The Power of Routine for Saving Your Sanity

Power of RoutinueNo one can deny that it’s important to develop routines to make life simple.

But the beauty of the routine is how we can create massive amounts of progress towards a goal with little or no effort.  Not in how much of our day can we plan out to the T.

Don’t believe me?

Twyla Tharp is one of the world renowned dancers and choreographers of our time with creating over 130 dances since 1965.  In her best-selling book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp discusses one of the secrets of her success:

“I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours.

The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.”

But how do you learn good habits?  And if you have trouble sticking to good habits or fall victim to bad ones, then it can be easy to assume that you simply need get motivated or that you lack willpower.


Newton’s First Law

But here is the surprising thing about motivation: it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before.

Getting started is actually what inspires you to produce momentum.

Check it out…  Going for a run may seem overwhelming or exhausting just to think about before you start, but if you can muster up the energy to actually start jogging, you’ll often find that you are enjoying yourself and become more motivated to finish as you go.

In other words, you may find that it is easier to finish the run than it was to start it in the first place.

This is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: objects in motion tend to stay in motion. And that means getting started is the hardest part.

We’ve discussed Newton’s First Law in regards to getting your plan for your shift off the ground.  So how does it apply to creating a routine?

Twyla Tharp’s morning routine is a perfect example of this idea in practice. Her brain doesn’t need to waste any energy deciding what to do next. She doesn’t have a debate with herself about what the first step should be. She simply follows the same pattern that she always does. And once the pattern is in motion, the rest of the sequence follows with little effort.

Naturally, there are going to be days when she doesn’t feel like getting out of bed and exercising. But her routine of waking up and calling the taxi takes the emotion, motivation, and decision-making out of the process.

The routine clears the obstacles so she can focus on what is to come next.


The Key to a Good Routine

The key to any good routine is that it removes the need to make a decision: What should I do first? When should I do this? How should I do this? Most people never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. Having a routine takes that burden off your shoulders.

As Jame Clear puts it, there are two guiding principles for creating a routine.

  1. The Rule of 2 – Make a mini-daily routine that is easy to say yes to (say creating your routine to last for 2 minutes, 2 pounds, 2 reps, etc)
  2. Everyday is a new day to succeed.  So if you get bumped of your game one day, get right back to it tomorrow.

And routines aren’t just for mornings.  In fact, you should create a routine for the transition periods in your day.  Here’s an example of my routines that help keep me centered on my health, family, organized and sleep.

My Morning (2 minutes long)

  • Hug and kiss my family
  • Grab a glass of water
  • Take my vitamins
  • Grab the ingredients for breakfast

After Work (2 minutes long)

  • Pack fruit in my carry bag
  • Sort the mail while standing right next to the recycle bin
  • Review of my calendar for next day
  • Turn phones/computers off through dinner
  • Get dressed to go exercise

Before Bed (2 steps)

  • 5 minutes of yoga
  • Read


Summing it up:

Use the power of routine to support the shifts you want to create in your life.

  • Want to get healthy? Use the same pre-game ritual for getting ready to go exercise and make it consistent.
  • Want to be more focused in your work? Create a five-minute morning ritual that gets you centered and out the door.
  • Want to sleep better? Follow a “power down” routine before bed

Whatever it is, make it your own. When you master the ability to mindlessly initiate the tasks that are important to you, it’s not necessary to rely on motivation and willpower to make them happen.

And remember to give yourself a “high-five” for completing your routines, cuz you’ll be more likely to do it again.


Life’s short.  So, make shi(f)t happen!


Know someone who could use a little help getting their shi(f)t in order?  Send them this post.

About The Author


Whitney, author of the forthcoming book "Making Your Shi(f)t Happen: A 6 week bootcamp to prioritize, organize, and simplify your life", helps professionals get waaaay more done in far less time (with far less stress), so they can get back to the important things in life. She is a wife, mom and lifestyle strategist. Grab her FREE videos here.