Do you remember when you were little and your mom made you perform certain tasks every day? Make your bed, brush your teeth, put your dishes in the dishwasher? Chances are if you performed these tasks as a child, you are still performing them today. They became part of the fabric of your life, a part of your daily existence.
Routine tasks are fairly easy to perpetuate because they require neither focused attention nor stressful decision-making. For example, after a long day, it probably feels easier to wash dishes than to sort through insurance paperwork. That is because washing dishes is brainless. In contrast, paperwork requires us to read, think, process, and make decisions.
If we then apply this truth across our lives, it makes sense to maximize the number of tasks that we can perform in a “thought free” manner. Routines and habits achieve this goal by “automating” our performance while minimizing the need to exert intellectual energy.
For example, let’s say I pack my lunch every day, and each day I pack the same thing. Some might say, “How boring!” On some level, this is true. However, there are some definite upsides to this strategy:
- I know exactly what to buy at the grocery store (simplified shopping)
- I know exactly how to prepare my lunch (can do it while still half asleep)
- I know exactly how much to budget for lunch (no “on the fly” decision about what I can afford at the deli today)
- I save time not having to figure out a lunch plan each day
- My body gets exactly what it wants every day (assuming I pack a lunch I like and digest well)
This same principle can apply to a vast array of other daily functions. Consider the following choices we all regularly make:
- What to wear
- What to eat
- How to get to work
- When to check email/voicemail/messages
- When to grocery shop/how to keep track of what is needed
- When/where to get gas
- When to exercise/meditate/pray
- What to bring along for the day
- When to work on household chores
- What to read and when
This is just a partial list! I challenge you to select one aspect of your life that you could simplify into a predictable pattern and give it a try. For example, deciding, “I will take the 7:04 train each day,” is preferable to “I will leave after I check my email.” Or perhaps you will decide, “I will catch up on magazines on Friday evenings while watching TV, and I will stack all magazines that come in during the week near my TV watching chair.” I know someone who has decided she will wear primarily one color of clothing. Many families have a fixed dinner item one or two evenings of the week.
Keep in mind that anytime we start something new, we should be open to refinements and adjustments. Give the new strategy a fair shot, but don’t be rigid if it isn’t working. Many people say it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit, but I find 5-8 weeks is more realistic, and it may take a few attempts to get it right.
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Being an adult in an increasingly complex world is draining. Adding a few limitations to daily life can actually be one of the most freeing steps we can take.
Have you made a “habit” of a daily task? What routines have worked for you?