But I don’t waaant to. Attempts to start or follow a routine come to a screaming halt when your inner routine rebel just doesn’t want to cooperate. No matter how much you recognize on an intellectual level that you need more structure, on an emotional level, you resist it.
Why? Why keep yourself in a place of frustration and guilt when you could experience the freedom of operating in strong, powerful routines?
As a time coach and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress, I’ve investigated this question alongside my coaching clients, many of whom tend toward the naturally spontaneous side.
Through this real-world inquiry, I’ve discovered that one or more of these blocks may hold you back from success in implementing routines. Also, you may have different blocks for different routines. For example, a desire for guilty pleasure may sabotage your bedtime routine while a desire for control may thwart your planning efforts. The next time your inner routine rebel stages a revolt against the authority of routine, try one of these tactics to get back on track.
Desire for Control
One of the biggest reasons you don’t want to follow a routine is that you want to feel in control of your choice of what you do or don’t do. But as anyone with no routines can testify, a lack of structure can leave you feeling completely out of control. Here are some ways to reframe the way you think about routines so that you can still feel in charge:
- I always have a choice of whether I follow my routine. I decide to make a routine because it allows me to more easily and consistently move forward on what’s most important to me, especially when I have low willpower. The right amount of structure empowers me to stop worrying about the mundane details of life and frees me to achieve my full potential and to focus on exciting new ventures.
- My schedule is my servant, not my master. The point of mapping out my priorities is to free me to focus on the activity of the moment—or even do something spontaneous—without worry that I am forgetting something or should be doing something else.
Most people think of passive aggressive behavior as something that happens between two people. But when you have an internal routine rebel, you act passive aggressively with yourself. You can create this resentment against your self-imposed routines when you try to force yourself to do something that you feel you “should” do to make others happy, or meet some sort of societal norms, but that doesn’t truly align with your internal values or priorities. Or deny yourself time to do something else that matters a great deal to you, such as spending time with friends, reading, playing video games, or running.
To avoid this internal deadlock:
- Make sure that you have a really good reason why you want to practice a routine. If you can’t come up with one, you may want to drop the routine entirely. There’s no reason to feel guilty for not doing something that truly doesn’t matter to you
- Set up a system of rewards, such as once I go to the gym I can read Lifehacker. As this article on the power of relaxation to enhance your productivity explains, you perform better when you emotionally and mentally know that you will have time to rest.
If you fight with an inner routine rebel now, then as a child you probably took delight in the thrill you could achieve by “getting away with something,” especially in regard to bedtime. You felt like you had won when you could stay up late reading with a flashlight or not go to sleep at all at a sleepover. This desire for guilty pleasure can carry over into a sleep-deprived adulthood with staying up late watching TV, surfing the Internet, reading, or really doing anything other than sleeping. Even though you know have no authority figure, you still feel like you’re getting away with something—and in the moment, it feels good.
But the next day, you feel exhausted, and you really wish you had gone to bed. If this sounds an awful lot like you, it’s time to engage in some self-parenting regarding your bedtime routine. I’ve adapted these steps from the Love and Logic methods that typically apply to parenting little kids but can help with disciplining yourself.
Make yourself a goal of when you will turn out the lights for the night instead of putting pressure on yourself to fall asleep at a certain time. You have control over the position of your body and the illumination of your space but not over your brain activity.
Start to wind down 40 to 60 minutes before you go to bed so that you have a good chance of hitting your target and of your brain slowing down and being ready to sleep when the time comes.
Since you aren’t literally a child, you can give yourself the choice to stay up but frame the choice in terms of the consequences of your decision. This could sound like, “I can get in bed by 10 p.m. or I can feel exhausted tomorrow.” By thinking beyond the immediate alternatives to the conclusion reached from that choice, you heighten your awareness of your true decision.
This desire for guilty pleasures also can lead to not wanting to follow routines in other areas. Here are some ways that you can reframe other choices:
- In regard to eating, you can tell yourself something like: “I can stick to my meal routine or I can gain weight and feel sick.”
- When you struggle with perpetual lateness due to the addiction to the buzz of gaining “extra time” by attempting to squeeze more than you can actually do into a day, try this line with yourself: “I can leave in enough time to arrive at the start time or I can make the people I’m meeting feel disrespected.”
- When you contrast of positive action against the negative consequences of the alternative, you make the right decision feel less restrictive and the wrong one seem less pleasurable.