What is the first thing that you do when you wake up? Do you check your phone for news? Start breakfast for your family? Brush your teeth?

As Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." Our routines often define who we are and what we accomplish. A healthy routine can be what turns a good athlete into an Olympian or the founder of a startup into the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Many successful people have morning routines. Apple CEO Tim Cook wakes up before 4:00 AM every day to check email. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey jogs six miles before sunrise, and Ursula Burns hits the gym before heading to the office. However, don't be fooled. A morning routine won't automatically catapult you to success. In some cases, it might be hurting your chances and killing your enjoyment.

At their core, routines are a series of habits. Good ones propel us towards our goals, get us moving, and motivate us to go on with the rest of the day. If I hadn't developed routines, I would never have been able to build The Influencers while traveling around the world and writing a book.

However, even good routines can be overbearing. In an effort to make our lives easier and more productive, we develop habits, but we rarely think about how they may be limiting us. Is your routine holding you back? Here's what you need to know:

1. Don't follow someone else's morning routine.

According to Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project, there's no relationship between the time of day that you wake up and your level of productivity. It is how you use your time.

In fact, The Power of When creator Michael Breus, a psychologist and sleep expert studied chronotypes, the cycles in which our bodies align to time. In his research, he has found that our biology and genetics affect when we are most productive. He identified four categories: lion, bear, wolf, and dolphin. Each is connected to our sleep cycle. Trying to switch your natural cycle is like trying to stop gravity.

If you really want to be productive, follow the sleep habits that your body needs. If you are a night owl, then an early morning routine will probably make you less productive and more unhappy. The key is to find what works best for you. 

2. Rigid routines stifle creativity.

Everything about our common workday rituals, from the abrupt waking by an alarm clock to the daily, crowded commute inhibit us from thinking creatively. In these types of situations, we release the stress hormone cortisol. The hormone can damage myelin, the coating of our brain cells that helps us think faster.

We may do our best imaginative thinking at non-optimal times anyway, according to a study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks. If you are a morning person, your greatest ideas may come to you when you are lying in bed at night.

3. Seek out novel experiences.

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) found that exposure to novelty can improve learning and memory. In our brain there is a novelty center, also called the substantia nigra/ventral segmental area or SN/VTA.

This area is also associated with excitement, pleasure, and creativity. The thrill of experiencing something new can increase the level of dopamine, a chemical that affects sensations of pleasure and reward. Another study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that participants thought more creatively when they were exposed to novelty before a task.

When harnessed in a healthy way, novelty can increase excitement and have a positive impact. However, it is important to distinguish between perceived and real risks. Perceived risks are activities that are thrilling but statistically safe (skydiving, asking a crush out, bungee jumping, etc.). Real risks involve an actual, serious threat to your health and life (climbing Everest or robbing a bank).

Take a vacation to an exotic place or work at a different coffee shop than you usually do if you want to boost creativity.

Good habits are important. However, in order to be creative and see the world in new ways, you need to shake them up. Otherwise, you will only be exposed to the same, homogeneous information that you always have been, and it will stagnate your growth and success.

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Published on: Jul 17, 2017