Have you ever wondered how someone could be mentally disciplined enough to consistently exercise, meditate, eat well, and get enough sleep every single day? I'll let you in on a secret: it has nothing to do with mental discipline. The key to consistent healthy living is to build a routine which allows you to accomplish all of your "must do daily" items without much thought at all. You are harnessing the power of your auto-pilot mode so that you can save your energy for the parts of your day which are unique to that day.
You may be wondering: "Isn't routine boring? Wouldn't routine make my life monotonous?" Well, if your whole life was the same routine, it would be boring. But having enough of a routine to feel great and to energize you for your other activities actually enables more novel experiences and thoughts. Conversely, if you feel run-down because you haven't been taking care of yourself, are you really going to feel like going out in search of adventure? Probably not.
So building a strong routine is a great way to make sure you are taking care of yourself. But it's not just any sort of routine that is going to be effective for you. We're going to explore how to create the most effective sort of routine. Our approach is going to depend on a specific tool called pirate maps. The whimsically titled "pirate maps" are going to enable you to construct a highly effective and customized routine for yourself.
The idea of a pirate maps in a psychology context, originally created by coach Dan John, is that a simple set of rules for living your life is more practical than a long, theoretical discussion about the philosophy of living a good life. Instead, what most people desire and can optimally use is a simple set of instructions to get to the goal (the metaphorical pirate treasure).
In my own life, I have expounded upon this original meaning of the term "pirate maps" to also include external triggers. In other words, I don't even have a written down list of the pirate map rules I follow each day. There are actually so many, it would take a long time to think about. Instead, what I have is a sequence where a specific time or a specific action will trigger the beginning of the sequence (which is a list of things I want to remember to do each day). Each subsequent action in the sequence triggers the next item on my list, until the list is complete.
For example, I do my main daily exercise at 6 pm every day. When I see it's 6 pm, I know it's time for my daily exercise. That triggers me to work out for 20 minutes of intense fitness activity. When that's complete, I know to do 20 minutes of yoga. After that, I always do 20 minutes of meditation. At the end of the hour, I've done my basic daily maintenance on my mind and body. This routine makes me feel noticeably better, so it's easy to keep doing it day after day.
My point in describing this specific routine is that I never have to think: "I should remember to meditate tonight!" or, worse still: "Should I meditate tonight?" Instead, I remember to workout at 6pm, which starts with fitness, naturally leading to yoga, and without any major decisions on my part culminating in meditation. I just have to have a mental trigger to remind me to start the sequence and then the individual parts of the sequence are so tightly linked in my mind that once I start, I virtually always finish.
I have similar pirate maps worked out for when I wake up each morning and when I go to bed at night. I have a pirate map outlining how I'm going to eat each day. While in total I don't have that many of these pirate maps, they do tend to become fairly complex over time as additional items are slowly added. Nonetheless, despite their complexity, I typically complete every item on each of my pirate maps every single day with minor mental effort.
A great routine is built slowly over time. Start with one small change and then slowly add others at a leisurely pace. For more information about this small steps approach, check our recent podcast episode about the Kaizen method.
Pirate maps can serve as a powerful mental tool to harness the part of your mind that tends to do things in an automated fashion. Not only will this approach encourage you to consistently implement your rules for yourself, but over time the shark maps will allow you to remember and master even highly complex sequences of activities.