A Healthier Routine

"Ritual is routine infused with mindfulness. It is habit made holy."
Kent Nerburn
What do you put into your day? Time is limited between the risings of the sun, so we must make choices about what to do each day. What fills our day shows what our apparent priorities are. If we are a student the day should include study. If we are a parent the day includes child care. If we are a wage earner, most days will include work. If we are ill, the day should include activities that will help us heal.

Most of us have multiple roles to fill. With competing priorities, it can be difficult to choose what to put into any given day. In monastic life, things are simplified. The priority is spiritual development, so prayer, meditation and ritual become central to the daily schedule. The time of rising is usually early, but it is clearly established. Time is set for eating, working and sleeping. The schedule may not change much from day to day, so the monks are able to put their attention on their spiritual endeavors. The sameness of the routine helps them to focus on their inner world and find a sense of peace.

Those of us in the lay world might also benefit by creating a schedule that reflects our priorities but reduces the stress of constant choosing, forgetting, avoiding or rescheduling the things we want or ought to do.

Consider these suggestions:


Most people don’t get enough. People who are depressed may get too much sleep. Aim for 7 or 8 hours a night. Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning helps your body to know when it should be shutting down for sleep and when it should be ready to get up. People with sleep problems should strive for a regular sleep schedule. If you feel tired all the time you probably need to get more sleep, rather than more caffeine.


Three meals a day is not enough. The human body tends to function better on more frequent small meals. Try eating breakfast, lunch and dinner taking slightly smaller portions, but eating a healthful light snack between meals. This will keep your blood sugar more stable and decrease the hunger cravings that may lead to bingeing and choosing unhealthy foods when your body wants a quick sugar fix.


Your body needs to move. Exercise is necessary for physical health, but also for a healthy mood. Thirty minutes of brisk walking or equivalent exercise should be on everyone’s schedule.


Life should not be all drudgery. When you have many responsibilities, it is easy to drop fun from your priorities. That’s a bad idea. You will be more effective at what you do if you are able to enjoy yourself. Plan some pleasant activities into your day. Maybe you could combine your fun activities with your exercise activities.


Spend 15 to 30 minutes a day meditating or doing a relaxation exercise, such as progressive muscle relaxation or creative visualization. Your mind and body will thank you for it. Mahatma Gandhi used to say "I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one." If he could meditate for one or two hours a day and have the time to overthrow colonial rule, you can squeeze in 15 minutes, which is only 1% of a 24 hour day.

Spiritual exercise

Meditation fits under the heading of spiritual exercise as well as being a tool for relaxation, but prayer and reading inspirational material can also put you in the frame of mind to know what really matters. Take time to connect with the source of your wisdom.

Positive thinking

The culture bombards us with negative messages, and most of us have picked up negative beliefs about ourselves along the journey. In order to be happy, we must counter our negative thoughts. Get in the habit of spending 15 minutes of your day focusing on positive thinking. You might smile into the mirror while you are grooming yourself and tell yourself that you like yourself and are worthy of good experiences. The sillier this seems, the more you need to do it. You can also say or write affirmations or record them and listen to them on a tape player as you drive or as you go to sleep.

If you are already perfectly happy, healthy and spiritually at peace, maybe you don’t need to do all these things. Then again, anyone in that enviable state has probably already done these things to have gotten to that point. For the rest of us, creating a daily routine that includes activities that make us healthy, calm, balanced, resilient to stress and spiritually well grounded should be a goal that we take seriously. Take time to examine your daily routine. Look at your priorities. What kind of life do you want? What do you need to put into your life to get out of it what you want?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett