The Paradox of Having Routines: Spontaneity and Creativity Arrive in Abundance
Monday January 24, 2022

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“Routines root us . . . routine frees [our] mind.” —Jay Shetty, Think Like A Monk

The beautiful gift we receive from incorporating constructive routines into our lives is the paradox that creates the magic that may to some seem impossible to experience in reality.

The paradox of routines in our daily lives:

—When we create and adhere to routines which establish a solid foundation for living well, we nurture the opportunity to see and seize amazing, magical ideas, potential and connections that would have otherwise gone dismissed or ignored because we were simply trying to ‘get-through’ whatever the day presented and would not have the spatial awareness, perspective or energy to capture the gifts presented. Certainty fosters the unexpected

The past week, as I shared in episode #321 of the podcast, a resetting of daily and weekly routines began in my life, an opportunity to settle into a rhythm of the life I have been investing in over the past two years with the work on my home, customizing to my lifestyle, as well as shifting wholly into one career focus. Many listeners shared, they too were looking for ideas for how to ‘reset’ well into a daily and weekly rhythm they savored. It is important to note, and something that was pointed out during the episode, that resetting is not a return to what previously was, but rather a conscious deciding about what will remain that worked and what will be forever left behind and what will be added to enhance.

So, following my determination to reset, I reflected on routines I missed and that had been put on hold temporarily. I read past journals and assessed what enhanced the ability for me to hold myself in the present, remain open to creative sparks and feel grounded and mindful as everyday life unfolded. I also reread Jay Shetty’s book Think Like A Monk which reinforced the grounding importance of daily routines to foster the life of possibility that in this particular moment we cannot fully crystalize as to what tomorrow or the future will be, but can only hope will eventually occur.

Shetty explains that when we add beneficial, thus constructive (but not encumbering or too rigid) structure to our lives, we actually open ourselves up for more novelty. “It is precisely doing the familiar that creates room for discovery”. He goes on to site the late Kobe Bryant’s insight into the importance of routine, “A lot of the time, creativity comes from structure. When you have those parameters and structure, then within that you can be creative. If you don’t have structure, you’re just aimlessly doing stuff.” By easing our “cognitive burden”, Shetty further teaches, “we have bandwidth for creativity. Structure enhances spontaneity.” And therein lies the paradox. A beautiful one to strive to welcome into our lives, and when we do so, we are trusting the unknown. We are letting go.

So many of the life skills we have talked about in prior posts and episodes come together to trust this powerful truth – Routines open our lives up to experiencing in real, everyday life, the dream we currently may only think as just that, a dream.

As I settled into my week, I found myself writing out my thoughts often, asking myself, ‘What do I know is true?” frequently and just as frequently, taking action to do the tasks and activities I missed during this temporary time of transition, fully immersing myself in each – seemingly pleasurable tasks such as taking a hot bubble bath, and just as enjoyably diving into seemingly mundane tasks – editing my linen closet and cleaning my office and organizing business files.

The clarity gained by creating, reordering and clearing out my home revealed to me that I had gained a wisdom of how I wanted to live and was more resolutely focused on what would stay and go, so that I could forge ahead into the life I have been consciously trying to build for years. Now you may be wondering, What does the clearing out and reordering have to do with routines? Quite a bit. Let me explain.

When we become clear about the life we want to live, knowing where we want to go, we also become clear about what needs to stay to support our travel and what no longer serves our journey. We can then, as Marie Kondo writes, express gratitude, but then let go without holding on or grieving its absence.

Routines, which ones we need to add, tweak or let go work the same way. When we have clarity, we are better able to ascertain which routines support our travels and which no longer serve a necessary or helpful purpose.

Routines to tend to:

  • How you nourish yourself literally (your eating regimen): I have shared before that my daily breakfast has remained the same for about 15 years now. Why? It nourishes me with energy, satiation and flavor so that I can dive into my day for a good 4-6 hours before needing a snack and still have a mind and body that is alert and thinking well.
  • Health: physical and mental
  • Financial: bill payment and investing, shopping – necessities for life and business
  • Social engagement: How often and in quality engagement you spend with people you care about and activities that engage you for pleasure and passion without monetary incentives.
  • Self-Care: What activities, nourishment, personal attention do you need regularly that enhances how you bring your best self to the world? (check out multiple posts/episodes on the topic of self-care and its importance, as well as many ideas)
  • Home life: from how you feel most at peace in your sanctuary, what are routines (cleaning, decorating, entertaining, etc.) that create the feeling of home?

Examples of how Routine opens our lives up to new ‘aha’s:

  • Savoring your weekly Sunday morning newspaper reading ritual, reading your favorite sections, fully engrossed, you stumble across a new recipe from a country not typically in your wheel-house or cooking repertoire, but the description delights your tastebuds and you decide to give a try. Before you know it, you are fully engaged in something new in your kitchen and if the recipe becomes something you and your household love, even better!
  • Attending a local theatre production as you enjoy doing, you go by yourself as you feel comfortable in the location. You sit by a stranger, yet someone who you begin an organic conversation with and they talk about how they enjoy spending time in the town you both call home. You see your town through a new perspective and you become more appreciative, but also curious to try to explore and do something new.
  • You stop into your local grocery store as you do on a particular morning of the week to pick up a favorite item. You know where items are located, so you don’t think twice about your route, but you end up engaging in conversation with the staff or a fellow shopper unexpectedly and you are open and present and fully engaged. What is shared elevates an everyday moment and helps you to gain confidence in being fully yourself without expectation, listening attentively and sharing a bit of your world as well. Who knows what you may learn, hear or discover.
  • Your nightly reading ritual, cozied into your favorite chair is a moment you never miss when you find yourself at home, but the books change, the voice of each writer is different, and you learn and deepen understanding on a wide variety of topics and interests as you are fully engrossed in what you are reading.
  • Your daily skincare regimen nourishes your skin, helping you look and feel your best. Not only do you hold yourself in the present moment when you engage in this daily ritual, but you feel confident and thus grounded in your daily routine as you engage with the world, open to whatever may cross your path, and thus not self-conscious and consumed in your own head which would prevent you from being in the present moment.
  • With your monthly bills tended to on a regular schedule, you know that your financial house is in order and can focus fully on whatever your tasks are in your professional and personal life, savoring what life brings, what connections deepen and begin and what opportunities through your focus at work will be presented.
  • With a clean and rejuvenating home, you can relax when you walk in the door, being fully present with the tasks and activities you enjoy partaking in, the time you spend with loved ones and not being held in a stressful state that would result when your home is discombobulated with disorganization.
  • Daily walks in nature hold you in the present moment with only the music of the breeze, the birdsong and your breath. Your mind relaxes, opens and ideas present themselves.
  • Tending to your good health opens up your ability to fully engage with opportunities when presented, to say yes, to have confidence you can fully engage and do so without worrying about any physical limitations.
  • Tending to routines, eliminates procrastination and provides the opportunity and space in your days to say yes to unexpected, attention grabbing, anything-your-intuition-is-drawn-to engagements.

The quote at the top of today’s post reminds me of a common refrain one of my yoga instructors regularly recites – Root to rise. When we root ourselves in routine, healthy, growth-inspired routine, just as a tree when planted in its preferred soil, nourished by the right amount of moisture and given warmth from the sun, we too rise to heights previously unimaginable as well as blossoming and branching out beautifully as we embrace our true self and gifts we uniquely can share with the world. But if we are not rooted, we can easily be uprooted and used, moved, manipulated and mistreated as we don’t have the clarity of where and how we wish to live.

Being rooted does not mean we are inflexible. It is quite the opposite. When we are rooted, we know. We have clarity, and we understand where boundaries must be set to fulfill our needs and where we can waver, where we can give, as those latter areas pertain to our wants. When we nurture ourselves properly, it comes from self-knowledge, a place that takes time at which to arrive, but when we arrive at this most awesome destination, where and with whom we can travel exceeds any previous limited ideas, and our lives are changed forever for the better.

What I have found when I reëstablish constructive routines is that I create more ‘white space‘ in my days. When I have more ‘space’ for my mind to wander, old ideas I had forgotten about but never wanted to forget, return to the forefront of my mind. I now have the bandwidth to capture them and do something with them. When I have my life-lifting routines in place, I have time to fully be with those I care about, engage entirely with my attention on tasks and projects that I am passionate about and continually am refueled with new ideas and creative bursts which make tomorrow, next week, next year an exciting destination to travel towards, but all the while I have created a daily life I deeply love living.

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22 thoughts on “The Paradox of Having Routines: Spontaneity and Creativity Arrive in Abundance

  1. Thank you for reminding us of routines, & of Jay’s book, which I bought and really enjoyed reading. One routine I can’t forfeit is leaving a clean & tidy house in the morning so that all is in order upon returning after a busy day at work. Thanks again.🤗🥰

  2. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on how I want my everydays to be different in 2022. I have referenced many of your archived podcasts and posts to remind me of the simple steps I can take to cultivate changes. Thank you for a great post today and all the SLL destination offers. I appreciate all you do to foster such a great community. You and other subscribers seem to be kindred spirits. Have a great week!

    1. Jane,

      Thank you for all that you have shared. I am grateful for your being a part of TSLL community. And happy to hear you are finding archived posts that support your journey. Have a lovely start to this new week. 😌

  3. I love this post as I thrive on routine, so many fantastic reminders of how they can make our days better. Right now I am working to add meditation to my daily routine with the hope of adding more intentionality to my day.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Marla. 😌 And regarding meditation, take it gradual – 2-3 minutes and don’t worry if you stay in that amount of time for a long time. Simply practicing something each day will be powerful. I highly recommend Headspace as it was (and still is from time to time) a great pair of training wheels for me.

      Wishing you well!

  4. Loved this post.

    I was thinking about this the other day when I finally got around to resetting my own routines and lifestyle. My apartment was finally back to being organized and inviting after a holiday season of chaos and letting my routines go by the way side.

    Then, a close friend came in from out of town unexpectedly and I was thrilled to invite them over into my home with only an hours’ notice! I could do that because maintaining my routine of keeping things orderly and welcoming allowed me that flexibility to host at a moment’s notice.

  5. I love that prompt, “What do I know is true?” as a method to whittle away that which no longer serves, and to freshen up and re-boot those routines and values that are us, the ‘who’ in who we are. And I’m shamelessly stealing it now, thank you! 😀

    Jay’s book is actually on top of my next-to-be-read(or re-read) bookstack that lives on my desk in a perpetual flow-state.

    And so true about the creative “White Space”. A nice chunk of un-worried and un-hurried time for mind-wandering and creativity can only happen if we have formed the habits and routines that take care of all of the lower hierarchy stuff(thinking Maslow’s theory).

    One of my gifts-to-myself this year is to carry around a notebook,(I don’t and won’t have my phone with me at all times..) and jot down any idea that pops into the noggin, so that later I won’t have to waste time trying to remember whatever brilliant idea I had while working, reading or otherwise.
    Great post!! (‘Root To Rise’ is one of my favorite yoga-ism’s.)
    XO💛

    1. Rona,

      I do think you are going LOVE How to Think Like a Monk. It’s modern, yet grounded. His voice and journey to, through and on this life path is helpful as he isn’t pretentious.

      I think your gift to yourself is a wonderful idea, and stepping away from the phone more often. Having a notepad within arm’s reach puts my mind at rest as I can relax knowing any idea – no matter how great or odd or questionable – will at least be somewhere to reflect upon when I would like to do so.

  6. I also thrive on routine and regularly tweak it to expand the possibilities available to me by season, by circumstance, and by opportunity. While I am often reminded that no one is doing surgery in my kitchen, I truly must know all is in order before bed. When friends are visiting, my routines change to accommodate the events we plan. The base concept of all this is by keeping to my routines, nothing gets (or rarely) ahead of me. That simplifies my life.

    I had a reckoning moment on a certain birthday that cemented this way of life for me. I am comfortable in my skin and in my actions. My strength has been tested many times and I have learned so much from that and from the insights of others. Learning from experience and never permitting stagnation to take over our lives will keep our creative spirit open to possibility. What more could we want?

    1. Lucy,

      I so appreciate your insight with this sentence shared – “Learning from experience and never permitting stagnation to take over our lives will keep our creative spirit open to possibility.”

      Wise words to hold close as we journey through our lives and days.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing how routines ground you and bring you calm as well as positive perspective to approach anything the day might bring.

  7. Lovely post Shannon. Life can be complicated but a set of routines can lessen that. (as Lucy says ” simplifies her life”) I thrive on routines. They are not rigid but flexible as this allows me to make any adjustments if necessary. They allow me to enjoy the things I love doing on a daily basis.
    They take time to establish but then they become second nature .They allow me to have the freedom to factor in unexpected moments that might come my way. I have tried days without a routine and they just don’t work for me. If friends were to stop by unexpectedly(they do quite often) then I can enjoy the pleasure of their company without feeling a sense of panic. One aspect of my routines is “my cuppa” at around 4pm (very British).It has remained constant for more years than I can remember.. Thank you Shannon xx

    1. Routines, of course, are established around who you are and who you want to be in your life. They protect, and ultimately, project, your personal ethos. I was lucky to have moved quite frequently throughout my young life and well into my teens and twenties. I was taught, sometimes not so gently, that one must have a clear knowledge of self and parameters of beliefs, or, you will devoured and changed by circumstances and others. A working knowledge of who you are, or at least, who you want to be, provides the scaffolding, the routines, that you can carry and apply into whatever milieu you are thrust into. Sometimes the knocks were hard indeed, but once you learn to trust yourself, you can move through all the adventures with grace, ease, or something at least akin to it, a sense of humor, and at the back-end, with a surety that whatever the outcome, you were yourself. And heck yeah, I LOVE the routine of stopping at 4pm for a cuppa. XO

      1. So right Rona .Love the scaffolding analogy – a strong temporary structure providing support to enable work to be carried out .Teatime is a joy. I took my lead from a certain Royal. xx

  8. Goes straight to the center of a beautiful approach to living ~ your essay is spot-on, thank you. Striving to keep close to this type of thinking, whether it’s completely on track, or has drifted a little, or even a lot.
    I haven’t tried the new favorites feature of your site (could favorite nearly every post you make 🌞), and will enjoy returning to this cogent piece over and over.
    Freedom emerging from structure is a lifelong interest for me ~ in our lives, and in art and math and nature ~ a beautiful study. Thank you for today’s joyous piece! xo

    1. Liz,

      Your comments are a treat to read both in content and diction. (that’s the English teacher coming out in me ;)). I think it is a constant conscious attention we must pay to holding on to habits and routines that work and mindfully letting go of those that are limiting or holding us back. It can be easy to mindlessly just do as we’ve done, so the drifting is natural and human. Perhaps that is why we need to not be afraid of big or temporary changes so we consciously pay attention to what we appreciate and what creates a life we love.

      Thank you for stopping by and I do hope you enjoy the favorites feature. Tickled to be able to offer that to readers. Have a lovely day. 🙂

  9. Shannon, I love every one of your posts/podcasts about routines. Two things that I resisted but made my life infinitely better once I embraced them are routines & discipline. I read once that we all fall into routine whether we want to or not and the key is to be be intentional about then. I wholeheartedly agree. With a new job, new schedule, & moving all since November, my routines are getting refreshed right & left! Since reading a post you wrote about checking in with routines when you returned to school in the fall, I too have a seasonal check in to see if my routines are still working for me and cultivating the life I want. Another great place to add/or change is vacation. It tends to be a break from daily routines and freshens my perspective. I once added an afternoon cup of tea after visiting my brother and his wife; they made a pot every afternoon and I loved the little ‘breath’ in the middle of the day.

  10. Saved to favourite posts. I always enjoy your thoughts on routine and rituals, and I particularly enjoyed this one for reminding me of why I so enjoy having regular routines.
    I am also in the process of “resetting” my routine, as the world returns to more pre-pandemic life, I am going out more each day (to work and social engagements) and so need to get back into a rhythm, that serves me well as well as allowing me to accomplish all I need to.
    Sarah x

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