I Gave up Routines for a Year. Here’s What Happened

Alix A.

I was afraid my life would fall apart. It didn’t.

Photo byPhoto by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Here’s what I was afraid of: becoming lazy, gaining fat, sleeping until 10 every morning, feeling guilty, losing my job, not being able to carry out my projects, being lost, feeling lost, and not doing anything anymore.

Which of these fears has come true?

None of them.

Letting go of routines was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

Here’s the story.

A year ago, I was locked in routines

Since graduating college, routines have been the only way I’ve found to combat feeling totally lost.

As soon as my time was returned to me — something I was looking forward to — I found myself not knowing what to do with it. I had been working for a few years already, as a freelance writer, alongside school. But staying home and writing didn’t seem to be enough.

My life had always been framed by schedules and obligations. I didn’t know what to do with myself, without having to go somewhere every day, without having enough to do to fill my days.

So I came up with a coping mechanism. I recreated schedules. I recreated obligations.

Otherwise, I felt so lost it was debilitating.

I made a habit of waking up at 7 a.m. on weekdays. I would first have a cup of coffee while reading a book, before going for a thirty-minute run. Then I would come home, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work. I had to write a minimum of 1,000 words before tackling my freelance work.

That was in 2021. Then I got tired of running, so I replaced it with yoga.

When I met my partner in January of 2022 and started living with her, she looked at me with curiosity. She didn’t get why I imposed such a rhythm on myself, she who lives as she wants.

The truth is, I was terrified of letting go

It’s not that I liked getting up at 7 a.m., or following a specific order of tasks in the morning. It’s just that I thought it was the only way to fulfill my needs. To achieve my goals. To find time to work out. To move forward with my book project. To be efficient in my work.

I thought that, if I let myself live freely, I would become lazy. I would be unable to carry out my projects, I would gain weight, I would feel bad, and my life would become hell.

I was terrified to let go of these routines.

After many discussions with my partner, I finally realized the absurdity of the situation. So I decided to try to live without that framework.

Which was tough.

The first try was a mess

One day, I did not set an alarm clock. I woke up naturally, at around 8. I drank coffee. I didn’t do yoga. I sat down at my desk and started with my freelance work because I had a lot to do that day. I didn’t make any progress on my book project.

It felt like there was no floor under my feet. Like I was floating. I didn’t know what to do. I was stressed out. Afraid of might-be consequences.

I felt utterly lost.

I tried it for a few days, and then I panicked. It was too soon. I went back to my routine for a few months.

Probably I hadn’t made the internal mechanism evolve yet. I still felt like I was playing hooky.

It wasn’t ripe enough.

The second time, it happened by itself

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I was living in an imposed framework when I had built my life and my work to be free.

A few weeks after my first try, I dropped everything out of tiredness.

I started getting up whenever I wanted. When I had slept enough. Most of the time, it was around 8. I would make coffee as usual, and I found that I didn’t want to read, but instead go straight to my desk and do whatever I happened to want to do.

Often that was personal writing. My creative energy is best in the morning. Sometimes I would start with my freelance work if I had a lot of it that day.

I would just leave myself alone.

It did me the world of good.

I felt like I was living again.

What were the terrible consequences?

I felt better because I was sleeping more.

I felt more fulfilled, and more in control of my time.

I didn’t get fat, I got thinner actually — although I don’t think it’s correlated.

I didn’t work less. Surprisingly, I worked more. My energy was no longer consumed by the routine. Instead of stopping work at noon, exhausted, I found myself wanting to keep going in the afternoon. Since I dropped routines, I’ve been working more than ever, and with great pleasure.

I’ve learned to put less pressure on myself. I listen to myself more: sometimes I feel like going out in the afternoon, so I go out and do what I want to do, and often when I return I feel like working again.

In short, consequences are exclusively positive. Everything I was afraid of didn’t happen.

Routines seem to protect against chaos. Sometimes they do. But sometimes they become a prison.

I realized that routines are a good way to establish something new in your life. Movement, a writing habit, a reading habit, or whatever it is you want to improve your life with. Setting aside an hour each day to do something you don’t usually do can be very effective. It is for me.

However, once it becomes part of your life, you probably should let go of the routine.

If the habit doesn’t stay in your life by itself, then maybe it wasn’t meant to.

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