Over the last few months, I've become increasingly intrigued by routines, rituals, and habits.
There's something fascinating about the ways in which it is possible to construct your days and the implications of each facet of it. Reading about the routines of writers, artists and people I generally admire has become a slight obsession, causing me to get overly excited if there's a similarity with my own. There's something very humanizing about knowing what time Sylvia Plath got up, or when Auden liked to drink his coffee or what Simone De Beauvoir did before bed, for example.
Even the most incredible art, writing, music etc did not magically appear in a flash of light.
It was the product of someone actually sitting at their desk and working, ensuring that the rest of the day made that possible. It's somehow sort of surreal to look at a significant book, movie or piece of music and picture the creator physically working on it (particularly if you, like me, tend towards giddily idolizing your heroes.).
My personal interest in this began when I read 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg. The part of the book which actually stuck with me the most was the idea that habits exist so that your brain can save energy. Realizing that making certain parts of my day become automatic would free up space in my mind for thinking creatively, was literally revelatory. The next day I began trying this out, particularly focusing on my mornings as they're the most consistent part of my life. I can never be completely sure where I'll be in the afternoon or evening but 99% of mornings now have a defined structure. Making decisions is something I am absolutely appalling at which is why I've been trying to automate sections of time to give my brain energy to work creatively during the rest of the day.
Rigidity in one area makes flexibility in others more possible.
It was amazing to realize that so many of the people who create extraordinary work do so within a timetable or by following certain rules. Retrospectively, it seems very obvious yet somehow I never really considered this before. I used to think a disorganized, chaotic life was ideal for me and of course, it was the exact opposite. Since I started making myself work in a more self-aware and structured way I have undoubtedly become far more able to get things done in a satisfying way. I was able to start blogging again because I feel like I have more space in my mind to create content. Sure, I still absolutely value spontaneity and freedom and think that the best habits are the ones which don't trap us, they provide a foundation for the rest of the time and fit around everything else.
The routines I have created aren't concrete, they change when necessary and if it isn't possible to complete them.
If I've been out until 3am for example, getting up at 6am is not going to be possible and that's fine; the time spent with friends is more valuable than the benefits of an early start. Instead, I might sleep until 8am and then take a nap later in the day. Routines are - for me- something fun and enjoyable, not a chore. Many of the people I admire seem to actively relish their daily plans.
I really do love this precisely because I'm not a natural morning person. However, I think that the reason for that is how I never used to know what to do to wake myself up. I'd get up late (usually around midday when my college schedule permitted it), spend forever making pots of coffee, trawling Buzzfeed or Tumblr before freaking out and racing to the train station. So, as I have written about before, getting up at 6am every day was the first thing I adopted to sort of give my mornings structure. The benefits of this are probably mostly psychological. Being up early makes me feel kind of like I'm getting my day off to a good start which puts me in the right frame of mind. Since I started to read about the routines of people I admire, I've noticed that 6am seems to be the most common wake up time which is reassuring.
Then I look after my pet mice, make a cup of tea, drink it out in the garden, take my vitamins, make breakfast, eat it whilst watching a TED talk or listening to a podcast, spend half an hour learning some French, make more tea, meditate, then deal with emails, water my plants before packing my bag and getting ready for the day. It's quite probably the most satisfying thing imaginable. In the evenings I try to switch the internet off at 9.15, writing my journal, make a plan for what I want to do the following day, then read until 10.30pm when I sleep.
Most of us live chaotic, high-pressure lives where most of the time we are either bored or stressed.
I think that the right habits have the capacity to mitigate that. The tiny things we do every day can end up dictating the rest of the time. They shape our moods, health, and work.
What appeals to me is the simplicity of adopting habits too- repetition in response to cues makes actions automatic in surprisingly little time. No matter how on edge, worn out or anxious I am before bed, going through my routine switches me into the right mindset to be able to sleep well. It's the same with my morning routine- it inevitably puts me in a cheerful, energetic mood and I actually feel prepared for whatever I need to do later.