Lately, Glasgow has been kissed by the sun most generously. The weather has peaked with two weeks of pure sunshine and blueberry skies in a row. Having nothing else to do but exam revision, I spent as much time outside as I can because I love the sun. Sunny weather just flushes me with happiness. I want to soak in every ray of warmth before the yellow ball hides behind thick clouds again for the next three seasons.
Like every year in spring I realise how much richer my life becomes when the sun’s gentle touch awakens nature after winter. Good weather raises my spirit, my work attitude, my health, making me generally more productive and vitalised. If only I woke up to blueberry skies every day, my performance would skyrocket, especially when I lacked a boost of motivation to finish off some work. Unfortunately, it lies outside of my powers to control the weather.
The good news is that there are other factors beside the weather that influence our state of mind, mood, attitude, wellbeing, and performance. Further good news is that some of these factors have an even bigger impact than the weather on regulating our inner state. The best news is that the most influential one of them lies well within our action range.
It is our daily routine that possesses the highest potency to impact on our functionality, operating our bodily and mental state in various subtle ways. Having a daily routine means to habituate your body to a set of behaviours which you carry out every day. It is like clocking in as you open your eyes in the morning, registering yourself onto a personal work schedule, until you clock off as you close your eyes, wandering off to dreamland.
You could compare your daily routine to a jigsaw puzzle. Each puzzle piece represents a building block of your routine, such as your sleep, your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your work and social life, your chores, exercise, and procrastination, your hobbies, media use, leisure activities, and anything else that you do with your time in a day, like brushing your teeth. We all own a jigsaw puzzle like that, except that the shape of pieces deviates from one person to another since everyone goes about ordinary activities in their own way. For example, when it comes to sleeping, my flatmate and I could not be more out of sync. While I am a huge morning person, rising early and trying to get as much work done as I can before lunchtime, she is a little night owl. We are quite a funny couple because her day officially finishes three hours before I am about to start a new one.
Everybody also has their personal strategy of puzzling just like everybody connects the individual activities of their routine in a different way. We share a common set of routine components, such as sleeping, working, or eating. Despite that, every person spreads these universal elements in a distinct manner across the day, or week. It all depends on your personal preferences and which priority you assign to every single activity in your day. For instance, I am a person who prioritises exercise over course work if I am skint on time, whereas some of my friends would rather skip a workout to have more time for their course work.
In the end, jigsaw puzzles are solved by assembling the pieces as according to the one and only correct pattern. With your daily routine, the end goal should be to create an optimal environment in which your wellbeing and performance can reach their full potential. Importantly, there is no single correct design of your routine. Instead, you have multiple possibilities of joining routinely activities together. However, not every combination works equally well. One way of linking two elements might be more beneficial for you than another. For instance, I noticed that I am not doing myself a favour if I check my social media first thing after waking up since this launches an unwanted procrastination in bed. In the morning, social media pins me down to my bed like an invisible chain that I cannot free myself from. In contrast, using social media before going to bed actually helps me to wind down and fall asleep quicker.
Now, let’s recall three crucial things about our daily routine.
Firstly, we can actively control and configure our routine.
Secondly, our daily routine has a remarkable power to sway our state of being.
Thirdly, your routine ought to create an optimal environment, allowing your wellbeing and performance to reach their full potential.
What does a daily routine for optimal functioning look like?
I often find myself wondering if the way I go about some of my routinely activities could be improved upon. I question whether there is a ‘better’ (mostly healthier, more effective, or more sustainable) alternative for approaching may day-to-day actions. So, I seek advice from the internet.
Here are three exemplary questions that I have contemplated about in the past and posed to Google:
Q: Is it better to exercise in the morning or the evening?
A: Morning workouts are superior to evening workouts in terms of weight loss. However, your fitness is better in the evening. In other words, you perform less well in the morning. Therefore, neither is the better choice. The choice between morning or evening workouts essentially depends on your personal goals and the commitments that your workout has to fit around.
Q: How many meals should I eat in one day?
A: Honestly, when it comes to food, you can find voices, both scientific and personal, in favour for any type of diet. You are presented with as many prescriptions for dietary regimes as there are stars in the sky. One article will vouch for a diet where you eat five meals a day (one meal every two to three hours), and a counter article will claim that two meals per day is the way to go. The more you read, the more confused and uncertain you will get until you eventually start questioning the idea of eating in general. Ultimately, you just have to try out for yourself which diet regime suits you best in terms of feasibility, comfort in your own skin, and health benefits.
Q: What is the best time to go to bed?
A: Various health institutions recommend going to sleep between eight in the evening and midnight. As I have pointed out before though, this sleeping schedule contradicts the natural rhythm of some people, for example, my flatmate’s. As seen in the previous two questions, no universal rule applies.
What did I learn from my semi-conclusive internet searches?
I got inspired and broadened my knowledge, learning about several lifestyles along with their respective benefits. Nevertheless, I am still unable to answer you the question what an optimal daily routine looks like. Even if I asked friends, strangers, or another form of AI other than the internet, I would most likely gain mixed results again.
I am afraid this post will not contain detailed instructions for designing a daily routine which guarantees you the highest-possible level of personal wellbeing and functionality. However, I still have an important insight that you are more than welcome to take home with you:
Instead of hunting to find the optimal routine, search for YOUR optimal routine. Optimal is relative. The embodiment of ‘best’, or any other superlative for that matter, is never straightforward. Good is relative. What may work well for me, might not work equally well for you because our bodies and minds were all built with their own unique clockwork.
You may obtain inspiration for your own routine from others: from friends, from someone you admire for their way of living, or from science. But keep in mind that no ultimate recipe exists for creating routines. What works optimally for you depends on your goals, priorities, interests, your capabilities, and your limits. You have to play the trial and error game until you figure out what lifestyle complements your body the most. To adopt a routine that aids a happy, effective, and successful daily functioning, you need to listen to your body carefully. Once you learn the language of your body, an optimal routine will establish itself naturally.
Sadly, the rain arrived today. A thick grey blanket of clouds has replaced the blueberry skies. I know that I cannot simply climb up to the sky and push these grouchy, grey giants away. But while I wait for the lush sun to return, I can always create my own blueberry days which will do good for my body and mind.
P.S.: Although I cannot tell you what an optimal routine looks like for you, I hope you may find it helpful to read about some of my personal recommendations. The following things help me a lot to create happy, successful, and productive days:
- Honouring my bed time to ensure sufficient sleep
- Regular exercise, no matter if in the morning or evening because what actually counts is continuity
- Putting my phone out of sight when I am working to avoid distraction
- Limiting my time on the phone in general
- Making my bed in the morning
- Choosing a comfortable outfit to wear for the day
- Looking into the mirror and smile
- Having a little treat to look forward to each day, such as a piece of my favourite chocolate, a face mask, or a movie night
- Concentrate on one activity at a time instead of splitting my attention to work on multiple things simultaneously
- Not rushing from one thing to another
- Stretching for at least 10 minutes everyday to relax my body from accumulated tension and stress
- Engaging in at least one social or creative activity per day
- Intermittent fasting (I only eat between 1 and 8pm, fasting for 17 hours every day) because:
- it makes me feel amazing in my own skin
- it contributes to a more mindful savouring of my meals
- it rids me of debates with myself whether I should have a late-night snack or not