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I have always had a strong pull toward developing my own self-care routines and healthy daily habits.
Developing a healthy morning routine has always been important to me, but some days I find I want to throw it all out the window and just do what I feel like.
My carefully crafted morning routine nearly always starts with having to get up early in order to fit in all the wonderful things—meditation, yoga, journaling, affirmations, strength training, taking the dog for a walk…a trip to the beach for a refreshing dip in summer.
I can never fit it all in—but aren’t all those things supposed to be good for me? Why does it sometimes feel stressful to try and get them all into a one-to-two hour window?
We all tend to fall somewhere on the spectrum of preferring regularity and routine and going with the flow—between structure and spontaneity. We all have individual ways of moving through life, and there is no one perfect way. And they are not mutually exclusive. But “going with the flow” and being spontaneous may become chaotic. It can make us feel like our life is out of control because we are reacting all over the place, following addictions or unhealthy coping patterns—rather than feeling calm and at peace. In that case, bringing in more structure can be helpful.
Healthy self-discipline has become somewhat out of fashion as a concept—but it is difficult to live an intentional, conscious life without some self-discipline. It is difficult to have good health without good habits. But there are many ways of framing this. I like the concept of gentle self-discipline. For others, it might feel better to frame it as unlearning bad habits and learning some better ones.
When I am starting to feel frazzled with fitting in all the good stuff to my morning, I usually just let it all go and tune in and ask my body what it wants. Sometimes it’s a sleep-in. Sometimes it’s to spend more time doing yoga. Sometimes, it’s a longer walk. Sometimes it’s extra snuggle time with my husband. Sometimes it’s to get outside and lift weights, and sometimes I get stuck on social media and spend the whole time following rabbit trails. Following my energy means there are things that I love that I won’t get to do—because a morning routine, any routine, has to have some built in flexibility.
Another example of finding balance between structure, routine, and flexibility is around mealtimes. Many of us do better with regular meal and snack times—kids, especially, do better generally with regular meals. When we skip meals or eat at random times, we can suffer from blood sugar crashes, which can make life feel more chaotic than it needs to, and then we are more likely to make poor food choices.
We might express freedom and spontaneity by eating what we feel like from what is available. This is my preferred way of functioning. I like variety in my food choices, I like to intuitively choose what I feel like, but I like regular mealtimes, or I get hangry! Others can manage better grazing.
Some people are happy eating the same thing each mealtime: porridge for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta or meat and veg for dinner. That’s fine as long as they are covering all their nutritional needs over the weeks. If not, their tendency to the daily structure may have become a bit too set in concrete, and it may need a bit of shaking up, some more flexibility.
I would encourage anyone stuck in ruts, to stop and ask their own body what it needs, what it would like. And trust the answer that comes. And to find some more playfulness and experiment.
Another aspect to consider is if we want to make a significant change in our way of eating, exercising, or other lifestyle habits. We may feel we are eating too much sugar or not enough protein, or we are staying up late too often, or drinking too much coffee, or we would like to start a daily walk habit. If we have been going with the flow, our flow may have gotten stuck in habits that no longer serve us. We may have been reaching for habits that help us cope short term, but don’t help us thrive in the long term. It can take a significant circuit breaker to establish healthier habits. It may mean committing to one simple change for a while so that over time new daily habits are established.
I am a big fan of the concept of intuitive eating, which is much more at the freedom end of the spectrum. I think we need both healthy self-discipline and intuitive freedom for sustainable changes in long-term eating and lifestyle patterns. Taking on some structure for a while to break the old habits may help. And at the same time, we can start listening more to our own bodies, which do have effective guidance systems, if we can listen.
Our bodies are not the enemy; we can learn to trust them. Strict dieting and external authorities teach us not to trust our own body’s signals. For example, we may have learned to ignore our natural hunger signals and swing between undereating and overeating.
I find myself dancing along this spectrum between establishing and following good daily habits, such as a morning routine that sets me up for a great day…and throwing it all to the wind and listening to my heart in the moment. Both feel like important aspects of caring for myself.
And sometimes my healthy food habits go out the window and I eat a sausage roll, or a piece of birthday cake.
And that keeps me human.