Routine: The Secret Sauce of Success

The picture above is at the close of the Cuban National Ballet’s performance at the newly reopened Grand Theatre of Havana in Cuba. The ballet company performed Giselle, regarded as one of the more difficult ballet pieces not only because of the strength and poise required in many of the moves, but the emotion that needs to be displayed throughout the performance. Having witnessed the ballet first-hand, I could not help but be impressed by the athleticism shown and respect the hours of dedication that it would have taken to reach that level.

While superstars like the prima ballerina, Annette Delgado, are likely a mix of talent and practice, more research indicates that it is indeed practice that makes the difference. A recent study of ballerinas examined the brain changes that occur as one moves towards task mastery, with practice leading to greater brain activity until we reach mastery. Further evidence for the power of practice comes from the real life case study of the 10,000 rule being conducted by Dan McLaughlin, who at thirty quit his job to take up golf, going from never having played the game to a single figure golfer.

While concentrated and focussed practice is a key to success, realising potential is only possible by the use of routine: a sequence of actions regularly followed. Routine is often the hard-working contributor to success that is overlooked. However, it is routine that creates the catalyst for the potential of practice to be realised. Routine is what creates the culmination of hours that lead to mastery. Routine is the bedrock that makes success.

As an executive coach I’m big on routine. I work extensively with my clients to both better understand their daily routines and look for where we can refine and create routine to achieve higher levels of performance. My area of psychology is about supra-performance – not getting back to average, and I would go as far as saying a routine followed consistently over time is what turns good to great.

Over the years I have identified 5 key outcomes of routines that make them so powerful:

  1. Routine builds practice into a daily schedule: Everyone wants a magical cure; a pill that brings instant success. Life is simply not like that. Success comes from developing skills and doing them daily when it counts. This takes practice and practice is a daily routine.
  2. Routine builds willpower: To follow a routine requires willpower; the ability to control yourself and initiate action. Once developed, willpower is a great ally but it needs to be developed, and one of the best ways to do this is forcing yourself to follow a routine.
  3. Routine stops you from thinking about things that will detract you from your goal: Distractions are to achieving goals what delicious fast food is to losing weight. Nothing stops goal attainment like distractions. The key to taking control of distractions is to avoid them through the use of routine. If you know that you are doing something at such and such a time, the power of the distraction is reduced.
  4. Routine leads to consistent improvement: The key with routine is that it is the foundation that makes practice possible. Through practice we improve with consistency.
  5. Routine forces the refinement of perfection: Building on the last point, it is only through consistency that we can possibly reach a level of mastery. The difference between being 80% as good as you can be and the best version of yourself is a chasm that is only crossed through practice made possible by routine.

I’m yet to meet anyone who has all their routines down pat. This includes both morning and night routines, as well routines throughout the day that lead to good work-life balance and multiple goal attainment. Moreover, keeping to the routine is far harder than developing the routine in the first place.

I can certainly vouch that without external help I would drift from my routine far more often. If being the best version of yourself is important to you, then I strongly encourage you to look at the science behind routines and start implementing these into your daily life. At worst I can guarantee that you will get more done. At best, while it may be too late to be perfecting that pirouette, you are still more than capable at reaching new heights.