It’s said that a “comfort zone” is where growth goes to die. This sentiment may cause you to think any sort of routine or pattern is unhelpful to your personal growth and the widening of your horizons. I would beg to differ. If you are living an avant-garde life flying by the seat of your pants, or if you are living with the ups and downs of a supposedly more stable reality, both scenarios can benefit from a routine.
Be careful though. There’s a difference between a routine and a rut. A routine is a set of healthy habits that brings you fulfillment, growth, stability in chaos, and a sense of achievement. A rut is where that routine becomes a safety net that stops you from seizing spontaneous opportunities when they arise.
Here’s how to tell the difference
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret to success is found in your daily routine.” – John C. Maxwell
Routine: A plan, especially during this uncertain time where most of us are working from home and having to manage our own schedule, can be helpful to keep you sane. It will give you a sense of purpose when you wake up in the morning, hold you accountable for the daily progress you make, and help you to prioritize your goals for the day and week.
Rut: Being so stuck to your plan that spontaneous opportunities, possibilities, and activities get ignored, is a rut. Another form of a rut is not listening to your mind and body. Perhaps you set out to do editing in the morning and accounts in the afternoon, but your editing brain just isn’t there. Swap them. You make your own rules! A good routine should be adaptable.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
Routine: A workout routine is essential to good health, both physically and mentally. This will break up your day, give you an energy boost, stretch out tense muscles and create a balance for the joy you consume in the form of food and drink.
Rut: Doing the same exercise routine every time can negate its value. Your body needs challenges and change. If you work the same muscles and same energy system every time, your gains will slow and your body will be out of balance. Mix it up with cardio, weights, high-intensity training, stretching, and core work.
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have the safest way to health.” – Hippocrates
Routine: Having a healthy and balanced eating plan is another way to bring homeostasis to your life and your body. It’s good to be healthy, it’s good to eat your greens, it’s good to have fresh produce where possible, limit your sugar intake and eat good fats.
Rut: It’s bad (in my humble, non-nutritionist opinion) to completely cut out anything unhealthy that you really love and deprive yourself of treats. There. I said it. Eat the treat! But eat it in moderation. The more you deprive yourself, the more you will crave it. If you eat one naughty thing a day and the rest of the day you eat healthily, then you have no need for guilt.
“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein
Routine: Friends are important. Having a group that you feel comfortable with and that know your story is invaluable. Being able to just relax and be yourself among people you know and trust brings joy, and prioritizing and building these relationships creates an ever-deepening bond.
Rut: New people bring fresh perspectives. If you only stay in your circle doing the same things with the same people, you’ll only know your circle and can miss out on learning, growing, and expanding your knowledge and views of the world. Consider stepping outside of your circle every now and then to expand your connections, do something different, and learn something new.
What all of the above is pointing to is “balance.” Routine is part of a balanced life. We are creatures of habit and these habits should bring us stability and security while allowing us the freedom to explore. A rut means that our habits are limiting us and our balance is out. The way to avoid stagnation is to keep your routines in check and in moderation. And to be open to flexibility, change, spontaneity, and the new experiences that life presents to you.