Every year on Labour Day Weekend, my girlfriends and I pull out the scrappy pieces of paper with our goals we scribbled from a year earlier. We reflect on our achievements, celebrate our successes, and then jot down new goals for the year ahead.
Some of us are more career-oriented, while other friends are looking for love or to make big life changes. I've always been a huge goals person and last year reflected that: travel the world; get published in a major fashion magazine; grow my partnership; keep contributing to my RRSP; and get to the root of my digestive problems.
I'm happy I met most of my goals in the past year; however, the past seven months of travel have shown me the power of practical, incremental goals -- like the power of happiness -- in building a routine.
I've been reflecting on the past year from Auckland, New Zealand, where I will celebrate the start of a new year. I've realized that it's not travel that has made me the happiest I've ever been, it's something more practical: building a routine.
When I quit my job to travel Asia and the Pacific, I thought that I would find immediate happiness. My stress, created by a job I wasn't enjoying, disappeared instantly. I had money saved. I was going on a year adventure with my partner. I was free to design my days the way I wanted: I could read all day on a beach, or hike a waterfall in Laos while making time to write.
My endorphins lasted for a few months until other inevitable realities set in. I was removed from the safe and comfortable lifestyle I was used to for more than eight years in a big city.
I've never been good at keeping a routine. I used to hit my phone alarm on average four times before I got out of bed. I'd go to yoga when I felt stressed, rather than practicing yoga consistently to handle stress more effectively when it arrived. I was a sporadic reader, who read half of a fashion magazine that I had to have. I would only ever get through a few pages of one of several books stacked on my bedside table before my eyes would start drifting.
While continuing to travel next year will make me happy (sorry, Toronto, I'm not ready to come back yet), it's through a routine that my partner and I will continue to do so.
I started small and didn't put too many things in front of myself. I read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit for pointers. Once I had been reading consistently for about two weeks my habit formed. I applied this same technique to exercise, writing, and baking.
Some days I slip, like not exercising for five days during the holidays. As long as I don't let myself linger for too long, my routine stays in tact.
Here are three ways a routine has enabled consistent happiness:
1. A routine creates my ability to travel long-term
My partner and I first set out to travel for at least a year, but now we've made the decision to travel indefinitely. We want to create a lifestyle of travel and work, and luckily as writers we can work remotely.
Most people have thought that my partner and I had a year of leisurely travel. The reality is we've had to build a weekly routine of work one day and exploring the next in order to make more money and stay relevant in our industry.
This meant that we weren't out sight seeing or relaxing every day. For part of the day we were in a café working on stories or waking up at 7:30 a.m. to Skype with a client in North America.
Getting into this routine took some time, but it's what has kept us traveling. Without the work and money, we wouldn't have been able to travel seven countries in seven months.
2. A routine keeps me healthy to keep traveling
Traveling through South East Asia can be exhausting. It's particularly tough when you don't have the money to travel by plane. Our trip to Cambodia by land took us two days from the South of Thailand including travel by boat, bus, train, tuk tuk, and taxi. What's worse is that every time we entered a new country, our bodies had to adapt to new food, new water, and new time zones.
To help keep a strong immune system, I developed a regular exercise routine - for the first time since I was a teenager - whether hiking, jogging, or getting a day pass at a gym. The more I exercise, the healthier my body and mind, and the more energy I have to travel.
The same routine goes for eating. I've developed new routines like eliminating gluten from my diet (it's much easier in Asia where most dishes are rice-based), eating a healthy breakfast of eggs and avocado (I used to eat a bagel with almond butter at my desk in my old office job), and eating within an hour after exercising to keep my energy up.
Developing a more healthy eating routine has given me more energy and a better understanding of what my body needs.
3. A routine is helping me integrate my work and life
This is the first time in years, I've maintained a regular writing routine for more than three months. Before I'd pick up gigs in Toronto, cram writing into one day, and then be so exhausted of the process that I'd stop writing altogether.
I used to always think of work and life separately. I was always too busy to find time for myself, when I just wasn't prioritizing time for me. I'd love writing for websites like Toronto Standard about fashion, but I was always rushing to get the pieces done, rather than enjoying the opportunity. The reality is that I wasn't prioritizing or being productive. I didn't have a balance of work and life.
CEO of MediaSpike Blake Commagere's recent piece, Rethinking Work-Life Balance, is the best perspective I've seen on this topic. Commagere says that doing the things that will enable him to be productive and efficient at work - his passion - is his life balance. He points to things like exercise, getting sleep, and eating well.
My partner bought me a kindle this year, and I've been reading Joan Didion and Haruki Murakami for hours at a time. I learned that reading during the day when I'm not tired ensures I get through more than a few pages.
I started baking; I was a self-professed non-baker before, but that's because I never gave it chance. When we got to Australia and had access to a kitchen, I started small. I picked my mom's mock skor bar recipe that I was familiar with and started experimenting with different types of chocolate. Focusing on one recipe helped me perfect my technique and improve this dessert by using different baking methods and ingredients. When we get to Perth in January, I'm excited to learn how to bake bread.
A routine is my happiness
Travel has given me the opportunity to start a routine. But now it's up to me to maintain, strengthen, and adapt my routine to grow the lifestyle I want.
My passion is travel, my work is writing, and when reinforced with a routine, I'm happy.
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