There seems to be a natural split between people who enjoy and thrive on routine and those who prefer to be spontaneous. The one allows us to arrive on time, be reliable and always (mostly?) deliver on what we commit to. The other, allows us to make plans on a whim, be wildly adventurous and back out of those things we’ve lost interest in (well, isn’t that what others would expect us to do?).
Of course, these are sweeping assumptions and probably paint each personality ‘type’ as an extreme example when the reality for most is probably something of a mix between the two.
Habits and Routines – What’s the Difference Anyway?
It’s often been said that we are creatures of habit, or, put another way, routine. From the moment we wake in the morning, we have a tendency to run on ‘auto-pilot’, from repeatedly hitting the snooze button (why bother setting the alarm so early anyway?!), to putting the kettle on or cleaning our teeth, these are all actions we take with little or no conscious effort.
This kind of habitual behaviour has sound scientific backing though, since, the more we can make certain actions habitual, the more likely we are to carry them out and the less ‘brain energy’ we use in working through those tasks. It’s a case of no decision to act is needed so we can swan through our rituals without a second thought.
But, it might be a little premature to get too complacent with this energy-saving efficiency, because as Mike Murdock reminds us:
“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.”
So, does this mean that we should act a bit more mindfully with these ‘overlooked’ tasks? Because, on the one hand we can keep doing things with little real effort on our part, but, in doing so, we are creating not only our present reality, but also the results which will appear in our future reality. But are we really aware that this is actually what we’re doing? Because, importantly, this future reality could be anything on a scale from: Wow, I have such a fantastic life!! to complete misery, including (but, not restricted to) poor health, loneliness, depression, lack of motivation etc.
– We have a daily habit of going for a brisk walk, regardless of the weather, it’s just something we do;
– We have a habit of criticising or getting upset with our friends when they fail to respond to our texts within a given timeframe.
So how might the future look for us if we were to continue with these habits (aka, routines)? Think of the ‘Wow to Misery’ scale mentioned above and make your own judgement call.
Let’s Just Do It!
And then there’s the other side of that shiny coin: spontaneity! That feeling that we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it!
I sometimes wonder though whether true spontaneity is a luxury that many of us can’t really afford. By ‘true spontaneity’ I mean a thought process that goes something like this:
“I don’t know where I see myself next month let alone five years. My whole life is last minute. I enjoy the spontaneity of it; I like not knowing what I will do next or whether I will be in the country next week.”Amber Le Bon
It seems to me that to have this level of spontaneity we must have the financial means to be able to support our whims without any concerns for a negative impact on our lives. If we’re going to be able to live with this kind of spontaneity, then we must know that we are not committed to a work schedule, family needs or even friends. For most of us, this kind of spontaneity would probably have too negative an impact on our lives to be sustainable.
But then I wondered about those people who have decided to ‘travel light’. The stereotype gap-year student who sets off to travel the world with just a backpack and passport. Can they not sustain a high level of spontaneity despite an apparent lack of funds? Well, maybe, but there’s very likely to have been some substantial planning ahead of the trip, including accumulating funds, arranging leave-of-absence from jobs or study and even setting up Facebook pages to record the travels!
So What’s My Preference?
So where does this leave me? Well, if I’m honest, I’d love to say that I love spontaneity…because it’s true! In fact, for anyone who’s interested in the Myers-Briggs personality types (a psychometric test which aims to help people understand how they perceive the world and make decisions), I am a true ‘P’ and I take pride in the words that describe this personality type as being me. Words such as: flexible, open, receptive and spontaneous!
But, what I’ve come to realise over the last few years, and especially since I’ve been on this journey of discovering my own personal philosophy, is that success requires planning and discipline. Planning to set relevant goals and written steps to get from where I am now to where I want to be in the future, plus, and most importantly, discipline to actually do the work.
Because of course, it’s easy for me to accept the positive words that indicate that I am a ‘P’, but what of the less positive words? Words such as: procrastinating, disorganised, overambitious….eek, that sounds a little too familiar!
I love the excitement of new things, I guess that implies that I have a clear case of ‘shiny object syndrome’ and am distracted by all the new things that come my way…yes, that’s true! But one of the best things about self-reflection (you’ll know that this is an activity I take very seriously from my previous blogs on the subject), is the realisation that sometimes change needs to happen and in my case, I’ve learned that I need to curb my natural ‘P’ if I’m ever going to achieve my goals.
So let’s take a look at the ‘opposite’ of the MBTI ‘P’. The opposite personality trait is, the ‘J’ and is characterised by words such as organised, structure and plan. A-ha, so that’s where they’ve been hiding! (I have to use a daily affirmation to remind myself that I am organised and tidy!) So it seems my ‘lack’ of ‘J’ could be the answer to my continual hunt for personal discipline to overcome my (natural) tendency to procrastinate. Could this be true?
Well, whether it is the reason or not I don’t know with absolute certainty, but what I do know is that being aware of my personality type for this area has helped me to make the changes I need in order to progress my goals.
Realising that my daily habits, both positive and negative, are building the future I’m going to be living has made me look at both sides of the ‘P’ equation and realise that I also need a good dollop of ‘J’ and that I need to build helpful and disciplined routines into my day. Because as Aristotle reminds us:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
Discover Your Natural Preference!
So what about you – do you prefer routine or spontaneity? How is that working for you? Are you seeing the results you want turning up in your life, still waiting for success to arrive or living the ‘same-old-same-old’ routines? We all need a bit of routine and spontaneity in our lives to keep things moving along with a freshness of new discoveries and a knowledge that we are getting to where we want to be. Using a bit of insider-knowledge about what makes us tick can help us to be get there. Why not check it out and let us know how you get along?!
If you’re interested in finding out more about your MBTI profile and its meaning, there are a number of free resources on the web, but I found this one, 16 Personalities, quick and easy to use, and yes, it was an accurate representation!
Photo: Wicker Paradise