I don’t want my life to be frittered away on the mundane and frivolous. My strategy for avoiding this is to do the “most important things” (MITs) on a daily basis (you can read about this philosophy and MITs at Planning Your Day With the Big Picture In Mind). A while back, I spent some time thinking about what “my most important things” were. I made a list, and each morning, I start in on this list as soon as I get up. The list kind of serves as a road map for my daily schedule. Right off the bat, it points me in the right direction. There are six things on my list currently (this number changes from time to time), and it’s my goal to get three of these things–two of which include reading (and not what you would consider “light” reading) and the other is exercise–done first thing.
While the coffee is making, I splash some water in my face, get dressed for whatever kind of exercise I am doing that day (I run every other day, do some strength training and core work on the off days), then pour me a cup of coffee, plop down in “my chair,” and start phase 1 of reading. I spend 30 minutes to an hour (sometimes more) in this phase, then move on to the next phase of reading (all the while refilling my coffee cup throughout the process). Then I move into phase 2 reading. This usually takes 15 minutes, but sometimes up to 30 minutes. Then I start the exercise phase. So my typical early-morning routine can be summarized read-read-exercise.
In the heat of the summer, I have to switch the read-read-exercise routine to exercise-read-read because I must get the workout in during the coolest part of the day, as I have a low tolerance for heat. But the exercise-read-read phase always feels like a stop-gap measure until I can return to “normal.” I don’t particularly like exercising immediately after waking. I like to have a cup or two of coffee first (perhaps you’ve figured that out)!
Thankfully, the temps have cooled down, and I have returned to my “normal” pattern again—but something isn’t right. I’ve noticed that my rhythm seems to be off. My mind drifts while I’m reading. I have a hard time concentrating. I’ll spend an excessive amount of time on one page. Bottom line is, I just don’t feel like I am getting the most out of my mornings. Finally, it dawned on me that I might need to shake things up in my routine. And this is where the “guinea pig” title comes in. I might need to do some experimenting—on myself! (On a side note here… As I am writing this, it occurs to me that it has been a long time since I have read about researchers experimenting on guinea pigs; nowadays, I mostly read about lab rats. However, I could hardly title this, “Be Your Own Rat” could I?)
Here’s how the initial stages of my self-experimentation looked. First, I contemplated what “shaking things up” might look like. My reflexive—near immediate—conclusion was that my options were very limited: exercise-read-read, read-read-exercise, read-exercise-read. Next (again almost immediately), I start rejecting the alternatives because…
- I can’t exercise first (at least on running days) because it is still dark outside when I get up (too many critters to worry about—two-legged and four-legged).
- I can’t read-exercise-read because, from past experience, I know that it’s hard for me to concentrate on reading after exercise because I am revved up and ready to start my day, ready to do something.
Suddenly I realize: That’s old data! That was my experience 15-20 years ago when I was at a totally different station in life (I still had children at home, lots of household chores, an 8-5 job, etc.). I believe my reflexive, knee-jerk conclusions are a classic example of “thinking in the box,” which is very limiting, very “like-it’s-always-been.”
Now that my inflexible, outdated approach to the situation was exposed, I could begin to creatively look for other ideas. What could I do different to invigorate my mornings and yet remain true to the MIT philosophy (I don’t get up early to spend those precious morning hours on chores)? I could try the read-exercise-read pattern, now that I realize I had previously eliminated it based on very old data and life experience. I could try doing part of the reading just before going to bed at night (which has almost the same effect as doing it first thing in the morning—”setting the mind”). I could introduce one of my other MITs into the morning mix.
The point of this post is not so much to solve my morning routine dilemma (maybe in another post?) as it is to 1) show how easily we get stuck in ruts that hinder our productivity and creativity, and 2) to share the joy to be had in being your own guinea pig. Yes, you read that right. There is joy in, first of all recognizing, and then in experimenting and solving life’s little puzzles.
There was a time when I would not have found any joy in acknowledging that something was wrong with my morning routine (or some other such issue). I would have been frustrated and irritated: Why can’t I get this right? What’s wrong with me? Or I might have just dismissed that sense that something was lacking and stubbornly pressed on in the same old, same old. Now, however, I have come to recognize that “feeling” is the still, small, gentle voice of God. I find joy in the fact that He talks to me about something as “insignificant” as my morning routine. I take joy in the fact that now I hear Him (He’s always talked, I just haven’t always been tuned in)! So, yes, there is joy in recognizing that something wasn’t right because it is an indicator that God talks to me about me.
As for the joy to be found in being your own guinea pig, well, let’s just say that “experimenting” with yourself, your schedule, your routines, your habits, your responses, etc. (as opposed to feeling frustration, irritation, discontentment, stubbornness) keeps life interesting. It prevents us from living life on autopilot. Being moldable, changeable, teachable, malleable adds spice to our lives. And it is key to staying young at heart.
Finally, I remind you of the Proverb1 that states, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” “Searching out” (holy curiosity) brings distinction to our lives. Searching out can improve the quality of life, not only by getting us out of a rut, but by tuning us in to the voice of God.
Have you experimented with any areas of your life? If so, what did you learn? Did you improve? Please share by leaving a comment.