It’s January so psychologists like me are legally obliged to write about habits, resolutions and the like.
If that’s what you’re after I heartily recommend the work of Katy Milkman, BJ Fogg and James Clear.
These people have undermined the idea that habits are about repetition (“21 days to build a new habit!”) and introduced the more accurate idea that it is how we feel during any given behaviour that creates a habit.
Yet this conversation also misses some key variables.
The first is that how we feel is often not within our control. We are usually better off trying to control the context around a behaviour instead.
The second is that it is sometimes not the habit itself that is key, but the timing and sequencing of a behaviour that matters most.
And this is why I believe what people most need in 2022 is a reset coordinated not by habits, but by high-performance routines.
What is a high-performance routine?
Well, let’s start with the opposite.
At some point in the last 20 months many of us have fallen into routines that we didn’t really choose or design.
For whatever reason, what started off as a sprint became a marathon and we became locked in routines where we worked harder and longer, became more sedentary, and days all blurred into one. To assess your own routine, how many of these bullets resonate?
- Everything feels like a priority
- You hunker down for hours in front of your screen, taking few breaks
- Some days you hardly move from your desk (a good indicator is less than 5,000 steps per day)
- You feel constantly distracted, pulled between different priorities
- You reach midday and realise you’ve not been outside
- Work often bleeds through into the evenings, weekends and holidays
- You find it hard to switch off and / or sleep
- You often feel tired in the morning
- You feel guilty that some areas of your life are being neglected
- You worry about the impact of all of the above, but are anxious that if you work less you will feel even more overwhelmed
This is what I call the ‘flat line’ way of working where we work in a continuous, often dysregulated way, without any real structure or boundaries. In this way we ignore our own body’s need for recovery and instead ‘push on through’.
The ‘flat line’ can work for a while, but over the longer term it becomes an insult to high-performance and dangerous to mental health (primarily because it’s a very unnatural way to work).
Worse still, in this context potentially helpful new habits can seem like an extra burden.
For example, imagine telling someone who is overburdened that they need to start doing meditation. Even though meditation might help, in the short term it is likely to feel like another burden; one more thing to do (and possibly fail at).
Meditation – just one more thing to fail at
High-performance routines are different for 3 reasons.
1. Routines create their own rhythm, with one part of the routine enabling the next. Habits are easier to stick to when part of a routine.
2. Individual behaviours become much more powerful when part of a routine. What was an isolated behaviour becomes a meaningful pattern, linked to our biological rhythms as well as our long term values and goals.
3. Routines create a sense of control; of everything having a time and a place. And this creates the positive feelings for change to be sustained.
In the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of posts on high-performance routines as well as giving away my new e-book on the subject.
In the meantime, I would encourage you to consider what an ideal daily routine would look like for you.
You could start by downloading the template below and seeing if you can identify what your ideal daily routine would look like if you had complete control over each day.
I did this for myself and with many clients last year, and the results were always revealing.