Diving Back Into Practice

I swear, I had the best of intentions.

I was traveling, and I really wanted to incorporate some kind of daily morning routine. You know the stuff – some yoga, some meditation, some journaling, maybe even some inspirational reading over morning coffee. The kinds of things that start the day off on a roll of self-care and personal development, or at least (if the day goes to crap) where you can say, at the end of the day, "Yeah, but I did the things!"

There's only one problem with mornings: they tend to happen early. And when I'm traveling, my schedule is not terribly regular, including bedtimes. My level of activity is also variable – one day I may spend most of it sitting down, another I may be standing and talking all day, or I may be lugging boxes and cases and setting up equipment all day.

Now it could be argued that the benefit of a morning routine is that, when everything else is hectic, you have at least one area where you are consistent. Unfortunately, it's harder to get out of bed and do yoga when you're still sore from the three flights of stairs you went up and down the day before. Or to write anything coherent when you're still bleary from the late night after-gig sushi.

So what do you do when you want the benefits of a morning routine, but routines are hard to come by and mornings suck?

Plan A: Reboot

Unless you pay money for someone to coach you on it, there's likely no one but you who really cares about whether you've done your routine. Even if you do have a coach, it's not likely they'll focus on what you didn't do – instead, they'll ask you: what are you going to do now?

In my case, I'm at a point in my traveling where I have a week in the same place, and it's a nice quiet home in the outskirts of Pennsylvania. I have minimal appointments, and that means that I can reboot my practice – and I do mean reboot it hard.

I normally do a 10-minute yoga routine; now it's a half-hour. I normally have a goal of 15 minutes of meditation; I luxuriate in the free time to do 20, or maybe even 30 or 45. I take the time to make the journaling a delight for the senses, using a special pen and working in the sunlight with fresh brewed coffee at hand.

The idea is to immerse myself both in the pleasure of the acts and also in the habit of them. If I can meditate for 45 minutes, then it's easy to do 15 when I don't have as much slack in my mornings. I am creating sense memories filled with positive associations, which I can call upon later as needed when the environment or the slack isn't as conducive to the particular discipline I'm practicing.

Plan B: Screw Mornings, Anyway

You know who writes books on the benefits of morning routines? Morning people. Seriously, there is some evidence that this whole idea that "mornings" are key productive times is just a big case of confirmation bias by people who were able to get up and function earlier than the rest of us.

The postman doesn’t think for a second that the young man might have worked until the early morning hours because he is a night-shift worker or for other reasons. He labels healthy young people who sleep into the day as lazy — as long sleepers. This attitude is reflected in the frequent use of the word-pair early birds and long sleepers in the media. Yet this pair is nothing but apples and oranges, because the opposite of early is late and the opposite of long is short. – Internal Time, by Till Roenneberg (via BrainPickings)

So perhaps your chronotype would benefit more from an evening routine. Or a special thing you did at lunchtime. Who says these habits have to be in the morning, anyway? Journaling, or sketching, or yoga, or exercise not only is still good for you later in the day, it might even function as a great “reset” button that allows you to finish strong while your colleagues are fighting the mid-afternoon slump with coffee and social media.

Plan C: Get Real

We have a friend who’s working on improving her sleep habits, and she’s doing a good job. But one thing we often laugh about is the fact that most advice about sleep ignores the reality of being a parent. It’s part of her job description to sleep lightly enough that when her child calls for her, she hears them. She has to be able to function as nightmare-dispeller and sheet-changer and on-call diagnostician at any hour of the night, and then still get up the next day at the regular time and take care of the rest of her children.

Sleep. It is not for parents. Things that Natasha and I do to help our sleep are just not available for our friend.

So we get real. We celebrate the rare unbroken sleep night when we hear from her, and we support her in the occasional “Hey, I get to go to bed early!” text.

The fact is, your world may not support a regular routine as it is prescribed by the books and bloggers and coaches and such. That’s ok. You do what you need, and trust that the one unchanging fact about life is that things change. Kids grow up, seasons change, jobs move; you can do what you can now, and then take up your practice later.

You have time.

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