What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? For me, I look over and make sure the flock is well. And after that? I open the shades. Take a second and think about your regular first actions. You’ll see they tend to be the same every day.
You see, you may not realise it but you have a morning routine. And when you get in the car, what’s the first thing you do? I make sure my feet are comfortable on the pedals, gear is in neutral and I can see well in the mirrors.
How about when you sit in front of the TV, do you have a favorite spot?
And in the evening, what’s your routine?
I have a confession. I like freedom in my life. As a kid I had my morning routine up on the wall detailed down to the minutes. Yes, I was a strange kid. As I grew older and I learned to deal with my anxiety better, I realised that I like my mornings to be free flowing without too much constraint so I took down the morning routine from the wall and I just let myself be without giving it additional thought. Same thing for my well thought out evening routine. I took it all down and never looked back.
I was free without a routine! Woohoo!
Or so I thought. Apparently I had mini-routines throughout the day that I never realised I had. Until I added my little dinosaurs to my life. Don’t laugh (or do if it brings you happiness) but I realised that they could tell what I would do next and where I would next be in the morning. They could tell when I was about to leave the house (I always worked from home so it’s not based on time) and they could tell when I was thinking of going to bed. And that’s when I realised that I did have mini-routines throughout the day despite me wanting to be free from such constraints.
After giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that if I did have a mini-routine then I may as well improve it based on my preferences and vision of life. Unlike in my childhood, it would not be rigid. The problem was that I had a hard time imagining what I could do differently in my daily mini-routines. And so I started a list of the habits of people whom I admired. And sometimes, I would hear of a habit that I found admirable even if it came from someone for whom I had no special regard.
Have you ever read something so inspiring you say to yourself “Ah! Yes! This is a great habit to have! I will start on it now.” I have. Fairly often. Of course the fact that I read a lot of books by people who are incredibly accomplished and (or) who have done a lot of good in the world and that I actively note their habits sets me up for such moments. Considering my steely will power then I must be the absolute best human out there since obviously I have implemented these habits.
There is a grain of truth in that. I have started to implement every one of those habits which I found admirable. Some have stayed with me over the course of time, yes. But most have not. What? How? What about self discipline?
It is not due to a lack of self discipline that most of these habits have not stayed with me. No, no. It is simply due to me realising that there is a difference between admiring someone else and wanting to be like that person. There are many people I admire, most of whom I have no desire to be like.
You may think this is contradictory. I assure you it is not.
Do you know the story of the janitor who helped put a man on the moon?
In 1962, John F. Kennedy visited NASA. He saw a janitor walking down the hallway with a broom in hand. The President asked the man what he did there and the janitor replied “I am helping put a man on the moon”. Imagine that. The janitor saw his job as integral to achieving this lofty goal of putting a man on the moon. That’s crazy!!
But you know what’s really crazy? It’s that he was right. By keeping the hallways and rooms clean, the engineers were able to focus on their mission of putting a man on the moon. If you think the janitor’s job was not that important then let me ask you – have you ever been to a large office complex with a non working bathroom? What if the heat goes out? Or even, what if the offices are dirty? Had the janitor not done his job well, the engineer’s output would have been sub-optimal. Considering what’s at stake with this there’s no question of the tragedies that could have happened. We don’t even need to imagine them, there have been tragedies.
We need all types of people in the world in the same way that NASA needed astronauts and janitors both. While what someone else is doing may be absolutely admirable and we may be in awe in front of their lofty habits but it may not be the right path for us.
Our part in the world may be different and that is ok. I am not saying not to try to improve yourself. On the contrary, I am saying try to improve “yourself”. Based on who you are, not based on someone else’s path in life.
But why are routines and habits so important?
After all, are they not simply shortcuts? Things we do on automatic to keep our life organised?
Let’s look at the phrase “I am me”.
That middle word there “am” – that’s a verb.
It’s in the same family as the verb “be”.
This means that who we are is based on what we do. If you want to change who you are, all you need to do is change what you do.
Let’s start with a simple example – a thief. A thief is someone who steals. Can a thief claim that he steals but is not a thief? No matter the reasoning behind it, someone who steals is a thief. He is also other things, as we all have multiple roles and personas but he is also a thief. But is this lack of distinction only in negative instances? Not at all. Let’s take something positive.
An artist. If your friend introduces someone to you as an artist, what does that tell you? That this person has a talent for art or that this person regularly creates art?
You will find it is the latter. What about if this artist lacks talent? Then they are a talentless artist but an artist nonetheless. If they do have talent then they are a talented artist. And what if they have artistic talent but do not regularly create art? Then they have talent. They are talented in artistry, but they are not an artist.
What defines an artist? The act of creation of artistry.
Same as love. Imagine someone beating you nonstop saying “I love you”. Would you think that they love you? No, you would not.
What about someone who never tells you that they love you but regularly do acts that denote love and care. Would you think that they don’t love you simply because they don’t tell you? No, you would not.
So we see that with everything, what matters are the acts that you do.
If you want to be strong, you need to train, not just read.
If you want to be successful, you need to put in the work and not just strategize.
If you want to be creative, create.
With time and focused practice you will get better but that is a completely different subject.
What do you now do with this information?
There are two steps to this. The first is properly defining who you want to be.
You first need to define who you want to be and what actions will bring you there. Do not feel the need to be the most generous, the kindest, the most patient, the most anything. Define who you want to be.
I’ll give you an example I recently went through.
I heard recently a podcast in which the person said that every day you should ask yourself what you have received from the world and also what you have given to the world. These is an admirable daily evaluation. It really, truly is. But it’s not me. Not because I don’t care about what my interactions with the world but because I look at it differently. Also, because I don’t have daily interactions with people. There can be days on end, when I do not interact with anyone. So this daily evaluation would be useless to me. Also, when I asked myself that question for a few weeks every night, answering these two questions seemed more of a chore. I know very very well what I receive from the world and I am grateful for what I have. So instead I changed the perspective. After every interaction with someone I simply ask myself if I have left them better off than before they met me. Whether it’s via some laughter, some positivity, actual help or whatever else our interaction may have brought up. Answering that question hits deep for me.
And for you, it will probably be different.
So the first question is – who do you want to be? And the second question is – what habits define the person you want to be?