I popped out of the womb an OCD, Type-A perfectionist. The endless list-making, goal setting, and routine behaviors (fortunately or unfortunately) started at a very young age.
I craved and still crave routine.
As an 8-yr-old, I quickly established amazing rapport with my friends’ moms, because I literally would clean my friends’ rooms for FUN. Like, organize their bathroom cabinets and make their bed and other weirdly obsessive cleaning behaviors.
In elementary school, I curled my hair every morning SO ginormously that I looked like one of those overly done-up kids forced into modeling by their parents. I secretly wanted to be one of those kids, but my huge red glasses taking up half my face may have squashed those dreams.
In middle school, I decorated the back of my bedroom door with inspirational quotes, pictures of basketball, just so I could go to bed and wake up with visions of my burning desire: WINNING.
After recently cleaning out an old closet, I even came across one of my ridiculous lists that I wrote as a teenager.
In fact, it is so embarrassing that my husband tried to stash it away for blackmail.
It reads: “Kiss a boy by June 15th”
I mean…. !??!? Really!?! It’s one thing to conceptualize it, but another to write it down on paper as a freaking teenager. Clearly, some of us lagged behind others in certain developmental areas as prepubescents.
Signs of Over-Regimentation
While my crazy drive has propelled me to succeed, at least in a worldly sense (and yes, I finally kissed a boy!), my routines, goal-setting and list-making behaviors were taking over my LIFE.
To the point where I was a robot:
- I would work a full day, work during the evening, and work on weekends.
- My blackberry was like my pacemaker. If it wasn’t buzzing or ringing, I wasn’t living.
- I couldn’t ever RELAX. Lay on the couch and watch TV? Why not do work, paint nails and talk on the phone along with it?
- I would often eat breakfast, talk on the phone, and review notes for the meeting…while driving (ever heard of knee-driving? Guilty).
- Even if I decided to take a “day off” on the weekend, I still made frequent lists within one day (grocery, workout, call Mom, work on taxes)
I had a one-track mind to achieve and win and get better at everything, and while I was successful, I often sacrificed fun, relaxation, social time and balance. And, therefore, HAPPINESS.
Signs of Under-Regimentation
Fast forward to late summer 2011, when I quit my job, moved to Europe with my newly-wed husband, and went through “corporate detox.”
- Sleeping until 9 AM
- Downgrading to a pre-paid, non-smart phone (gasp! at least for now)
- Daily long walks / gym-time
- Reading tons of books
- Intermittent travel
Talk about extreme change, right!?
But, while living in Europe, traveling and having the luxury of designing my own schedule are sexy, the lack of structure and my daily “need to achieve” have eaten away at me.
The Benefits of Structure
We are creatures of habit by nature, and just like everything in life, there has to be balance.
Daily routines have a whole host of benefits including improved sleeping habits, productivity and time management, and a calmer, happier outlook.
The Benefits of Spontaneity
On the other hand, as I learned in my former life, an overly-regimented routine around the clock can stifle our creativity, health and well-being.
Let’s be honest; we all know and hear that spontaneity can improve memory, flexibility, creativity, fun, and… well, you know.
In a Nutshell: Learning to Strike a Balance
So, how do we blend the two for maximized benefits?
Though I am a work in progress, check out some of the lessons I have learned thus far to get the best of both worlds:
- Find a “routine mantra” to combat stress and ground you during the day (During high stress, work and family obligations, priorities can shift, compromising emotional and physical health; I often ask, “Will I care about this in 5 years?”)
- Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day (Studies show 11 PM – 7 AM is best for health, though I know 7 AM is too late for most.)
- Choose 2 – 3 things in the early morning to awaken your best self! (Set yourself up to take on the day! I usually read for about 15 minutes, and reflect on the day while drinking a cup of tea.)
- Workout during daylight – whether in the morning, lunch or directly after work (Better for circadian rhythms and enhanced sleep, and I always find it improves my mood when exercising in daylight.)
- Find 10 minutes to “free think” (and/or write!) at the end of the day (This catches up our soul to the day’s goings-on! I find it promotes better sleep, too, because it calms my mind.)
- Find a “Spontaneous Mantra” to foster more risky/fun decisions (I like “Win the day,” which inspires me to view each day as a new adventure)
- Go on a technology time-out daily & on weekends (Force yourself to turn off the phone, TV and computer and just see what ensues!)
- Choose one small act of kindness each week (Sometimes, I call an old friend, make healthy muffins for my husband, let someone go in front of me in the grocery line, or even just smile at a frowning stranger…)
- Have monthly creative brainstorming sessions (Grab a pen and paper, set a timer for 15 minutes, and brainstorm about everything that brings joy in your life and in the lives of others. Then, go and do one of those things. I recently bought a keyboard to start playing the piano again!)
Will we ever arrive at a perfect balance between the two? Maybe, maybe not…
But, the lessons along the way, the tweaking, the small steps of success in the right direction are what bring revelation, wellness and happiness, and put us more in sync with the best form of ourselves!