Summer is in full swing and that means many of us will be taking holiday trips, breaking from our usual daily rituals. By the end of a recent ten-day stint in Miami I was itching to return to New York, not because my love of Brooklyn outshines all else but because the love of my daily routine does. I have a usual schedule of morning exercise, a vegetable-heavy diet, a transit routine that’s on foot and an embarrassingly early bedtime, all of which were out of sync last week.
While I have received criticism for my boring regime, it seems that I am in fine company. Paging through Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals, there’s plenty of evidence that a whole slew of writers, composers and creative types were just as married to their schedules as I am – and those routines were integral to their work. Many of the figures he profiled were early risers: Ernest Hemingway began writing with the first sign of light; Toni Morrison wakes up before dawn and has her coffee with the sunrise; and Frank Lloyd Wright spent his time sketching between 04.00 and 07.00 everyday.
Brisk afternoon walks were also a common trend. Beethoven walked after lunch with a pencil and paper to record any inspired thoughts and Immanuel Kant did the same at exactly 15:30. Author Franz Kafka prepared to write by starting his day with another form of exercise: a series of body stretches and swings, known as the Müller technique, that he performed naked in his window.
Bathing is a ritual that many of us consider a time for creative thought. Benjamin Franklin agreed: he took a daily “air bath” rising early and sitting in his chamber without clothes for about an hour depending on the season. And the survey shows there was also time made for naps, breaks, coffee consumption and, of course, in many cases, alcohol. Not all habits have to be wholesome but they are habitual nonetheless.
Beyond the anecdotal evidence in favour of rituals, a recent study shows that daily routines make life feel more meaningful. The feeling of coherence in an ordered life leads to a notion of purpose and lays the groundwork to pursue bigger goals. Though we tend to think of routine as mundane, it can actually be integral to wellbeing and success. A summer holiday is certainly welcome in my book but, personally, I’m happy to be back on schedule.
Megan Billings is Monocle’s researcher/writer in New York.