Daily routines are the bread and butter of personal development.
You can compare them, learn new ones, exchange notes on them, have workshops about them, some famous people have their own, you even have whole books about them.
I tried to find my own way through the tsunami of information out there and did a synthesis of what I have found to gently regurgitate it to you in shiny and crispy pieces of pre-digested wisdom.
So here is my take on personal daily routines.
Why do I need one ?
First you don’t need one.
Chances are, you already have one wether you know it or not. We all are creatures of habit and most of our daily behaviour is automatic. Depending on which study you read you will find that around 45% of our daily activities are habitual. This might not seem big, but for sentient beings who are supposed to have free will, it’s a bit of a bummer to learn that we are half-robots.
Indeed, you already have a daily routine. You do a lot of stuff unconsciously and it is been working for you so far. Or has it ?
One question you might want to ask yourself at this point is : “Am I happy with my current daily routine ?”.
If not keep reading.
To be a bit more precise, a specific daily routine is about a positive set of actions to start (or finish) your day that will (hopefully) lead to better success/performance/well-being in your life.
We care about this because the way we start our day is essential for many of us, especially in regard to our energy levels, our focus, our long term health, our mental attitude, or our productivity.
Actually, it is so important that you have whole books just about the morning routine: for example the Miracle Morning is a famous one. (Here is a cool summary: http://niklasgoeke.com/the-miracle-morning/)
The idea behind the morning routine is that the way you prime yourself early in the day will have a cascade effect on your whole day and that by using the concept of habit stacking, you can build on a few key habits to improve your whole day and be and do more.
With the evening routine, you prime yourself for good sleep and a rejuvenating night so that you start the next day fresh and ready for action.
What do I want in my daily routine?
Let’s get something out of the way: there is no perfect daily routine !
The most important thing when you start building a personal routine is to understand what benefits you want to get from it. Some people want more energy, or a better health, some others want to focus or to improve their performance, there are also people who just want to relax and feel calm.
Your own routine should give you what you are looking for and you should not use someone else’s routine unless you know exactly what it is meant for.
You will see a lot of ready-made routines who are quite elaborate and can require a lot of time. You should keep in mind that if you are struggling to make this routine happen and that you feel drained and exhausted after it, it is probably not the right one for you.
Also remember that most people who advertise or recommend a specific routine have spent years if not decades perfecting them to their own taste and needs. You can give yourself time to adjust and move toward a full grown routine once you have tried and tested different options for yourself.
Here are a few common practices you will find in most daily routines, wether it comes from ayurvedic and chinese tradition or modern best selling authors and celebrities:
Depending on what your values and needs are, you will want a different kind of routine. Maybe you want energy and a better health so you decide to add some exercise to your daily routine. Maybe you want to have more focus and a better organised day, so you start a meditation or gratitude routine to declutter your mind. Or perhaps you just want to relax and improve your well-being by using strong affirmations and visualising yourself in a peaceful state.
If you had to take away just one thing from this article, it’s to remember to design your routine according to your needs and wants instead of copying someone else’s routine.
How to build a great daily routine ?
The Power of Habit from Charles Duhigg gives us the habit loop: 1 trigger - 2 behaviour - 3 reward.
It explains why it is so hard to change existing habits and to build new ones.
In order to influence our habits, we have to target the cues and rewards first.
This means that awareness, goal setting and willpower are not very efficient at creating new habits.
What does work is adapting your environment to the habits you want to develop and the power of repetition.
According to Wendy Wood, a famous researcher in psychology, there are three main principles to consider when effectively changing habitual behaviour:
Most our cues and triggers are environmental, it could be a time of day, a certain place, the presence of certain people, a particular emotion or a set of behaviours that has become ritualised. This is why the Miracle Morning builds on existing habits using the following structure: “After I drink my coffee, I will exercise.”
First think about the reward or the benefit you want to get from your new routine and build around it. If you want more energy, think about what activity would give you that extra energy. Is it exercise or meditation or music or just relaxing ? If you want more focus, what gives you better focus ? Writing your tasks in the morning, or journaling, or maybe a spiritual practice ?
Once you know what you want to add to your routine, know that it won’t be natural for you at first because it is not something you already do. So give yourself a cue: what will trigger you to start this new behaviour ? Is it a physical clue like seeing your journal or your yoga mat ? Is it a time cue like having a reminder on your phone ? Or is it a set of behaviours like eating breakfast, then meditating, then reading ?
Finally you want to do the routine for a set number of days and make sure you are persistent about it. It could be 30 days, two or three months, even a year. You should just repeat it until you don’t even think about it anymore and it becomes part of who you are. This is why it is important to make sure this new routine is a priority for you and to accept that you will drop the ball from time to time. Knowing however that you will keep going because you know this is worth it.
I personally recommend to go easy with morning routines. Don’t use a 1 or 2 hours morning routine with too many steps right away.
Instead choose one keystone habit that you want to build upon. It could be waking up early, eating a healthy breakfast, exercising or meditating. Make it something simple and easy that is not too time consuming. Otherwise, you will probably quit after a couple of weeks.
I strongly agree with what Tim Ferriss says regarding discipline : “Keep your routine as flexible as possible”.
Stacking habits is great but you also want to be able to unstack them. Life happens everyday and sometimes you won’t have the time to do your whole routine. And sometimes it is painful and upsetting. The whole purpose of the routine is to help you and to give you better resources for your day. We are using the compound effect to reach higher levels of performance and well-being. So don’t let circumstances take that away from you. If you cannot do your full routine, don’t beat yourself up. If you have only 10 minutes, just do 10 minutes of the most essential part of your routine. If you cannot do the full workout, just do the stretching. If you cannot do the full meditation and yoga ritual, do a quick gratitude or breathing exercise.
Make sure that even when you don’t have enough time, you are still taking care of your needs and keeping that momentum going.
Here is a quick checklist for your daily routine:
1 What is the purpose of my routine ?
2 What is my cue/trigger to get started ?
3 What is the keystone habit that will make everything else better ?
4 What immediate and long term benefits do I want from my routine ?
5 How will I be held accountable and keep the momentum going ?
6 What are my full routine and light routine versions ?
7 For how long will I keep this routine going at first ?
Thanks and let me know about your routines !
Performance coach, world traveler, tribe builder, NLP enthusiast and mnemonist. I am passionate about self-development and life changing coaching tools.
Defusing The Past