Routines Aren’t Fun—They’re Necessary
“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” -Mike Murdock
Successful athletes and business leaders live and die by routine. People tend to think there’s a secret sauce to success—talent, genes, or a magical unicorn. There’s usually some x-factor that contribute to one’s success. But all these aside, successful people are really good at doing mundane tasks. They’ve incorporated standard operating procedures into their lives to automate simple yet effective tasks.
Routines — it’s the daily occurrences of what we do. Brushing our teeth, eating breakfast, driving to work, picking our children up from school. Some of these routines are mundane and require no mental energy—like breathing, you just do it.
I’ll tell you that routines are boring. For the most part, they’re not glamorous. I’ve made exercising deeply embedded into my daily routine that if I skip a day of exercising then I believe something is wrong.
Let’s take a look at a couple examples where simple routines can create big wins.
Michael Phelps follows a strict routine on race days.
Nutrition: Eggs, oatmeal, and four energy shakes.
Warm-up: 800 meters of mixed styles, 600 meters of kicking, 400 meters of pulling a buoy between his legs, 200 meters of stroke drills, and a series of 25-meter sprints. The warm-up lasts exactly 45 minutes.
Waiting game: He puts on some tunes and waits until his name is called. You’ve seen his game face.
Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, developed routines for Phelps since he was seven years old. At the end of each practice, Bowman would tell Phelps to go home and watch the videotape. The “videotape” was a mental visualization of the perfect race. Phelps would visualize every minute detail of the perfect race every morning and night—his dive into the pool, strokes and turns, the wake he’d leave, the water dripping off his cap, and his hand touching the wall at the finish.
Before and during a race, Bowman would tell Phelps to turn on the videotape. Phelps would know exactly what to do.
During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Phelps dove into the water for the 200-meter butterfly, his strongest event. He immediately knew something was wrong when water was seeping into his goggles. Eventually, he was swimming blind. He kept calm and at the final turn, he counted the amount of strokes he’d need for a final push. After 21 strokes he hit the wall, removed his goggles and saw the scoreboard. A “WR” was listed next to his name. “WR” means “world record.”
“Let what is irksome become habitual, no more will it trouble you.” -Ovid
When Kobe Bryant was still playing basketball, he’d have the same shooting routine before tip-off. Usually four hours before game time, hours before other players get on the court to warm up, Bryant would begin his regiment.
He’d loosen up under the rim, making approximately 20 shots with each hand to get a feel for the ball going through the net. Bryant would then make mid-range shots, free throws, 3-pointers, and a wide variety of shots.
Every move you saw in a game, he practiced countless times before game time—crossovers, fadeaway jumpers, step-back 3’s, etc..
J.J. Outlaw, the Lakers video coordinator/player development coach would rebound for Bryant during his warm-ups. He said, “Everything that he does within the course of the game, when he has the ball, it’s the same thing you see him do within his workouts. And he’s meticulous about it. . . He’s over-emphasizing everything that he does so that when he gets in the game, it’s second nature to him.”
Bryant’s pregame routine lasted around 30 minutes, during which he’d make around 250 shots before leaving the court, lathered in sweat.
Kobe Bryant’s game face. “Black Mamba” mode initiated.
“I figured out at an early age, even if I showed them what it is that I do, they wouldn’t do it, just because it’s so boring and so much repetition that it takes a long time to do.” -Kobe Bryant
That’s fucking right, I just plugged myself. I thought I’d add an average Joe in here because let’s face it, neither of us are Michael Phelps or Kobe Bryant.
Late last year, I committed myself to write more frequently. I was scouring articles and books to accomplish these goals. Then I found an amazing Medium publication, 100 Naked Words. The goal is simple—write 100 words every day. Content or context is unimportant—just write.
I began writing. There were definitely mental blocks and I missed days here and there. I finished the goal. As I hit my stride towards the latter part of the project I found myself easily writing 300–500 words in 20 or so minutes. Impressive for myself since my writing process is slow.
Takeaway: A daily 100-word writing routine allowed me to write more frequently. 100 words isn’t much but it was enough to get a routine going. I started with a small commitment and I organically built more on top of that commitment.
At this point, you might be disappointed. You might not have received an “aha” moment or a jolt of inspiration.
Not only did you not get a burst of orgasmic inspiration, you also read about my boring routine of learning to improve my writing habit.
This is what routine is. Like Kobe said, “it’s boring.” Routines are the grunts of your lifestyle. Automatic and unconscious actions that takeover your life.
Start by taking inventory of every action (and I mean every action) you take in your daily life. This involves selecting your clothes, breakfast, the content you absorb—ev-er-y-thing.
Figure out how you can replace unhealthy routines with healthy ones.
Like reading an e-book instead of browsing social media.
Taking the stairs to the fourth floor instead of taking the elevator.
Taking a moment to breathe to chill out when shit hits the fan instead of panicking.
Taking cold showers, drinking water, exercising, reading, and writing. I’m sure they’re all good routines for you. But you have to find a routine that is consistent with your purpose and goals.
“If I don’t paint for one day, I don’t feel well physically or mentally.” -Raphael Soyer
If you’re an aspiring writer, you can use the power of visualization, like Michael Phelps, to picture your masterpiece. Imagine your fingers hitting the keyboard, the sound the keys make, and watching the letters appear on the screen.
Like Kobe Bryant, you carry out your visualizations into a physical practice. A boring, repetitive, practice that trains you to become a master of written word.
Suddenly, you become an “overnight success.” All because of the boring, mundane, repetitive, necessary routines you have in your life.