“The art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts.”
– C.G. Jung
Those who know me, know that I love a good stat about the brain and the way our brains work and just how marvellous they are. I am a big believer in attaching non-important tasks to non-brainer routines. If I don’t have to spend time thinking about what’s for dinner or if I will run out of fuel – I have more time to think, dream and plan.
It turns out there is a good reason to create routines! Our brains are incredibly needy when it comes to energy consumption, using 20% of calories while accounting for only 2% of overall body weight. When our routines are disrupted, we have to make new predictions about the world — gather information, consider options and make choices. And that has a significant metabolic cost.
According to neuroscience professor Karl Friston:
“Our brains are statistical organs that are built simply to predict what will happen next”
When our weeks run the same – morning coffee, Monday music, Tuesday yoga, Friday pizza night monthly book clubs and annual holidays we thrive. We naturally associate these activities with achieving a goal — health, friendship, education, and spiritual growth. But also the and ritualized way with which we might go about them, even down to our tendency to choose the same spot in yoga class or sit next to the same person at book club, demonstrates our need to minimise surprise and exert control in even the smallest of ways.
This can be the same way we manage our small business – being efficient by having structure and routines, automation and outsourcing.
Dr. Friston said that our brains, when uncertain, can become like overheated computers: “The amount of updating you have to do in the face of new evidence scores the complexity of your processing, and that can be measured in joules or blood flow or temperature of your brain. That exertion, combined with the primordial sense of threat, produces negative emotions like fear, anxiety, hopelessness, apprehension, anger, irritability and stress.”
Our brains can become overloaded with all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The unpredictability of the virus together with the lack of routines that served as the familiar building blocks of our lives has created brain chaos. Things we once had relegated to the brain’s autopilot function now have to be thought about.
As a result, we have less brainspace available for higher-order thinking including problem-solving and developing creative ideas.
And while we might think we are most missing the grandiose experiences of life – travel, eating out, socialising, in fact, it can be the mundane routines that have the biggest impact on the way that we feel.
This can be a reason why people take routines so far that they can manifest in hoarding, compulsive disorders and for some people the manic justification for breaking the rules by seeking out old rituals.
And while some people are waiting to ‘get back to normal’ that too can be counterproductive particularly as there is a long road ahead of us and there is now a ‘new normal’.
According to most of the research I have done we are better off trying to establish new routines within our current environment. Find those things you can do regularly and that helps you achieve your goals. The best new habits should be ones that give you structure and pleasure.
My morning routine at the moment involves lighting the fire, opening the blinds, drinking lemon water and then flicking out my yoga mat. The sound of the mat hitting the floor helps me set my intention for yoga and then the day ahead.
Pandemic-proof routines might include weekly calls with friends, virtual meals with family, walking, stargazing, set times for meditation, front yard happy hours with the neighbours or listening to your favourite music or an audiobook every night before bed.
While we cannot control everything in our life at the moment we can trick our brains into a sense of control by creating some predictability through routines.
What are your new routines and rituals?