Anyone who knows anything about personality theory understands that some personalities need a predictable rhythm to help them keep order to their day (we're looking at you SJs). Take away the routine, and these personalities have a tendency to get stressed, feel overwhelmed and become paralyzed by inactivity. They might even blame themselves for losing control of a situation.
While routine is tremendously beneficial for organizing all the areas in your life, it does offer with it a level of boredom. Almost invariably, people who do the same things every day will end up feeling frustrated and stifled, even if their tolerance for routine is quite high. This is especially true if your "safe" routines keep you stuck in a rut, either wasting time or missing out on the new things that you could be discovering. Your work, social and personal life could all feel very stagnant if you don't challenge yourself now and then.
So how much routine is too much? And how do you achieve the optimum balance between predictability and creating opportunities to learn, grow, and getting the life you want?
How much routine is too much?
Back in 2015, Truity conducted a survey to find out whether there was any correlation between a person's personality type and how much money they earned. It turns out, there's a strong correlation - and the most financially successful personalities are the types who are most likely to create a significant amount of routine in their daily lives (ESTJ, ENTJ, ISTJ, INTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ). You can read a summary of the findings here.
One one level, these findings are not surprising. Plenty of research backs up the benefits of a solid daily routine in terms of controlling your schedule, minimizing procrastination, and giving you ownership of your life.
What's more interesting, is that three of the four types with the greatest income advantage also remain vigilantly committed to having new experiences. Traits such as flexibility, risk taking, and optimism about future possibilities are perhaps less obvious in ESTJs than they are in NTJs, but these personality types still enjoy excitement and hate staying stagnant for too long.
The difficulty of course, is getting the balance right for your personality type.
If you're unsure whether your routine is a help or a hindrance, a good exercise is to visually walk through your day. How do you start each morning? Do you travel the same route to work each day? What routines do you implement at work? Do you follow the same patterns in terms of your family and relationships? What do you and your partner talk about? What errands do you run, and when? What clothes do you wear, what products do you use? How do you entertain yourself? What do you do on the weekends, and who do you do it with? What movies do you watch? What music do you listen to?
These are some key questions to help you figure out whether you are repeating all the same behaviors on a regular basis. The next step is to eliminate some of those routines, and replace them with experiences that can really enhance the areas of your life that currently are too habitual.
Tips for switching up your routines
For those who take comfort in routines, letting go of the very thing that makes you feel safe and competent can be extremely challenging. Your desire for routine is connected with all sorts of fears - fear of uncertainty, fear of losing control, fear of coming across as unreliable or not being trusted to do what is expected of you. It's better to start your journey outside your comfort zone with small trips instead of taking a transatlantic flight. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Change your morning routine. Take the bus to work instead of the train or plan a different walking route. Give Starbucks a miss and buy your coffee some place else.
- Change the time when you do things. Work out in the morning instead of in the evening. Eat later (or earlier). Press the snooze button a couple more times - or get up at the first alarm.
- Cancel your weekend plans. Clear your commitments for an entire weekend - that includes your kids' activities - and leave room for spontaneous activities to occur. The only rule is that you must not do the things you would normally do, like eating at your favorite restaurant. Do something new.
- Read different newspapers, magazines and blogs. Read outside your comfort zone, for example, a news site with a different political viewpoint or a subject you know absolutely nothing about.
- Do something you've always avoided because you regard it as utterly foolish. This is a great way of forcing yourself to consider behavior that lies outside your immediate comfort zone or value system
- Work standing up instead of sitting down (or vice versa), or work with a different group, in a different room, or in a new location. Switching up your workflows forces you to pay more attention to what you're doing and it could expose you to a new set of creativity triggers.
- Keep an eye out for opportunities to be spontaneous, like striking up a conversation with a stranger or saying "yes" to an invitation when you weren't planning to go out.
- Do something you've always wanted to try but think you're no good at. For example, spend an entire afternoon painting a picture even if you have never painted before. It doesn't matter that it isn't a masterpiece. The point is, you've confronted yourself with a new, unusual situation (and it might elicit hitherto unknown talents).
- Consider another's point of view even if it's at odds with your own. Go out of your way to talk to people with different attitudes and worldviews. Talking to different people will open you up to new ideas and experiences - there's always a new way of looking at something; a new trick to learn.
- Book a flight somewhere and go. Make a reservation for the first night but after that, no planning. Make it up as you go along. That will blow your routines out of the water, and force you face those fears of feeling out of control.
- Consciously celebrate the goals achieved outside your comfort zone and use them as motivation whenever you feel stuck in a rut.
Everyone enjoys the security of a comfort zone and some personalities need strict routines to feel organized, balanced, and calm. A routine-free existence would be a chaotic existence; it would be one in which nothing could be planned, prioritized or assumed; where every decision must be improvised and re-learned. On the contrary, an overly routinized existence is a complacent existence; it limits our growth, creativity and happiness, and stops us looking for better ways to get things done.
The answer lies in carefully balancing a desire for predictability with the novelty of trying something new. Start with baby steps, and pick only one routine to mix up at a time. It's more potent to make a single change than to take on too much and fall back into old habits - but be sure to make some type of change. You'll know if your current routines are confining when you start to enjoy the benefits of giving up control.