Habits, Practices, and Routines

For several years now, I’ve engaged (on and off) in the blogging world with mid-lifers and retirees – many of whom tout the spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits of establishing habits and practices. Throughout these years, I’ve prided myself on the fact that I am spontaneous and buck the very notion of routines and schedules.

Kathy Gottberg’s – at SMART Living 365 – has a great blog from the end of March 2021, about creating practices wherein she quotes Seth Godin:   

A “practice” is something done intentionally. You decide to do it yourself, or you decide everyone in your office will do it (if you are the boss). If you keep doing it, it may become a “habit” or may not. So, a “habit” is something you routinely do, without ever deciding to do it.”  While a habit may be a good one or a destructive one, our practices point out what we believe and back it up with our actions about what matters most to us in the world.

Per usual, Kathy Gottberg’s post got me thinking. And while I was crafting this post on habit and practice, today she shared a vlog inviting us to ponder what it means to live like you were dying – inspired by a Tim McGraw song. The post reminded me of a Kris Allen song of a similar name.

Most of my life, I believed I would die young. As I’ve gotten older, the “thinking I’m dying” tapes can still resurface from time to time and I wonder if I’ve done everything I want to before I die.

But, in reality, I’m 57 and statistically have another possible 30 years to live. So instead of creating bucket lists or thinking about what I’d do if I only had a day or a few months to live, I ask myself – how do I want to spend it?

I think often of something my son said as a teenager, “Life is too long to do the same thing every day.”

My Resistance

I know that much of my resistance to the idea of forming practices stems from two realities:

  1. I lived the first 13 years of my adult life in an actual “habit” with a scheduled, over-regulated, oppressive convent where I believed that following the rules was my only way to get to heaven.
  2. I equate the idea of habits & practices to “should” – whether imposed by others or myself.

After 25 WONDERFUL years of managing, balancing, rushing, and trying to give all I could for my children and 13 years prior to that living a life filled with SHOULDs and SHOULDn’ts in the convent – I am in a position to design a life that is not rushed or taking into account the needs and desires of others first. (Don’t get me wrong – if any of my children or my husband – or any child, friend, or family member needs me, I’m there!)

I don’t want to be beholden to “to-dos” or “shoulds” or “life goals.”

My Reality

Now that we are truly empty-nesters – with all three children living in their own apartments and taking care of themselves financially – my days and nights are not dictated by their needs. Of course, I love spending time with my husband – and we decide how we’d like to spend time together – but I don’t need to be responsible for him.

While I’m not retired, I am self-employed and have designed my work life to allow at least 2 four-day weekends a month, and never work the 5th week of the month. (Which is, of course, a practice.) I am fortunate to have control over my work schedule.

And I’m fortunate to live within two miles (an easy walk or bike ride) of many libraries, swimming pools, banks, stores, Starbucks, grocery stores – and within five miles of bike paths to the lake, forest preserves, and a beautiful river.

Habits and Practices

I have some habits – I judge neither good nor bad. I stay up late, laugh at my own jokes, watch every Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington movie I come across, leave the laundry unfolded and the dishes not done, read magazines front to back…

And some things I’ve practiced for years – intentionally: I’m a pescatarian (26+ years); I never drink coffee (ever); I don’t drink alcohol (40+ years); I don’t wear makeup or high heels (6+ years).

And recently, whether I like to admit it or not, I’ve adopted practices to create a healthful lifestyle.

  • Drink an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, fiber and calcium-rich smoothie 5-6 times a week.
  • Drink my own version of Starbuck’s pink drink with green tea, non-dairy milk, CoQ-10 and a few drops of POM juice.
  • Bike about 4.5 miles to swim 3-4 times a week for 45 min – 1 hour.
  • Bike about 20 miles on Sunday.
  • Read fiction daily.
  • Tend my indoor plants and outdoor garden.
  • Have a jigsaw puzzle in progress.

The Reason It Works

The reason it all works for me – is because it is NOT routine. No two days look or feel the same. I don’t do these practices in the same order, at the same time, in the same place each day. I am not obligated to do them. Each day I decide to do or not to do each of these things – and I don’t judge my decision.

But still

I know that I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunities I do to create a healthful lifestyle that I enjoy. Not everyone does.

The thing I haven’t yet figured out – in this “what will the next 30 years be” – is the way that I don’t get so caught up in enjoying my life that I forget my desire to have a positive impact on the world around me.

I love professionally working with small nonprofits doing good in the world, but I haven’t yet landed on what practice I will embrace to express “what I believe and back it up with my actions about what matters most to me in the world” outside of my work life. I keep asking myself: How do I create a meaningful lifestyle?

9 comments

  1. Hi Janet – this was a great post and I can totally relate to a lot of what you’ve written. I think I’ve flowed so effortlessly into early retirement because I worked part-time leading up to it and had a very flexible approach to my days off. Now I’m happy with a few scheduled commitments each week and then letting the rest of the days flow as they choose. Some things repeat, but never at the same time and never because they “have to”. I also choose to volunteer on one of my week days – that’s my way of giving back – maybe volunteering will take the place of some of your paid work down the track (or doing what you do, but less of it and for less payment)? Who knows? The loveliest thing for me about this stage of life is the freedom and flexibility to do (or not do) whatever suits me when it suits me – such a joy after a life of working for other people, raising a family, and being in a LOT of roles in our church. I wake up and smile every day at where life has taken me. PS: BTW I thought I’d die young too – even had my funeral songs picked! Now I think I’ll just enjoy however many days I’m granted and know that I won’t die with regrets – and hopefully I’ll leave a positive legacy – I couldn’t ask for more than that. x

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    • Leanne – isn’t freedom and flexibility the key! I haven’t met too many others who thought they’d die young (or too many who admit it). I think this mindset does impact how we view life as we get older (and don’t die!).

      I’m glad you’ve found your rhythm in retirement – and that you’ve found a place to volunteer. I think I’m still in that transition phase – so we’ll see how things play out if I’m ever in a position to retire…

      Thanks for joining the conversation!

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  2. Hey Janet! Thank you so sharing the link to my blog post about remembering that each day of our lives is precious. And I really like your thought process of figuring out where you are, what is making you happy/content and then where you want to go next. I do believe that is something a lot of us would benefit from doing–not as a “should” but as a good practice for making the best of each and every day. I tend to like some routines…like journalling every day, doing my blog, telling my husband how much I love him, etc. But I resist them when it feels like a “should” ….especially a should from someone (or group) else! Have you ever figured out your “Tendency” from Gretchen Rubin? She believes that the majority of us fall into one of four categories that tell show you what tends to motivate you to choose and make decisions. I found it interesting and helpful to know that I am motivated by both external and internal forces. My husband Thom is ONLY motivated if it makes sense to him internally. If you haven’t already, you might check that out. Otherwise, I look forward to reading where you go from here! ~Kathy

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    • Kathy – aren’t the “shoulds” the worst! Gretchen Rubin’s work sounds interesting – I’ll check it out. At first thought, I would guess I’m motivated internally. That wasn’t always the case – so I’d be interested to see how she articulates the process of figuring it out.
      Thanks for joining the conversation —

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  3. Hi, Janet – This post makes much sense to me. It shows that while no longer wanting to be tied to set routines, you have built in ‘regulars’ that work for you. Most importantly, throughout it all, you possess strong mindfulness. To me, that’s a great life recipe.

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    • Donna – I appreciate that you picked up on my attempts to be mindful. Sometimes because I am not busy trying to save the world or raising children who might — and I don’t keep any kind of meditation or prayer practice – I don’t give myself credit for being mindful and intentional. Perhaps I approach life like a cook — without a recipe, a little a this and a little of that as the mood hits!
      Thanks for joining the conversation…

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  4. Hi Janet, enjoyed reading and pondering this post. I retired early have struggled for the first five years or so wondering what in the thunder I should be doing with myself. Then my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters moved to the same city and now I have many days where I feel my life is not my own. I love helping with the grands. And my daughter has many health issues so I am happy to accompany her to the doctor or for procedures as her husband is a doctor, himself, and often unable to do so. But there are very few days where all 24 hours are open for my heart’s desire.

    I am a creature of habit and/or practice and like having a schedule. Not knowing when I am going to be needed and then being expected to jump when I am, is difficult. Weekends are spent doing what my husband, who is still working, wants to do. Some days I feel like I may never get my turn, my TIME.

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    • Leslie – it sounds as if you have your hands full again! I hope that you are able to carve out some time to take care of you too — perhaps you’ll fall into some type of pattern even if part of the pattern is big chunks of “need to be on call to help” time. Maybe a weekend or two you can find things you want to do!

      I hope my reflections did help you ponder how you can create your own practices — thanks for joining the conversation…

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  5. Wow, you’ve made me think a lot, Janet! I really like to idea of practices, rather than strict routines. I tried for a number of years to have a “morning routine,” but it has never stuck. I end up varying my activities, depending on what I feel like I need, which would make them practices. 🙂

    I think the pandemic has led a lot of us to think about what we really want our lives to become, as it has forced everyone to face their own mortality. I had Covid back in March, and I still remember that 1885 people died the day I returned to my job. When I ran for the first time after recovering, I thought of all the people who could no longer do that, and that being able to breathe easily is such a privilege and a blessing. Right now, I am being treated for early stage Lyme disease, so I am processing the fact that I have had another close call.

    I, too, struggle with the enjoyment vs giving back dilemma. I think they are a lot more intertwined than we realize though.

    Thank you for the food for thought!

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