I thought the reward for me was peace of mind. What I didn't know is that he gave me other little trophies as well: When I went to the gym five days a week, there was a little voice in my head that said, "You deserve two slices of pizza." When I cleaned the house on Sunday mornings, I always got a beer in the afternoon. And sometimes you are not even aware of the rewards you are giving yourself for the routine and I think those are the most important. With these rewards, I'm good to myself and telling myself that I've done something, so I deserve something.
"You're forcing yourself to anticipate the rewards," says Duhigg. "All of this is very good."
For Esmé Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias, "Routines and rituals are an integral part of maintaining my sanity," she told me. Wang's routines include "my analog diary where I keep a journal, manage my appointments, and write down tasks that, along with a variety of other notebooks and folders, organize things so that life feels less overwhelming."
Just as important – and perhaps more difficult – is maintaining routines. While it is important to write down appointments, I remember getting up at a certain time, meditating, doing my work at 1pm. and my phone breaks are acts that remind me of where the calm water will be in a potentially rough sea.
"When you change a habit in your life that you previously thought was important," said Duhigg, "you just need to be aware of how you are changing that habit on purpose."
However, external forces sometimes overwhelm the ability to sustain oneself. After five years of constant routine, the pandemic came. The first day I worked from home, my routine fell apart. They told us it would be a week, then two, then next month, then late summer, and then maybe after Thanksgiving. Sooner or later we would probably be going back to the office. I started to sleep later; When the gym closed I had to find a new way to work out, and when everything I'd ever considered part of a normal day for myself began to fade away, I didn't realize how depressed I was.