Routine Vs. Non-Routine: Balancing Familiarity With Spontaneity

So far this year, I’ve been focusing on three main goals for myself. Not exactly goals, more like principles I want to follow. One of these goals relates to my routine and its role in my life. It goes like this:

Don’t sit still.

I love routine. Healthy patterns are great for keeping up productive habits, saving time and energy, and maintaining emotional balance. 

But like many things I love, too much routine can leave me feeling gross, regretting my choices, and not wearing any pants. So I set a goal for myself not to sit still. The idea is to keep moving, try new things, and not let a fixed, monotonous day define me too much of the time.

Let’s look at why this balance is so impactful and how you can find the sweet spot in your own life.

Why We Need Routine

If you’ve recently read any self-help content or scrolled through self-care advice on social media, you probably already know what I’m talking about here.

It’s a hot topic right now — morning routines, after-work routines, bedtime routines, etc. 

Daily rhythms like these, especially those you build intentionally, are great for building up repeated behaviors. It’s the same reason that habits and habit-building get so much attention. Over time, you become the behaviors you do every day.

Habits and repeat behaviors are how you take the healthy, productive things you want to do consistently and make them automatic. As a result, they become a regular part of your day without much ongoing effort. 

Routines, in particular, let us take advantage of habit stacking. That is, bundling up several good habits into a single sequence.

But even apart from all of this about habits and healthy behaviors and growth, routines make life easier. Putting some parts of your day on cognitive “autopilot” saves you a lot of mental energy. This extra energy is a precious resource for dealing with the elements of your day that need more active attention.

Why We Also Need Non-Routine

If having a routine is so magical, why am I trying so hard to break out of it? Why did I go so far as to make it one of my non-goal goals for the year?

See, that’s the tricky bit. Things that make life easier aren’t all we need. We also need challenge, novelty, and chances to grow and learn. It’s like that line from The Matrix about how the first version of the matrix aspired to be a perfect utopia, but people rejected it. The struggle is part of the fun.

It’s great to have parts of your day run on a smooth and familiar track. But when things get too familiar, we can get trapped in our comfort

When we’re too comfortable, we don’t learn anything new. We don’t develop our skills or grow more resilient in the face of a challenge. It might sound nice, but in practice, it never is. We never find new things that bring us excitement and joy. 

And that is why my goal for this year is not to sit still. I love routine and appreciate its value. But I also want to make sure I’m still moving, learning, and experiencing. 

Striking the Balance

Onto the question of the day: where is the line? How do we balance the practicality of routine with the thrill of novelty? You may discover your perfect balance in time. But for me, it works best when it looks something like this:

Let routine be the bread and butter. As you progress through life, you naturally find more of your groove. And that’s great; lean into it. Let your core routine be your starting point through your days, weeks, etc., and infuse healthy habits into it as much as you can.

But remember to shake it up regularly. If rules are made to be broken, then maybe routines are, too. Using your standard daily or weekly flow as a starting point, build up the habit of breaking out of it when you spot a good chance. Try new activities, meet new people, and do old things in unfamiliar ways. Keep up a spirit of curiosity and discovery.

For me, it’s about an 80/20 balance. Spending about 80% of my time on track with my routine and 20% shaking it up and doing things differently. Once again, the Pareto principle serves as the golden ratio.

Wielding the Double-Edged Sword of Routine

The ideal balance between familiarity and novelty might not be the same for you as it is for me. But I assure you, there is a balance. 100% of either isn’t suitable for anyone. We need the familiar to keep life making sense and the unfamiliar to give life its flavor.

So get out there and start tinkering with it! Think about your routine, how to build it up, and when to break it. But whatever you do, don’t sit still.

How do you use routines in your life? Do you wish you had more? Or do you feel that you struggle with too much routine? Let us know below!

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

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