A friend followed the same morning routine every weekday for almost two years: Alarm at 5:25 a.m. Eat some apple slices placed in the refrigerator the night before, chug a bottle of water, stretch and warm up for five minutes, and hop on the Peloton at 5:45 for a 45-minute class.

He was so into his routine, he even had a name for it: "45 at 45."

Then a pedal on the bike broke. He needed to replace the crank arm. He ordered parts.

And waited. 

And his morning routine quickly fell apart.

Since his bike didn't work, he couldn't exercise. Since he couldn't exercise, he stopped getting up as early, stopped trying to eat a healthy breakfast, stopped building the momentum that helped him hit the ground running every day ...

His entire routine fell apart.

Routines are often critical to success. Breaking a goal down into daily activities and then consistently performing those activities, grinding it out day after day--that's how successful people accomplish huge goals.

Routines are great.

Until something disrupts that routine, especially since the more rigidly you follow a routine, the more likely a single broken link will disrupt the entire chain.

How can you keep that from happening? The key (hat tip to Ryan Holiday for the concept) is to turn a routine into a practice.

Routines Versus Practices

What's the difference in a routine and a practice?

  • Riding your Peloton every day at 5:45 a.m. is a routine; exercising every day is a practice.
  • Eating apple slices before you work out and oatmeal with blueberries afterward is a routine; eating healthy is a practice.
  • Holding an all-hands Zoom call every day at 1 p.m. is a routine; regularly checking in with employees to see if they need help or guidance or a quick word of encouragement is a practice.

Routines are what you do. Practices are also what you do, but are, more important, who you are.

Your bike breaks? If exercise is a practice, you'll spend those 45 minutes doing bodyweight exercises. Or a few HIIT workouts. Or going for a jog.

While the bike may have been your preferred option, you can still exercise. 

The difference is in the flexibility. 

One is about daily rhythm. The other is a lifelong pursuit. One can be ruined by something as simple as hitting the snooze button one too many times or getting called into work unexpectedly. The other can adapt accordingly.

One (a routine) is something you made up. The other (a practice) is something you do

When something happens to mess up your routine, don't dwell on the "what." Think about the "why." 

Focus on the goal your routine helps you achieve.

And then just achieve that goal, this time, in a different way.

Never lose sight of the fact that every element in a routine is goal-driven -- if not, why is it part of your routine? -- and there are a variety of different ways to achieve a goal. To eat healthy. To check in with employees. To monitor performance. To get customer feedback. To do almost anything.

No matter how important, no matter how regimented, no matter how carefully constructed, routines are not who you are.

Routines are simply what you do: what you choose to do.

A kink in your routine cannot change who you are -- and, more important, who you hope to become.

Unless you let it.