Healthy And Unhealthy Routines

You know how fond I am of personal rituals. I find them fundamental for a balanced state. But just because it’s a ritual, and just because it’s personal, this doesn’t automatically makes it healthy.

There are healthy and unhealthy routines, and since they are both, you know, routines, they can both be consumed and perceived as personal rituals.

How Do You Know A Personal Ritual Is Healthy?

The unpleasant answer is that you don’t. The more detailed answer (and only mildly unpleasant) is that you don’t know that upfront.

You have to test. Hence, my intensive use of 30 days challenges. If I want to implement a new habit, or a new routine, or a new ritual, I first test it for 30 days. If at the end of these 30 days I can see some benefits, the routine sticks. If not, at least I tried.

It goes without saying that during these 30 days challenges I journal consistently, because it’s very easy to get caught in my own thoughts and steer away, not realizing if I’m really making progress or not, not realizing if the habit is really useful or I’m just hyping myself into it.

This testing stage is very delicate. If the routine I want to implement is energy or time intensive, it means that I’m blocking for 30 days chunks of time or energy which could be otherwise dedicated to things that I already know are useful.

If you do many, many, many 30 days challenges, like I do, it means you’re taking a lot of risks, and you are fragmenting your time and energy into many new ventures. And if many of these challenges are not becoming habits, or routines, it means you’re kinda losing time and energy. That’s a reality and it’s something that I have to come to terms with.

Every new routine carries a risk. It’s a tradeoff between the current status quo and a potential that might or might not materialize.

The alternative is to either choose a linear way of living (trying to preserve as much of the good you can, and prevent as much of the bad you can from happening) or give up control of your life to outside forces. Both are, in the long term, losing. Yes, there is a risk of missing out if you’re always trying out new things, but the benefits medium and long term are significant.

How Do You Know A Routine Is Unhealthy?

If it’s something that’s happening on auto-pilot, without too much intervention from yourself, then it has the potential to become unhealthy.

The easiest example is smoking. It happens on auto-pilot, 90% of the time, you just reach for a cigarette. In time, this routine can be really bad for your health. Not only because of the physical effects (which may, or may not be that damaging) but mostly because of the addiction that it creates. I would say the addiction, the soothing with something external, might be more damaging long term than the physical health problems.

It goes the same with compulsive eating. It’s also a routine that’s happening on auto-pilot. And it’s usually paired with intense emotions that can’t be processed differently. It may be anger that makes you rush to the fridge, or it may be sadness or feelings of loneliness. It’s an empty psychological space that gets filled out with food.

These routines are slippery. They’re not the result of some autonomous decision, they happen most of the time because we’re “slipping into them”.

And the same mechanism that makes a “good” ritual stick, works also for unhealthy rituals. Repetitions, positive associations and reinforcement, these are creating a feedback loop that enhances whatever they contain.

It may be running for your health, or it may be compulsive eating. It may be waking up at 6:00 AM every morning, or it may be a daily beer. It may be journaling, or it may be compulsive TV binging.

Just. Be. Aware

So, the line between healthy and unhealthy routines lies within. It’s called awareness. That’s why it’s important to stay grounded in the present. To understand how much of what you do it’s on auto-pilot, and how much it’s actually chosen. Not because some exotic teachings are blabla-ing about awareness, or meditation, or fancy stuff. They’re not blabla-ing, by the way, they’re spot on, but the exotic cover, the shiny wrapping used by Western culture kinda contradicts their nature and makes you believe they are some mysterious and complicated stuff that you need to work your ass to master.

At their core, they talk about the same thing: stay aware. Pay attention. Take action. Rinse. And. Repeat.

It’s that easy.

Photo by Dorota Dylka on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.