The Power of Routine in Cementing Habits, Lifting Mood and Increasing Productivity.

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”

― W. H. Auden

I’ve worked hard on perfecting my day to day routines over the last half year – in the process cementing a number of positive habits that has had a profound effect on my general mood, motivation and productivity.

Not only have I been far more consistent in going through my morning routine, the implementation of an evening routine (as recommended by my therapist) has, among a number of other benefits, helped improve my relationship to sleep tremendously.

For those interested readers I have listed a breakdown of my current morning and evening routines in detail below. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration should you be looking to build upon your own morning and evening routines.

My Morning routine:

#1 Wake up – Drink a glass of water and make my bed first thing! (This sets the tone). 

#2 Go to the bathroom – brush my teeth and weigh myself. 

#3 Change into workout clothes – then meditate for 10 – 20 mins without fail!

#4 Exercise for 5mins (if nothing else) to 1 hour (usually 30-40mins of HIT or Weights/Strength trainingFor those interested in doing similar I can highly recommend checking out fitness blender online or via YouTube. They have hundreds of brilliant at-home workouts for all levels, that require nothing more than a yoga mat).

#5 Shower and get changed into my best clothes for the day! 

#6 Make Brunch – low carb/high protein – and take my vitamins (I usually skip breakfast as part of my fasting window in which I only eat during a block of 8 hours a day) with coffee or tea. 

#7 Go to Office –review my day plan/goals and write in my journal. (I keep my journalling very simple – tip hat to Tim Ferris for the inspiration – by asking myself a few questions. Those are: What am I grateful for? What is worrying you most today (and what can i do about it)? What would make today great (how would you spend it if it were your last)?)

#8 Write or work for 1 hour. (Sometimes in the chaos of playing with my boy or doing other things I’ll ear-mark a period in the afternoon- usually when my son has his nap – for work and/or writing ✍️). 

My Evening routine:

#1 Have dinner as a family at the table – mention one thing you’re grateful for today and one thing you could have done better (works well as a conversation starter).

#2 After dinner – run through Liam’s bed time routine and put him to bed. 

#3 Go to the office immediately after and write tomorrow’s plan/goals and also in my journal. (Again I ask myself a few simple questions. Those are: 3 amazing things that happened today? What did you do well? How could i have made today better? What did i learn?)

#4 Shower and change into pyjamas. 

#5 Make a cup of tea to enjoy on the couch – watch some TV/play games (Limit to 1 hour or 1 movie) and/or read. 

#6 Stretch – 30 mins of gentle Yoga (I usually do this while watching TV)

#7 Brush teeth/get ready for bed then TALK TO HOLLY EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL! (How have you been doing today? Are you OK? What are some things you have been thinking about or are bothering you?)

#8 Reading

#9 Evening meditation (visualisation) then sleep. 

Routine is massively underrated and something I now believe to be so so important.

Some key takeaways… 

Start small and do what you can. On a near perfect day I’ll tick every item off the list but I rarely do. Thats ok. I don’t imagine many would ever be able to run through their routines perfectly, so if you can’t do, for example, 20 mins Meditation then do 10. If you can’t do 10, do 5. If you can’t do 5 (really?) do 1. If all you have time for is 1 push up then just do that. Tick it off and improve the next day. The important thing is to show up. 

Change it to suit your needs on the day. I often have to change the order if I don’t have the time for something like getting in a proper session of exercise. In this case I’ll try reschedule it for the afternoon or count it as my weekly rest day. If it doesn’t get done don’t beat yourself up – simply get on the horse the next day. 

That said I have found that if I do just 3 or 4 out of 8/9 on each list, I’ll have a much better day than having done nothing. For that reason I have a few NON NEGOTIABLE ITEMS.

In the morning these are making the bed and meditating first thing. I also make sure to write in my journal (I’ll do it over breakfast if I’m really pushed for time as it only takes 5 minutes. This is about the same amount of time it takes to brush my teeth, so I feel there are no excuses).

In the evening my non negotiable items are making my plan for the following day and again writing in my journal. Also talking to my wife at the end of the day, if only for 5 minutes. I like to think of these non-negotiable items as my abbreviated MRs and ERs.

If all else about my day fails and turns to complete dog shite, I can at least to go to bed knowing that I’ve done these simple things. I showed up even on a bad day.

With the world in isolation because of the COVID-19 I might add that now is the perfect time to start implementing your own morning and evening routines. Ones that help to build healthier long-term habits to hopefully last far longer than this crisis does.

Mission ImBACKible – How do you fix chronic back pain and what if you can’t?

My mother has suffered with chronic back pain and sciatica for many years now. Sadly she still does.  

Her story is very similar to countless others. A story of multiple misdiagnoses and scans which showed little, if nothing, out of the ordinary. 

Ultimately the frustration over many years led her down the path of trusting a surgeon to remove one of her discs and then fuse two vertebra together.

It didn’t work.

In fact, it made matters worse. 

Forgetting the fat cheque that private surgeon took home, or the many painful and frustrating nights that followed, the happy ending to the story is this. 

My mum can do more or less everything she wants. She can stand. She can sit (although not for too long). She can walk. Her overall range of motion is good. She can pick up and hold her grandson. She can play with and read to him while sat in her lap. And she can do all of this without too much pain.

BUT.

She still suffers from chronic back pain.

She manages her pain by doing a number of daily mobility exercises, walking often and sitting less. When she does sit she uses a pillow for support (to watch tv or have dinner) and stands regularly to stretch. On top of this she occasionally goes swimming or attends a pilates class. She also takes pain killers to help her sleep through at night. All of this means she can still have a decent quality of life.

The main point is this though:

SHE MANAGES HER PAIN. Her pain has not been cured, but SHE HAS MADE PEACE WITH IT. She doesn’t complain about it or let it detract from her day. She simply gets on with life. 

Her acceptance, despite many years of fighting this frustrating, heart-breaking battle, is truly inspirational.

It’s an important lesson I mean to take with me as I attempt to solve/manage my own issues with back pain. 


A WORD OF WARNING ⚠️ 

(I should say, for those who are considering back surgery as an option to help cure their own back pain, proceed with caution!! Surgery should be the absolute last call of action and even then, you better be damn sure you have an accurate diagnosis. 

Peter Ullrich, an orthopaedic surgeon, has this to say,

“The number one determining factor whether or not a fusion surgery will deliver the desired reduction in pain is an accurate preoperative diagnosis, meaning a diagnosis that clearly identifies the underlying cause of the patient’s pain.

Identifying degeneration of other changes in the spine is not sufficient—the diagnosis needs to identify that those changes in the spine are actually causing the patient’s pain. Many people have a bulging disc, herniated disc, stenosis, and other issues with their spine, but no pain.

I can’t stress this point enough.”

If you’d like to know more please have a read of this article).


So what’s wrong with me?

A lot of things but let’s stick to the topic of my back for now. 

I injured my back early on while training for the London marathon in 2014. Instead of backing off though, I ran through it, repeatedly… Stupid, I know. 

Following that I attempted to run a half marathon in new shoes, a month out from the main event, during which something in the back of my right knee gave way… Stupid, I know.

I limped home and didn’t train again till I ran the actual thing. 

On race day I wore a compression top for my back and had both knees strapped. Despite feeling pain in both, I felt committed (having asked so many people to sponsor my brother and I), so I ran the London marathon anyway… Stupid, I know. 

(Side note: I should write a piece on how not to run a marathon). 

I finished in what was probably a record slow time for my age, but I finished! It was an unforgettable day and one that I cherish.

BUT.

It came at a price. 

The long term result is, I’ve suffered on and off with a variety of different issues related to the back and neck ever since. While it’s clearly been nothing serious, as multiple MRI scans have shown, my back has never truly healed either. 

More recently (a few weeks back to be exact), I managed to put my back out lifting weights, bringing on a fresh wave of lower back pain and sciatica that has, quite frankly, scared the shit out of me. 

What if it’s something serious? 

What if I never can never lift weights again? 

What if I have chronic back pain for life? 

What if, what if…. I, I, I… Me, me, me….

STOP!

Take a breath. 

Observe. 

Proceed.

After a long period of catastrophizing and feeling sorry for myself, its clear I’m in a dangerous position of falling down the rabbit hole again.

I need a plan.

So, here it is…

1) Start treatment with my PHYSIO. (I know a lot of people who swear physio off as inconsequential, but I think it has its place. I can’t say it’s ever been a cure to my problems but I have responded positively to it, feeling better after – if only for a day or two. Nonetheless I believe it’s better than not having it, so I plan to continue)

2) Start treatment with an OSTEOPATH. I’ve had success with Osteopathy before, so I’m going to start here before considering other forms of treatment. (Those that I want to have look at include Acupuncture &/or Acupressure, Active Release Technique (ART), Biopuncture and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilisation (DNS) should the physio and osteopath not prove affective).  

3) In the interim I’m going to get an MRI SCAN to help see exactly what is or isn’t going on in my lower back – hopefully ruling out some more nasty possibilities as a result. 

4) Following that I’m going to take MRI results to an ORTHOPAEDIC specialist for advice on the problem.

5) Research/test out the best WAYS TO MANAGE MY BACK PAIN AT HOME AND AT WORK including the BEST STRETCHING AND STRENGTH EXERCISES plus HOW TO SIT, STAND AND WALK properly. Also what not to do and what other things or tools (shoes etc.) one can use to help (A pilots guide to managing back pain – my next blog post will be a result of this particular research). 

6) Follow up with my results later this year, looking into HOW I CAN PREVENT SIMILAR INJURIES GOING FORWARD and to make sure I have a healthy back well into my old age. I also want to look at HOW TO IDENTIFY AND CORRECT IMBALANCES WITHIN THE BODY (One thing I want to look into is Functional Movement Screening (FMS)). 

7) Regardless of whether I find myself back to full back health or not, I want to look into the IMPLICATIONS OF PERMANENT CHRONIC BACK PAIN. How to manage that going forward? What are the best coping mechanisms people who are in this situation use? (Aside from what pain killers one might use I really want to explore the best PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENTS for coping with chronic pain including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)).

My 2020 GOALS & PLEDGES

Following on from my 4 part 2019 review, below are my pledges and goals for the coming year. I intend to do a monthly review of these goals as a way of holding myself on accountable as the year progresses. I hope you enjoy!

MY 2020 PLEDGES

By the end of 2020 my wife and I will have begun trying for a second child (or be pregnant with the second (and last!) on the way). 

With regards to work I will be “command ready” having worked to further my operation and confidence to its highest ever level. I will have attended a performance based course to help in this regard. I will have taken an extended period of 3 months off work from May till July. 

Health wise, I will be far more consistent with regards to my exercise and healthy living habits, sticking to my morning and evening routines that incorporates yoga and/or some other form of physical exercise. I will have completed one alcohol free week every month plus one alcohol free month during the year. My eating habits will much improved following a ‘slow carb diet’ 5 days a week. I’ll also have found a new activity based hobby that I enjoy outside of the home. As a result I’ll be as fit as ever having achieved my desired body fat percentage of 14%. My back injury will have completely healed.

My mental health will be vastly improved due to a more consistent practice of meditation, reading and writing that I’ll have better incorporated into both my morning and evening routines. I will have attended at least one silent retreat and a transcendental course to further my practise. I will have opened up to my parents about my previous difficulties and become much closer to them as a result. I will talk to my wife every single night when at home before bed.

In my spare time I will continue to write everyday. My first goal will be to write and publish a children’s book for wiggles. I will also start a new blog that explores the question of how to live a healthier and happier life at home and at work, as well as being a better father, husband and all round human being. I will have taken the time to volunteer and start annual donations to two new charities. 

At home I will be far more environmentally conscious having done a large amount of research into how I can live more sustainably. This will act as a model for Wiggles as he grows up.

Financially we’ll be in very good shape having organised a better tracking/savings system as we look to the future. We will have made a significant investment into my brother’s hedge fund and also a third property. I will have also invested in renewable technologies and/or an environmental project aimed at helping save the planet. Insurance wise we will have reviewed and updated all our policies and plans as necessary and have set up a will. 

MY 2020 GOALS

HEALTH

MENTAL

  • Meditate 365 days/year
  • Attend a silent retreat
  • Complete a course in transcendental meditation 

PHYSICAL

  • 5 x Exercise days/week
  • 4 x Alcohol free days/week
  • 1 x Alcohol free week/month 
  • 1 x Alcohol free month/year
  • 5 x low carb/high protein days/week (during intermittent fasting window 12 till 8)
  • 4 x long fast/year (24hr-76hr)
  • 14% body-fat goal 
  • Stretch/Yoga daily

OTHER

  • Perform LASIK
  • Heal back injury
  • Find new activity based hobby to commit weekly
  • Oxfam Trail Walker 2020?

CAREER

AVIATION

  • Be ‘Command Ready’ by 2021
  • Complete Performance course through work
  • Logbook journal after every flight – write 1 thing I did well and 1 thing I could do better
  • Take an extended period off work (3 months following LASIK? – May – July)

WRITING

  • Publish first children’s book
  • Start new blog (with a particular focus on health this year)
  • Post 1 new article/week
  • Write daily (As a minimum in my 5MJ)
  • Read 2 books/month
  • Read daily

FAMILY/HOME/TRAVEL

FAMILY

  • Set Liam goals to help his achieve throughout the year
  • Date night x 1/week
  • Talk to my wife every night when at home
  • Open up to Mum and Dad

HOME

  • Environmental research/piece on blog about how to live more sustainably/responsibly at home for the family to centre around 
  • Set goals and make changes based on this research

TRAVEL 

  • Skiing Japan Trip (February)
  • April/May getaway with Holly
  • Silent retreat (May in Bhutan?)
  • UK Trip (June)
  • Croatia and Serbia – Villa plus Ogi and Mia wedding (September/October)
  • UK (Christmas)

FINANCE/INSURANCE 

FINANCE

  • File/pay UK Taxes
  • File/pay HK Taxes
  • Research new mortgage for London apartment
  • Invest in my brother’s fund
  • Invest in third property
  • Sort better tracking/savings system with longer term goals in mind

INSURANCE

  • Write a will
  • Set up loss of income insurance through Union

CHARITY

  • Set up annual donation to 2 x new charities
  • Volunteer locally