There are certain things that everyone basically wants out of life, including things like a well-developed and consistent sense of well-being, meaningful personal achievements, optimism, and feelings of confidence and recognition.
In order to help people to achieve these things, and to live their lives in the most uplifting way possible, all sorts of different guides, gurus, practices, and organisations have sprung up, advocating everything from elaborate goal setting processes, to particular entrepreneurial endeavours, to fitness routines, and much more.
While there are all sorts of things that can lead to meaningful personal transformation on an individual level, however, one of the most straightforward and consistent ways that anyone can transform their life for the better, is by more proactively managing their habits and routines.
If you’re a parent, it probably already seems totally intuitive to create a sleep schedule for your baby, for example. On some level, we all recognise that habits and routines have an important role to play in life. Nonetheless, we all too often end up allowing our habits and routines to “work themselves out” without much meaningful input from our own sense of how we would like to live.
Here are a few ways that managing your habits and routines can transform your life.
By helping you to get things done while significantly reducing the need for willpower
Have you noticed how certain activities in your day-to-day life seem to require almost no willpower to carry out, whereas others seem to require lots of willpower?
Sometimes, this will just be because you find certain activities easier and more enjoyable than others, but in many cases it will also be because certain activities are more entrenched parts of your everyday routine, and have become habits of yours.
According to certain psychological researchers, willpower is something like a muscle – not only in the sense that we can train it over time, but also in the sense that it becomes fatigued if we overuse it.
Trying to deal with all of your everyday tasks, chores, and personal projects purely through willpower alone is likely to be a recipe for failure, as you will simply end up burning out and completely losing your sense of drive and discipline.
Instead, using your willpower in the smartest way possible, and only as much as you need to, it’s likely to be a much more manageable approach to take for the most part.
The thing about activities which have become habits, is that they have essentially become “automated” to a significant degree, meaning that we require less conscious thought and willpower in order to actually get started with those activities.
This doesn’t mean that you will never need to use any willpower, or that some days won’t be more difficult than others. But if you have a well established routine of – for example – making the bed each morning before getting up and having breakfast, it will tend to be significantly easier for you to carry out that activity day after day, without feeling as though it’s significantly challenging your willpower.
By consciously shaping your habits and routines, and being very mindful about the kinds of activities you allow to become habits in the first place, you can help to get more things done on a consistent basis, without having to rely on exerting huge amounts of willpower to do so.
By giving you a much greater degree of clarity about what you should be doing at any given moment
Whether you are trying to be productive at work, or just aiming to live your everyday life in a way that helps to generate a high degree of personal well-being, it can be difficult knowing exactly what you should be doing at any given moment.
If you don’t have any particular routine or structure in place to rely on, then you’ll have to repeatedly take a step back and think and plan out how you should be conducting yourself at any given moment, and reflecting on what you should be doing on any given day.
While some level of contemplation is always going to be necessary, having well established habits and routines can give you a much greater degree of clarity about the course of action you should be taking.
If, for example, you know that you want to be in shape and you have a habit of doing a particular workout routine each morning, then a big part of the question of what you should do to get in shape is already solved for you. Just go through with the routine that you’ve already selected and established.
Since excess decision-making appears to be emotionally taxing, time-consuming, and a drain on personal energy, using habits and routines to streamline the decision-making process can be very helpful.
By allowing you to incrementally step into the identities you want to embody
Generally speaking, any time you set a particular goal for yourself, whether that’s to write and publish a novel, or to complete a triathlon, you are essentially aiming to embody a new identity that you feel reflects your “ideal self” better.
One of the issues with conventional goal setting, though, is that it ends up convincing us that we need to hit some mostly arbitrary target, set at some point in the future, in order to actually embody the new identity in question. This, then, naturally tends to cause a sense of stress and frustration, not to mention an ongoing feeling of dissatisfaction until such a point as we have actually achieved the goal.
Focusing on your habits and routines provides a very different path to embodying a new sense of identity. Instead of having to wait until you’re a bestselling published author in order to feel as though you’re embodying the identity of an author, you’ll be able to step more and more into that role and sense of identity each time you successfully complete a repetition of a relevant habit: such as writing for an hour a day.
Focusing on your habits and routines helps you to make your ambitions and your ideal sense of self more immediate, and helps you to experience more of a sense of achievement on an everyday basis.
By helping you to have a more direct experience of things, as opposed to being overly caught up in your own thoughts
When it comes to making decisions and planning a course ahead in everyday life, there is always a careful balancing act that you need to achieve, between planning and preparing on the one hand, and actually taking action and having direct experience on the other.
By intentionally establishing habits and routines that help to move you in the direction you want to move in, it can become much easier for you to move from the “thinking” stage to the “taking action” stage on a regular basis, even – or maybe especially – when you don’t really feel like it.
Maybe you have a particular habit in place to go for a jog each morning, but one morning you wake up and you’re feeling lazy. Your mind is producing all sorts of rationalisations for why you should just skip your workout and watch TV for half an hour instead. But since the habit is established, it is significantly easier than it would otherwise be for you to just get up and get going. What’s more, in many cases, you’ll likely find that experience is nowhere near as bad as you thought it would be, once you’ve actually got started.