you could go on. Even if it’s as simple as spending a Tuesday evening drinking prosecco with some of your favourite people, surely, surely, that’s worth the risk.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti