So what is a Micro-Routine Analysis? It’s a bit of an abstract concept, the more and more I think about it, which is part of why it’s taken so long for me to get this post up. Please bear with me. I promise I’m going… somewhere with this.
Let’s start big. A routine is defined as a sequence of actions, regularly followed; a fixed program.
So a good example of a routine is what many people do every morning; wake up, hit snooze a few times, get up, get dressed, drink your coffee and eat breakfast before going into work. Pretty vague, right? All of those actions are just generalized names for a bunch of little steps.
Broken down, just drinking your coffee would look something like unto this:
- Pull out coffee maker of choice (There’s so many, I’m not going to touch that one.)
- grab coffee beans (open fridge/cupboard, reach in, grasp bag/container, pull out, close door, place on counter.)
- grab measuring tool (Open drawer, find desired tool, grab tool, remove, turn to coffee beans)
- measure them out (open container/bag, place scoop in the beans, remove with beans, close container/bag, replace container/ bag in fridge or cupboard)
- if you grind, grind. (Pull out grinder, place on counter, plug it in, open it up, load beans, depress button and hold/pulse, open back up, remove beans, clean grinder, un plug, put away.)
- open the coffee maker (implied sub-steps)
- load the beans (implied substeps)
- pull out measuring cup (implied substeps)
- measure water (hold cup under sink, turn on sink until desired amount fills cup, turn off sink)
- Load the water (implied substeps)
- Close coffee maker. (implied substeps)
- Turn on/place over heat (turn on heat source (implied substeps))
- Let it run.
- Turn off/remove from heat (implied substeps)
- Grab mug from cupboard (Open cupboard, find preferred vessel, grasp, remove, set upright on counter)
- Remove urn, pour into mug (implied substeps)
- Add whatever you prefer (implies many more steps)
So even something so mundane as making your morning coffee actually is composed of many individual actions. And those individual actions are composed of even smaller individual actions. And honestly, I left some implied actions out of our list; like, walking around your kitchen (and all the steps of walking), or the steps of moving your limbs to grasp and move things. Let’s be real, and cut to the chase and admit that all of this is basically like zooming in on a Mandelbrot Set. (that’s a very entrancing video. If you have no idea how such a thing is made, This video helps.) Looking at those individual actions gets you close to what a micro-routine is.
I hear you saying, “Gee, that’s neat. But why should I care?”
When you begin to deconstruct your routines down into actions, you find that there are a lot of actions that you repeat throughout the day. And once you find that there are actions you repeat, you find yourself repeating those actions in very routine ways. You walk the same way, you sit and stand the same way, you eat something the same way, you roll out of bed the same way. Every. single. time. (Unless you’re one of those people who revel in novelty and has the boundless energy ((Possibly from drugs)) to do things in bizarre ways always. We’ll talk with you later.) Humans are generally creatures of habit and ritual. This runs deep, down to the muscles we use to accomplish a move, and the thoughts we think as we go through a motion. (It’s a little bit creepy sometimes.)
Sometimes, those routines serve us very well. Sometimes our rituals help bring a sense of meaning and orientation to our lives. And sometimes they go horribly, horribly wrong.
But, it’s very hard to step back and casually see how what we’re doing is hurting us sometimes. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t know exists. Which is why I began to formulate this idea.
This idea where you notice that something isn’t going right. You’re not getting the results you want. (We’re assuming that you know what you want.) A famously misattributed quote reads, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Think of it this way, your actions are like an equation that adds up to a certain result. If you want a different result, you need to change the elements in your equation.
You look at what you’re doing. Really look at it. Even take out a pen and paper. Write down the things you do monthly, weekly, daily. If you can’t come up with that list, you need to take some time to pay attention to what you’re doing in the first place. Journaling will help. Even if you just tap a few bullet points in an app every night. Three months is usually the standard for getting a snapshot of people.
Then, once you have your list, you can begin to deconstruct it how I deconstructed making coffee up above. Maybe you don’t need to get as in depth. Perhaps you’ll get part way through the week and realize, “Ohhhh. That one thing I do every Wednesday has this weird ripple effect because now I have to compensate for it this way…” or, “Ohhhh. I just realized now that it’s on paper that these three things link up, and if I do it this way, it’ll work so much better!”
Now, some of you are likely looking at this and saying, “Gee, Nana. That sounds an awful lot like, hmm… mindfulness???”
But it’s not. Here’s why. Mindfulness is a meditation inspired practice. Looking at micro-routines is a tool for analysis. Can you use it in a mindfulness practice? Absolutely. But would I use micro-routine analysis the same way one uses mindfulness throughout the day? Definitely not. Mostly because it’s exhausting and ill-shaped for a long-form use. Not exhausting in a bad way. A fruitful way.
A micro-routine analysis is going to be done either when you find yourself stuck, problematically, in something that you do regularly, or if you want to do something better. It’s the tool you use to find out where you’re going wrong, and from there, how to do something better. Mindfulness is about being rooted in the moment, being deeply aware of your internal state, and not judging it. An MRA is about staring your actions in the face, taking them apart into tiny pieces to understand and shape them properly. Mindfulness can be done long form at any time. An MRA is going to either be done rapidly (for example, if you’re trying to perfect a squat and you quickly go over everything your body is doing) or, done as an activity where you sit your butt down on the weekend, maybe with paper and pen, and try to figure out why you keep having a crappy day and you tear apart the most common things you do- down to the thoughts you think while doing them.
Both have their place, and both are important. And I would definitely say that an MRA will benefit from the observational skills gleaned from a mindfulness practice.
It’s not an easy exercise, but it has its merits. Everything you do matters and this level of analysis is one way you can slow down and figure out why it matters and what it’s doing for you.
Now, if anyone has a better name than Micro-Routine Analysis, preferably a one-word, catchy thing, maybe we could get this to catch on and turn it into a big faceless corporate business like Mindfulness. (LOL J/K)
Holy crap I’m sorry this took so long to get out. I have a terrible habit of taking on more than I can handle and it seems I did it again this last month. I hope this post was well worth the wait!
“In ordinary usage the word impossible generally implies a suppressed clause beginning with the word unless.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
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