The Science Of Routines


A formula for serenity and success

I crave it.

Routines. From sun up to sun down, I could get into one routine and I know I would be perfectly content.

It’s not to say that I don’t like spontaneity, but I’m not one to go out of my way to seek it out. My perfect world would consist of getting up at the same exact time, walking the same way to work, and then ending the night with a book. I’m craving it just writing it out.

Why do I like repeatedly doing the same tasks over and over again? Surely you’d think there isn’t any type of thrill in the repeated day-to- day tasks. It certainly doesn’t spring the thoughts of jumping out of a plane on a random Wednesday afternoon or running the streets screaming YOLO at the top of your lungs.Yet, I find the feelings in a routine overwhelmingly better than the previous actions and overall very serene. I work at my best and most successfully with the consistent repetitive tasks I set out to complete every day. Who doesn’t want the former two things in their lives?

What makes routines resonate so profoundly with me? I know I’m not the only one on this boat.

And I’m not.

Last summer, as I was entering the “real world,” I lived with champion routiners — my grandparents. Mostly, I bared witness to the nightly endeavors and I carefully watched every night I could mesmerized by the solidarity of their routine.

It all started at 5:45pm when my grandfather carefully sowed the seeds of the nightly duties.

He started with dinner, typically planned earlier in the day. My grandfather had to have it ready for my grandmothers’ arrival at 6:30pm. He made the dinner, usually without at hitch and then began to set the table with the same placements at their given seats.

My grandmother would arrive home. After placing her lunchbox on the counter and taking off her shoes, she would then light the candles on the dinner table. Dinner would be shortly after, followed by a foreign film that came in the mail from Netflix with dessert during the viewing.

It went just like that Monday through Friday like a clock never breaking its speed. Maybe I sound completely removed from my time, but their routine was shiny, spotless and quite frankly, beautiful.

Just like a dance, it’s like pieces of art where the portraits of their lives were choreographed in a smooth flow without the taint of a misstep or off key note of rhythm.

What even makes a routine tick? How do they even work?

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that inside the habit loop, resides a routine. It’s the key that makes the habit live or die; and like it’s own locksmith, it is basically the only part of the habit loop that can be changed. “Routines are the organizational analogue of habits.”

The power resides in the rehearsal that goes on in our minds before we actually perform the habit. Duhigg outlines the success of Paul O’Neill, the CEO of Alcoa in 1987, who set in place a routine of safety procedures which then opened up more fortuitous the ingenuity by the company who manufactured everything from the foil of Hershey Kisses to the Coca-Cola cans.The routine O’Neill set in motion opened the doors for Alcoa to have it’s stock rise over 200% with his time there.

Michael Phelps had the same routine over and over again before every race. He would visualize what would happen before hitting the water, the motions of the actual strokes he would perform, and then the finale of touching the wall all falling into place in order to secure a win. He was in control and knew what tasks he needed to set in motion to succeed. Phelps’ routine approach eventually lead him to win 22 medals, 18 of them gold.

At a more personal level of routines, an app that recently caught my attention is from Leo Widrich. Although at its base, Buffer, the app that Widrich may be best known for, allows you to schedule a “routine” of tweets, records your actual daily routine. Zenflow is a bare bones app, yet it still shows a level of zen in having an apparent routine. The manual labor that you put into your Zenflow in a way provides self-accountability because it’s up to you to input your own routine. While there’s an added level of transparency in publicly showing everyone your routine, it inherently has a self-check up factor making you wonder why you didn’t wake up at 7:45am this morning or why you didn’t follow your typical routine yesterday.

It seems formula of a routine is having the solid outline of the tasks at hand, discipline, visualization of the duties in your head and deliberately executing what you’ve rehearsed in your mind. From my grandparents to Michael Phelps, they followed those functions that made-up their own precise and methodical routines. Inevitably, making them achieve the most out of what they want in on any given day.

Diving into an undisturbed pool with the water flowing past your body to making your bed placing each pillow in it’s rightful place, all have the fluidity of the same motions in your mind making up that same peaceful routine that could lead to more fortuitous, more expected happenings. You’ve planted the seeds for the routine, so why not watch it grow beyond it’s expected means.

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