Routines are Good. Adaptability is Better.


I had written two books and hundreds of articles and blogs in a coffee shop. I had a routine. It was dialed in and led to predictable performance outputs: Go to the coffee-shop. Order something good. Open my computer. Write.

As of today, I haven’t set foot in a coffee shop in 10 months. The demands on my writing, though, haven’t stopped just because my normal routine was off-limits.

In Peak Performance, Brad and I lavish praise on the concept of routines, outlining how to use your environment to get the best out of yourself. Just a few of many examples:

  • Eliminate distractions
  • Put your phone in the other room
  • Tie your environment to your desired behavior (e.g., place your running shoes by the door, have a notebook reserved for outlining book ideas, etc­.)
  • Place reminders of your goals, priorities, and core-values to keep you on task and focused

All of the above work, and all of the above are good advice, but what happens when our routine is thrown out the door? Routines are great until they aren’t.

Every athlete has a specific warm-up routine that they time down to the minute. They know precisely what they need to do, in what order to do it, and how that will make them feel before competition. They spend years perfecting their routine, and it works, priming their body and mind to perform at the highest level.

That is until they get to the world-championship or Olympic games. Instead of going from finishing the warm-up about 10 minutes before the race and being taken out to the track or competition site, there’s now a very large delay. Because of the pomp and circumstances of the Olympic games, athletes often sit in a call room for 40 minutes before the event. In other words, when many athletes would be at the very beginning of their normal warm-up is when Olympians are stuck in a small room, left to improvise, all before the most important competition in their lives. Who succeeds? Those with the best routine, or those who know how to adapt to circumstances that are near impossible to mimic in practice?

Routines work great. We should all have them. But we can’t be so dependent on our routine that if we get thrown off of it, we crumble. We need to be able to adapt. The first step of gaining adaptability resides in accepting the circumstances we find ourselves in and believing that we can show up and perform at our best even when the lead-in isn’t perfect. This is true even on the biggest stages. As Brad has written before, the first rule of routines is to have one. The second is don’t become overly attached to it.


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1 comment

  • Stef Cornelissen

    There is a different way of looking. For me a routine is something I use to get used to something new and roughly it takes 6 to 8 weeks to get the new into place. So routine helps to integrate a new element. Once it has become part of the tapestry reflect: extend or keep? Or even after a while say goodbeye..

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