Routines Versus Ruts

The idea for this article started gelling one morning when my brain was working on changing one of my sleeping habits — while I was sleeping. I know, I should have been sleeping, but working to create the new habit was important, and that effort lead me to think the role habits play in our lives and how habits are formed.

A friend of mine took a class called Move Your DNA that taught her how her body can work for her rather than against her. She shared a lot of what she learned with me. The one thing I learned from my friend’s conversation is that when you are sleeping, lie with your limbs as straight as possible rather than curled up. My brain was working on helping me develop that habit that morning. To help me remember to straighten my limbs, rather than the curled fetal position I tend toward, I repeated the mantra “straighten up and fly right” — repeatedly. Then, for variety, my brain sang “Let’s get physical” (just that phrase, not the entire song). Hahahaha! Is that a trick you use to learn new habits?!

The next thing my brain considered was that our bodies and minds benefit from breaking the patterns they hold. If you have been sitting still awhile, your body benefits from standing and moving awhile. If your eyes have been focusing on something close, they benefit by focusing on something far. If you have been taking the left path to the store, you benefit by taking the right path for a change. If you tend to start a walk or going up the stairs with your right foot, switch it up and start with your left foot sometimes. Those kinds of changes are good for keeping your brain and body more agile.

When a limb, for example, stays in one position for very long it becomes accustomed to that situation, and effectively becoming frozen like that. To avoid that reality it’s important to periodically modify one’s pose. That’s part of what’s behind my strong recommendation to take a 10-minute break every 50 minutes. My mom’s situation of freezing into a permanent sitting position after years of maintaining that posture day and night has reinforced for me the importance of variety in life. “Use it or lose” it applies to more than the knowledge you acquire in life; it also applies to your physical and mental abilities.

When you sit at your desk or behind the wheel of your car for hours each day, your body gets in the rut of that position — bent ankles, knees, and hips as well as rounded shoulders and bent elbows. To get out of that rut it’s good to get up and walk, climb stairs, stretch in the opposite direction, and take deep breaths. Life seems to encourage bent limbs with the work and tasks we do. To counter that, consciously straighten up, like with exercises. Your sleep pose can also be with straightened limbs to counteract the tendency toward bent limbs (hence my dream training). “Straighten up and fly right.” Let’s get physical and move about!

All this talk of physical ruts and variety begged the question for me of what about creating routines and developing habits, possible ruts. Many business gurus and high performance coaches recommend the use of habit and ritual to further the efficiency and productivity of your day. Could all those people be wrong? If physical ruts can be bad for us, are mental ruts, aka habits and routines, also bad?

It depends.

Great answer, huh. The crux of the matter, in my analysis, is that your level of mindfulness dictates how much of one’s habit and routine is a rut versus a structure to support a healthy, productive life. Also, is your habit or routine a high performance one — or a low-performance one? Can habits and routines be ruts or do they always keep life fluid?

Do you have a morning routine? Is it a high or low-performance routine? High-performance morning routines include things like brushing your teeth, hydrating, meditating, exercising, and eating a healthy breakfast. Low-performance routines include things like checking your email or Facebook before getting out of bed, drinking sugary drinks and eating sugary foods for breakfast, or smoking a cigarette of some kind of leaf before getting out of bed. You get the idea, you see the difference. One sets you up for success, the other sets you up for anything but success.

How did your routines get started?

Let me start with a hypothetical scenario, one that you may have experienced. You sprained your ankle or twisted your knee and are walking with a cane while the joint heals. You walk with a bit of a limp since the bad joint can’t take your full weight. Your body is a bit twisted, contorted maybe, as you lean on the cane for support. Your whole body is involved in this temporary situation. Here’s where we can see the difference between a routine and rut. While your ankle or knee is convalescing you have a routine for how to navigate your world, one that’s different from your pre-damage routine. When you are healed and can navigate the world as you used to, before the problem, do you return to your straight and fluid way of walking? Or, have the weeks or months of the contorted walking style become a habit that you don’t even recognize and thus continue? If so, that’s a rut. The straight and fluid way of walking was a healthy routine, and can be again.

What about morning routines or ruts? Where are you on that topic? What are your thoughts about them?

Generally, a morning routine starts as a decision to add a good habit to your morning. You have been brushing your teeth in the morning since you were a kid. As you got older you learned that eating a healthy breakfast gave your body the fuel it needed to sustain your energy through the morning so you tagged that on to brushing your teeth. Along the way, you consciously added exercise or movement of some sort to your morning because you wanted to be more fit. Oh, you learned that meditating boosts your brain power so that was added to your morning. On the morning routine developed as you added good habits. All conscious decisions made for the purposes of improving your life, all chained together to make for a morning routine. You may have other routines through your day of chained habits designed to make for a better life too. What would you do to make your morning routine a high-performance morning routine?

Some of your routines are mental and some are physical. Maybe you have a menu of habits that you can select from and combine for a mental and physical routine variably during your day to gain different benefits. The variety can be valuable.

Chances are that if you don’t have a morning routine, to stay with that concept, you have unconscious habits of how you start your day. Maybe your morning is a rut of behaviors, none of which are designed to improve your life or even conscious. If that’s the case, are you content with that rut? If your morning is a rut, do you want to make changes and launch yourself into your day? What thoughts do you have about converting your ruts into habits and routines?

Structure is important for a productive life, especially for those with ADD and ADD-like symptoms. Variety is good to prevent a rut forming. How can you blend those two criteria to maintain a vibrant and productive life?

Have I sold you on my idea? Mindfulness. Intentionality.

Consciously design your life for mental and physical limberness and enjoy the scenery that being out of a rut provides. Straighten up and fly right! Develop your helpful routines and stay out of those ruts to live the most vibrant and productive life you can. That’s part of living in focused energy.

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