Having a routine used to feel like shackles. As a free spirit, I did not see value in interrupting spontaneity for structure. I still don’t really like to be told what to do, even if it is by myself.
For these reasons for much of my life, I resisted structure and consistency. At the same time, I often didn’t feel like I was making consistent progress towards my goals. I wanted to publish a blog post more than once every few months but didn’t have a system in place for how this would happen. I wanted to get more sleep but I didn’t have a bedtime ritual that I honored.
I realized that cultivating a structured routine would likely enhance my life.
Luckily, I followed through on this instinct and the results have been somewhat revolutionary. I now sleep for 8 hours, almost every night and publish on my blog once a week. I have gained confidence as I trust myself to follow through on the things I set out to do. And yet, sometimes things start to feel too rigid. I begin to feel like my creative impulses are stunted and pleasure is traded in for the sake of the routine.
So, while creating structure has been valuable, it is a constant balance of staying consistent with the things that matter without becoming a rigid robot. Today, I’m excited to dive into the systems that keep me on track with my goals and also my top strategies for making sure it never feels too robotic.
First, let’s first dive into the strategy that has been so vital for keeping me on track with my goals. I use a checklist of implementation intentions (basically behavioral algorithms) to create a structure to my days (more specifically, the morning and evening as these are the times of day most of us have the most control over).
Below is a sneak peek of the first part of a google doc that shows the current algorithms/habits I’m running in my life.
As mentioned above, I use Implementation Intentions as they are one of the most well-validated tools in the behavior change arsenal. It’s a great way to turn your goals (aka the outcomes you want), into daily action (aka the process that will lead to your intended outcome).
It’s basically using algorithms to guide your actions. The formula is if X happens, then Y happens. What’s great about this approach is that in one simple process it ensures you’ve covered the most vital components of a successful habit plan; when you’ll do it, how you’ll do it, and what environmental cue you’ll link it to. Setting an implementation while motivation is high is also a way to pre-commit to a clear plan for your future self ( who likely won’t be as motivated).
Here are some additional examples of algorithms I run in my life
If I wake up, then I drink a big glass of water
If I brush my teeth, then I sit down to meditate for at least a minute.
If it’s 10 pm, then I shut down all my devices and dim the lights.
For the above reasons, I recommend you use algorithms to reach your goals of any kind. And yet, I also think it is vital to find a balance between flexibility and rigidity.
So, here are my top suggestions for how to use algorithms without feeling like a robot:
Make Sure It’s Pleasurable!
Ideally, with any habit that you create, there is a longterm benefit. You are often doing it for your future self. I usually don’t want to go to bed early, but I know the next day will be 1000X more enjoyable if I’m not sleep deprived.
One way to motivate yourself to stick to your algorithms is to find a way to also make it enjoyable in the moment. This adds an immediate reward and that will make it much more likely you’ll stick with the formula.
Here’s an example from my meditation habit. A while back, my meditation routine was feeling a bit dry. I didn’t want to sit down to my cushion and rushed through the whole process. To change it up, I decided to add some trancey music and burn a ton of incense. Suddenly I felt like I was in a cool ashram in the 1970s. This added a richness and sensuality to the habit that actually makes me crave it.
What are some ways you can make your habit more pleasurable in the moment.
Have Flexible Structure!
Use the idea of floors and ceilings to ensure the habit algorithms are adaptable enough for the variance of your days. I always tell clients to create one version of the habit that you could do on your worst days (think the days that you have to catch a 5 am flight..) and then think of the ideal version of the habit. The tiny tiny version (“the floor”) is in your pocket for the busy, hectic days that you’ll be tempted to skip. The ideal (“the ceiling”) is for the best-case scenario days when you have time and energy. Float between these two versions. This allows you to be consistent even as life happens. It can also be helpful to think of a version of your routine that is possible to do when you travel (this may be the “floor version” or another mobile version of your habits).
Update Your Algorithms To Fit Your Current Lifestyle!
Remember, your habits are there to nourish you and improve your life. If your daily routines are no longer feeding those means, it may be time to run some new “algorithm experiments”. Different life phases will need different structures and habits. When you go through a big transition, like a move, having a baby, etc. , expect that your self-care plan will also need to be revamped. I find it useful to create a list of the algorithms I’m currently using in my life so that I can review it and update it as needed.
What algorithms are you currently running in your life? How do you balance consistency and flexibility?