Osher Günsberg on using routine to get out of a rut

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss

When we are in a rut, focusing on cultivating new and constructive habits and routines can often be the last thing we feel like doing. Instead, we may want to stay still, sink deeper, spiral.

But the swing of a routine and the stagnation of a rut are paradoxically close. As author of Wild Cheryl Strayed framed it in an episode of Dear Sugars, when we feel aimless, muddled, unsure of who we are and what we want, we are often at the starting point.

“People will sometimes describe my book as ‘she escaped her life’ and what I always knew, even at the time not just when I wrote the book, was that I was stepping into my life.”

When we are in a rut, we can find the path, she says. “What is a rut except the groove that is well-worn in a path that’s predetermined.”

For Australian television and radio presenter Osher Günsberg, there have been a few times in his life when the “wheels have fallen off” and each time, he turned to the pathway, the routine, to get out of the rut. 

“Every single time I knew the key to freedom was discipline,” he said.

Having recently released his memoir Back After the Break, in our conversation he shared how this discipline was applied mostly to his routine.

This meant writing a to do list at night – in granular detail – for the following day. “I would write it all down – wake up, put the kettle on, make coffee, go to the toilet, put your shoes on, go for a run, eat breakfast, stretch, answers emails, go to this meeting, drive here, drive there.”

What is a rut except the groove that is well-worn in a path that’s predetermined.

Having this set routine and discipline created a sense of control during a period that felt out of control. “That discipline was the thing that prevented my depressed, or anxious or in one case, paranoid, deluded brain to call the shots. As much as part of me didn't want to do it, true freedom came around that discipline because [recovery] starts with those little tiny habits that you do every day.”

When we talk about mental or physical heath, it’s important to emphasise there is no such thing as a cure-all, or a magical routine that can make depression or anxiety go away. But whether it’s through therapy, discipline, getting sober, or clinical support, there is an undeniable sense of hope that comes with taking one step at a time.

“When you are depressed or anxious you can get caught up in avoidant behaviour and instead of trying to break yourself free from the things that are damaging you, they get bigger and bigger. For me, it's only through discipline that I am able to make it through those things. One day at a time.”

It’s from the little steps in our day-to-day lives that can boost our self-worth and confidence. “You start to think, I have worth, I am doing things. I'm slowly moving away from the terrible life I thought I had and towards a life I want. Slowly, slowly, it takes one little Jenga block at a time to build the tower,” he added.

Find your way out of the rut is an imperfect process

You start to think, I have worth, I am doing things. I’m slowly moving away from the terrible life I thought I had and towards a life I want. Slowly, slowly, it takes one little Jenga block at a time to build the tower.

While Osher is steadfast when it comes to many aspects of his routine and approach to finding discipline in his daily life, his work means that flexibility is key.

Especially when it comes to sleep, with his work in media often requiring late nights and early starts. “Some weeks I know I'm going to have three nights with only five hours sleep and that's just what's going to happen for a certain time of year – but I know I cannot sustain that forever.”

Even though Osher’s work and sleep schedule may ‘shift like the sands’, it’s important to maintain some semblance of a routine, he said.  

“I try and get some kind of physicality in within the first hour of waking, no matter how many hours of sleep I get.”

This is maintained with a habit trigger, he added. “I flick on the coffee machine and do at least a few sets of exercises while I wait for the coffee machine to warm up.”

Another staple in his morning routine is writing down twenty things he is grateful for and doing some form of journaling for around ten minutes. “It helps release certain things in my head so that I can feel more resilient through the day.”

Creating space in daily life has become more integral since he met his now wife Audrey and her daughter Georgia.

“When I was by myself, I would muscle straight through and work, work, work. Since Audrey and Georgia have been in my life, I have been learning to take more time to connect and be present,” he said.

No one is perfect, and Osher admits he still has a lot to learn in this regard. “Every day I learn to say no and create more space for these beautiful people that bring me so much joy.”

His laser-like focus and discipline can make it hard to pull away from things or shift gears. Something that has helped has been connecting to his ‘why’ when it comes to work and life.

“If you're not plugged in to the reasons why you do things, it harms every aspect of your work and life. If you're not putting value upon that time you spend with your family, for example, that reflects in the work that you do.”

Osher’s personal why is to strive to be the best stepfather and husband he can be. “I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to balancing my work and life. I make mistakes every day but I know that ultimately, I feel better in my skin when I'm emotionally connected to my wife and my kid.”

When it comes to work, the why morphs slightly from being the ‘best’ to being the most professional he can be.

“Rather than focusing on being the best, I try and focus on how I can make everyone else's day really easy. How do I make my lighting guy's day easy? I get in the right spot. How do I make my wardrobe master's job easy? I won't dribble food all over myself. How do I make the audio person's job easy? I'll speak at the same volume on set that I did in when we did the sound check. If I have it as an outward focus, it tends to affect more people and it feels better in my heart.”

Where to from here

When we find our version of discipline and we can find our why, eventually we may find our way. Exactly how to establish these two things can seem daunting.

For Osher, it comes down to four pillars. “We all know it is not rocket science. We know the things that make us better – sleep, exercise, quality nutrition, and a sense of purpose,” he said.

Working backwards from those four pillars, Osher encourages others to experiment with how they can build habit triggers into their life to make sure those things happen every day. “Once you do that, it just runs on automatic – it just becomes a part of your day and you've given yourself this extraordinary foundation to have an okay day. Those four things are within everybody’s power.”

Along the way, we will keep stumbling along the path, and that’s okay. As Osher concluded, “There is no perfection in nature, so don’t strive for it in your everyday.”

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