Wake up, drink a glass of water, do ten pushups, brush teeth, take a shower.
Journal, meditate, drink a cup of coffee, start work.
Have lunch at the usual time, have dinner at the usual time, go to bed at the usual time.
While daily practices are great for instilling a sense of structure into our otherwise chaotic lives, they can sometimes start to feel stale.
The ten pushups that energized you become a boring chore, the journaling that cleared your mind falls victim to writer’s block, the ten-minute meditation that calmed you feels like an hour of impatience.
If you’ve recently been subject to a lockdown, you may have experienced this even more acutely as your options narrowed and a repeating routine became inevitable.
According to the psychologist Ian-Newby Clark, the more we do things out of daily habit the more we risk losing the value that we once derived from them:
“When we are doing something that is habitual, we are not engaged in the task in the same way as when we are doing something that is not habitual.”
“At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice—giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share.”
Positive daily practices are obviously beneficial, especially when they replace negative ones, but we need to shake them up and refresh them sometimes to maintain our engagement in them.
It might sound like a lot of effort, but we can simplify this process by categorizing our daily practices.
James Altucher has four categories for his – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. He attributes his happiness in life to attending to each of these categories every day.
For example, a successful day could look like this:
- Physical – Exercise for 30 minutes
- Spiritual – Meditate for 10 minutes
- Mental – Write down 10 possible solutions to a problem that has been bothering you
- Emotional – Offer support to a friend who is having a hard time
So, how does this categorization help shake up our daily practices and keep them fresh?
By categorizing our practices we give ourselves scope to vary how we attend to those categories. For example, to complete the physical category for the day, we can change the type of exercise we do every week. Or to complete the spiritual category we can do different types of meditation or practice gratitude or explore prayer.
Ticking off our categories each day gives us purpose and fulfills our various needs, while finding new ways to tick them off keeps us mentally stimulated and fresh.
This mental stimulation, being attentive to the internal as opposed to the external, was the key to a contented life for Stoics like Marcus:
“There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”Meditations 4.3
You could take James Altucher’s categories or you could create your own. Just think about what positive daily practices have worked for you in the past. Think about what categories you need every day. If you don’t know then pick some and start experimenting, you can easily change to others if they aren’t working for you.
Remember, these are daily practices so don’t try to fit too much in or you’ll get discouraged if you consistently can’t complete them.
Here are some example categories you might consider paying attention to (including those previously mentioned) along with a variety of practices for each:
Diet and hydration
Eating and drinking the same things day in and day out can become tiresome. With better planning we can avoid defaulting to the same old choices.
- Plan a week’s meals in advance to ensure you meet your dietary goals while also keeping it varied and interesting.
- Try adding fruit and vegetable smoothies into your routine as a healthy treat.
- Explore new flavors of current favorites, e.g. herbal teas, nut butters.
Flex your creative muscles and do something for the sheer enjoyment of it.
- Writing – whether it’s a story, an article, a poem or a letter, writing is one of the easiest and most versatile ways to start being creative.
- Drawing – do a daily doodle. Enjoy it, it doesn’t have to be good!
- Experiment – there are so many creative pursuits that you could try a different one each day and see what sticks. Painting, crafts, knitting, photography; the options are endless.
Maintain motivation by getting your blood pumping in different ways.
- Cardio – running, cycling, dancing, jump rope, swimming, rowing.
- Strength – lifting weights, resistance bands, push-ups, sit-ups, squats.
- Games – organized team sports, fitness video games, boxercise, obstacle courses.
Explore a variety of methods for calming your mind to see what works best for you.
- Mediation – experiment with apps like Calm and Headspace, or simply try sitting in silence for a minutes and observing your thoughts.
- Mental exercises – try Stoicism, gratitude and loving kindness exercises.
- Yoga – a physical exercise with a spiritual core, there are many different types to practice.
It might seem a bizarre thought but habitual practices can make us less engaged in the process of keeping clean.
- Have different practices for different purposes, for example cold showers to energize and hot baths to relax.
- Switch between an electric toothbrush and a manual one on different days.
- Keep a variety of fragrances at your disposal so you don’t get bored of one and stop using it.
Keep your brain ticking over by challenging it every day.
- Reading – read Stoic philosophy, read fiction or non-fiction, read books or blogs. Don’t read the news.
- Learning – learn a language or skill and make a little progress each day.
- Ideas – become an idea machine like James Altucher by writing down ten ideas daily.
Never forget to do things that simply bring you joy.
- Make a cup of your favorite coffee in the morning and watch the sun come up.
- Set aside time to watch a video or listen to a podcast that never fails to make you laugh.
- Be present with a pet; put your phone away and have fun with your furry friend.
Take care of your relationships with yourself and with others.
- Family – do something every day to make the most of your time with those you love.
- Friends – check in with someone you haven’t heard from in a while.
- Contribution – do an anonymous good deed.
If you’d like to give this a try just set up three or four categories and pick one practice for each to do daily.
Don’t overstretch – keep it simple and achievable.
Don’t go crazy switching things all the time – when a practice starts to get stale, refresh it and renew yourself.