Before you got anywhere near your computer this morning, you probably executed a series of routines that you use every single morning as you’re going through the process of waking up.

Everything from how you turn off your alarm clock and how much time you give yourself to wake up before moving out of bed was probably couched in some semblance of a routine. Maybe even firing up your computer at a certain time, and hitting certain blogs in a certain order, is part of that routine. And why not? Routines are what make the world go round–or so we’re taught from an early age.

–Or maybe not. The idea that everyone needs routines and that they are critical to success is one of those things that is pimped as a Whole Truth when in fact, it is only a half-truth.

It’s a kind-of, somewhat-useful, good to hold onto in a pinch kind of truth. It’s a modify as necessary truth, but many of us treat it like it’s the holy grail of truths, and when we set our minds to doing something and then that something doesn’t happen, we blame it on “lack of discipline” or “lack of routine.”

There’s a different way of looking at routine that could be embraced.

First, blaming a “lack of” routine when some new lifestyle change isn’t a “go” is a way of circumventing our inner wisdom. For example, we don’t ditch exercise routines because of lack of discipline or routine.

We ditch it because somewhere, deep inside, we just don’t want to do it yet. Can we just keep it that simple, and that honest? There’s a lot of lovely juice that we could look at there, if we risked being tender with ourselves and owning that.

What if, the next time you bailed on something, you took a powerful step towards owning your process, not being ready to make a change, forgiving yourself for any shaming and shoulding, and then looked at the wiser pearl of: “Why am I not yet ready to make this change? What Stories do I have around who I’d ‘have to’ be if I did this? What’s my fear?”

Blaming the routine can be the booby prize that maintains an illusion that will only re-execute itself, next time. When we attack discipline and routines instead of navigating our internal landscape clearly, we miss the point entirely.

Routines are only really useful if they’re used at the right time. For instance, I find routines really helpful when I have Resistance to something. Let’s say I tell myself I’m going to be more regular about my writing practice. The Resistance comes up, but it’s not so strong that I’ll quit (if it was, I’d refer back to looking at the “Why am I not yet ready to make this change?” question). The routine is what will get me going each day, and start to make it a habit that I will simply do because it’s routine.

But–and this varies by individual–for me, a long-term routine around writing is a recipe for disaster. How many times have I told myself I’d have a “regular writing practice” and then got into it for a few months and then quit? More times than I can count.

It took me years to figure out that the routine itself was killing the creative endeavour. The routine itself was this thing that helped me get out of the starting gate, but it had lived past its expiration date. Routines that live past their expiration date are just as icky to have around as expired milk.

The next question: When do routines serve you, and when do they not?

I’m not going to lay out the “Follow these three simple steps” deal. People’s reactions and experiences with routines are highly individual. There are some of you reading this who will think that this way of looking at routines differently is like their first taste of freedom from a lifetime of being told they were doing it “wrong.”

And– There are some people who love routines, who use them as a wonderfully grounding practice that help to live more fulfilled lives.

An excess of routines does not function in a fulfilling way in my life. If that’s you, then there’s a lovely middle ground that myself and many others can take where routines are like this tool that has a sticker on it that says:

ONLY USE WHEN NECESSARY.

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