I’ve been big on routines and practices since god-knows-when. It certainly seems like I’ve been obsessed with some kind of routine or a practice since I was in 6th grade. Of course, my my routines and practices have greatly evolved over the years — I don’t do shadow batting practice or eat a bitter gourd for breakfast (the idea was to do one thing that I absolutely hate) each morning!
Before I dive into my own routines and practices, I wanted to explore what it means to have one in the first place. I know this pandemic has shaken us up in more ways than one. We’ve lost of our jobs, loved ones, peace of mind, momentum, and all the progress that we had worked so hard for. At least for some, if not all of us. If you’re reading this, there’s a lot to be grateful about.
Personally, I have reworked on my routine at least half-a-dozen times over the past six months. There’s so much volatility all around. And believe me, it can get frustrating, so much so that I’ve felt like giving it all up completely since none of the external factors get in the way of my daily practices anyway. But I prefer to have both routines and practices as it helps me stay organised better.
The obvious question is — what’s the difference between a routine and a practice? Allow me to illustrate with examples from one of Ryan Holiday’s dispatches I read recently:
- Waking up everyday at 6 a.m. and watching the news while you have your coffee
- Eating at the same lunch place and same time everyday
- Going to the 9 am CrossFit class
- Scheduling calls and priorities first thing in the morning or last thing before logging off for the day
- Prayer or mediation
- Vegan or eating kosher
Did you notice the difference? Routines aim to be rigid and are highly dependent on your current lifestyle or circumstances (working from home because of a global pandemic). Practices on the other hand are the things that you do (almost) every single day, regardless of your routine. As Ryan says, these are the things that you keep coming back to “time and and again, to center yourself. To reset. To reconnect. To focus.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to have a routine. Far from it. I believe our routines help us find order while our practices help us find meaning to our lives. The former helps us set a daily rhythm and the latter keeps us on track with our lifelong pursuits. So, the key is to focus on both. But how? By first understanding that we should never be at the mercy of our routines to carry out our practices. And then building our routines around our practices and not the other way around. This allows us the flexibility to adapt to the circumstances that govern our lives without compromising on our practices.
Let me give you an example — I write best in the morning when there are no distractions. But getting up in the morning is subject to a lot of variables — when did I go to bed, what did I eat the night before, the amount of physical activity that day, mental stress overall, and of course, how sleep deprived I already am. If I’m overly dependent on getting up early, believe me, I won’t get any writing done. If, however, I stay true to my practice of writing there’s a high likelihood of finding time to pen down my thoughts and post it online.
Likewise, I can create a routine that will have me train at 7:30 am and 6:30 pm five or six days a week or just have “training twice a day” a practice I follow no matter what. Believe me, there are days when I’m writing, reading or studying and lose track of time. And I have skipped several training sessions simply because the clock read 8:15 or 8:30 am, which was well past the time stated in my routine.
I hope this clarifies the distinction between having a routine and a practice. Ryan Holiday believes that we all should be focusing on our practices than routines. I think both are important as an orderly life leads to lesser chaos. And that’s where routine come in. The key is to remain open to changing your routines according to the circumstances and accepting that it’s okay to do so. That shouldn’t affect your daily practices. Which, brings me to my current routines and practices. And here it goes:
- Getting up between 4 and 4:30 am (my alarm goes off when my body moves instead of a set time, which I personally find jarring)
- Journaling, writing, reading, and studying from 4:30 till 8 am
- Training from 8:30 till 10 am
- Work from 10:30 till 6:30 pm (with a 20-minute nap at 4 pm)
- Evening training from 6:30 till 7:30 pm
- Work from 8 till 9 pm
- Dinner at 9 pm
- Wrapping up work from 9:45 till 10:30 pm
- Hit the bed by 10:45 pm
- Reading and studying
- Physical training
- 20-minute daily recharge (nap)
Of course, the above might not be the most ideal or inspiring routine/practice list you’ll see but it’s what works beautifully for me. Did you notice how routines make it easy to determine when to carry out my practices? That said, I’m almost never at the mercy of my routines to carry out my daily practices.