THE idea for this post really struck me yesterday as I squelched round my first round of golf in over 3 months. It was going surprisingly well and I couldn’t rationalise why. I kept thinking that since I hadn’t swung a club in anger for so long that my body would have forgotten the motion. Then there was the effect of the layoff on the most important part of golf – the mind. Surely with nearly a quarter of a year off, the doubt swishing around my mind would cause untold errant shots, dodgy decisions and poor scores? But this wasn’t the case.
Ok so there was the odd bad shot and there were certainly plenty of missed putts but on the whole not a bad performance. In fact, statistically, it was my 3rd best round of golf since I retook the game up again over 2 years ago. Amazed? I know I was!
The reason I felt with a growing certainty was something to do with my routines.
Golf has long been synonymous with the value of routine. I had actually worked hard on building routines into my game over the past two years. I tried to make sure that I set up for a shot the same way each time I was out on the course. I got into my stance in the same way each time, whether on the course or on the range. My putting routine was unvaried to any great degree since I had taken the sport up the first time (even though the feel may have deserted me in the temporary layoff). It appeared to me that those routines had enabled both mind and body so slot back into the habit of swinging the clubs without losing so much as a step.
After the round, I actually thought that not only had the routines helped me return to playing the game quickly and easily, I felt that I was actually swinging better than I was when I had decided to part company with the game at the start of the winter.
It’s surely more than just muscle memory as the mind is such an integral part of the game. The mind must surely be responding to the sense of familiar and allowing the muscles to use their memory – otherwise the mind would be trying to control the muscles and causing havoc.
I then thought about routines in my own job and the value that having those routines gave me. I have never considered myself a very structured or ordered person and a causal observer in my home may well agree that this is the very last thing I am but many of the people I work with assume (wrongly BTW) that I have some form of OCD as much of my work appears routine driven.
I have my best days when I can get into my routine undistracted and start to move through the day with confidence. That doesn’t mean that everyday has to be completely structured and controlled exactly as planned. It simply means that the morning routines that gently move me from sleep and home to work, perform exactly the same function as those routines that enable me to swing the golf club freely after many months off. Those self same work routines enable me to deal with coming back from holidays and get back into the work mode as easily and stress free as possible.
The days when I feel disrupted and out of control start badly and with a lack of routine.
My routines in work consists of:
- Coming in, booting my laptop and making a cup of coffee while it starts
- Logging on, opening Outlook and printing my calendar for the day
- Checking the morning reports and logs from the night before
- Highlighting any areas that will potentially cause problems for the day
- Checking my calendar and engaging for the rest of the day
Note that my day doesn’t consist of necessarily doing the same thing everyday. After this, I could have all day meetings, be sorting through backlogs of emails, working on projects, dealing with customers or staff or planning out new ideas.
The structured routine of the morning creates, in the words of Mason Currey from his book Daily Rituals, “a solid routine fosters a well worn groove for one’s mental energies and help stave off the tyranny of moods.” Currey studies the routines of many famous creatives throughout the ages and lists them out. In his introduction he cites chronic procrastinator William James talking about this very topic. James said by forming good habits we can “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”
Readers of this blog will know that I wrote a post entitled 10 ways to make yourself write every day. I have strived to make this a reality and, in another post was charting the use of Habitforge to create a new habit of writing every day but have so far failed to make it an “every day” habit. Perhaps this is down to the lack of a routine for writing.
While my writing output has been better and more than ever I thought possible, I feel that I need to generate a routine around my writing that makes it more and more like the golf swing or eases my mind into it the way the routine does in my workday morning.
Some quick takeaways for building routines:
- Start simple with something small. It’s important to give yourself quick wins
- Give yourself some time to groove the new routine to see the benefits. Ever go to bed early one night and wake up the next day feeling worse than you did the day before? There’s no benefit to be had doing something just once.
- Use something positive to build the routine rather than forming a routine that focuses on preventing something negative. Smoking is the classic example. Form new routines with your hands rather than focusing on not smoking.
- Change one thing at a time. More than that and you’ll overwhelm yourself.
- Willpower is a finite resource. If you find you are dealing with a lot of change, the simpler the change the better
- Make the barrier to entry as low as possible. If you are planning to go for a run each morning, make sure that you leave out your running kit in the handiest place to get changed into – consider even sleeping in your jogging bottoms ready to get out and start running – clean ones obviously!
I intend to explore some more ideas, including some from Mason’s excellent book and have some fun trying to implement them with my own writing. I’ll be posting about some of the best on this blog in the near future.