• Dr. Heather Nelson

Setting my days up for success

As a creative person in a creative field, sometimes I can be exhilarated by spontaneity. But I cannot operate in that mode 24/7. In fact, staying in that zone too long can quickly turn draining as I'm corralling the various aspects of my home and business and trying to decide what to tackle next. Decision fatigue can wear me down really quickly.


What I have found, and I'm certain I'm not alone, is that I need to maintain enough brain space to operate spontaneously, or, conversely, to stay "in the zone" with a certain project. Both require great amounts of mental and emotional energy for me. In order to save up energy for when those moods strike, I have discovered the benefit of routine.


It's boring. And predictable. And precisely what I need.

In it's basic form, a routine is any set of tasks or rituals that you do in roughly the same order at a set time. Many musicians have pre-gig rituals they perform to get their mind in the right spot to be able to perform. Athletes have their pre-game rituals. It might be assumed that it's all rooted in superstition, that completing the rituals is meant to ensure a win, or a good show, or whatever positive outcome is desired. Sure, there's probably some of that in certain routines, but whatever the motive, the end result is the same: to get the body and mind ready for what is coming next.


You see, routines aren't just about completing the steps. Routines are meant to get you in the right frame of mind to move on to the next thing. For example, bed time routines are meant to get a person ready for sleeping. Pre-game routines get an athlete ready for peak performance. And so the routines that you develop for yourself should move you into the right mind and body space for what you need to do. You wouldn't want to include loud music and a heavy workout right before bed, most likely. Likewise, if you're getting ready to sing a concert full of energetic pop hits to an excited crowd, you probably aren't going to take a nap right before you go on stage. Routines should match the energy level of whatever you are doing next.


I have been experimenting with new morning and evening routines for a few weeks now, and while they aren't perfect yet, I can already see that they are paying dividends by reducing decision fatigue and adding a sense of stability to my days. It was a process to find the right things to include, which involved some trial and error. I added some things, subtracted others, changed the order around, etc., until I found the right fit for me. I'm still working on consistency, but already the payoff is worth it and makes me want to stick with it until it is a normal part of my everyday. And then, when unexpected things come up during my day, I'm less thrown and worn down by them. I can always come back to these routines to settle my mind and body and get back into a predictable rhythm.


Remember, just like any new habits, it can take awhile to both get it established and evaluate its effectiveness, so be patient and give yourself enough time to really try it out. Twenty-one days is a good start.


Do you have routines that you have consciously developed for yourself? Or can you look over your week and take note of routines that have developed as you've gone along? Let me know about them! Or if you haven't started any routines yet, let me know something you're going to try this week. Setting ourselves up for daily success can help us to take charge of our days and manage the curve balls that come at us. For many of us, that starts by being predictable.

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