Following on from my thoughts about capacity last week, I wanted to talk a little bit about spontaneity today.
One of the reasons that I’m so enthused about habits and structure is that they free up mental energy and decision-making power for the things that really matter. One of the most common reactions from clients when I suggest bringing in more routine is that they don’t want to lose their sense of the spontaneous.
What isn’t immediately apparent is that structure and routine increase your freedom and spontaneity, provided you keep them well within the limits of your capacity.
Habits and routines don’t have to be restrictive. In fact, I would argue that if your routines feel restrictive, it’s probably a sign that they’re a bad fit for you. It’s all a question of finding the right habits that fit your needs.
I was recently working with a client who works unpredictable hours, usually at night. Her schedule has almost no routine or structure to it and often involves last minute bookings and changes. She also has a dog, which she dotes on.
When she got her dog, all the advice she was given was that dogs love routine and that they need to be fed at the same time every day. Obviously, that wasn’t a good fit for her lifestyle. Instead of allowing her dog to have expectations of a strict routine with set times for walks and feeding, she decided that it was important that her dog became acclimatised to relative chaos.
She made sure (even during lockdown, when a more normal schedule would have been possible) that she fed the dog at different times of the day, in different contexts and even a different number of times each day. This actually took significantly more work than simply following a set schedule, but it ensured that she retained the flexibility she needs.
In contrast, she has a very clear routine and schedule in terms of preparing for her work as a performer. There are tasks that are performed before every event, in a particular order, and at a specific time. Her pre-event routine is absolutely second nature and allows her to find her ‘performance mindset’ and makes sure that she’s able to give her best.
It takes a certain amount of self-awareness to be able to know where you will benefit from routine and structure and where you need a certain amount of chaos. It is possible to hide within our routines if they become too ingrained, making us resistant to change or meaning that we struggle to take advantage of opportunities.
Alternatively, it can also be easy to resist structure, convincing ourselves that any form of habit or boundaries would constrain our creativity. One of the things this client realised during our work together is that she’s at her most creative when working within boundaries and structure and that she needs to have more habits and routines in terms of her personal training and developing content.
Everyone has their own tolerance for chaos and their own level of comfort with rules and guidelines. For this client, performance time is high stakes and takes all of her attention. This means that it is important that she has routines in place to minimise any risk of error and to reduce the number of things she has to keep in mind.
In terms of what this means for me, I’ve spent some time thinking about the things that I can happily leave to routine and where I want and need a little more uncertainty. One of the most important areas of routine for me is my mornings.
Not having to think about how I am going to spend the first hour or so of my day allows me to start each day off in a way that feels productive and centering. Ensuring that I have some time free each day to pursue something that takes my interest or catches my sense of whimsy is also more important to me than maybe I’d realised.
For me, finding that perfect balance is a key component to feeling fulfilled and ready to take each day as it comes.