I am sure you’ve read plenty of articles in the past that have highlighted the importance of routines, but that does not make it easy to incorporate into your own life. Failed attempts to develop and stick to routines can lead to a heightened sense of frustration and discouragement. Afterall, everyone’s lives are different and generic routines may not work for all of you unique people.
Let’s dive in and see if we can get you feeling more confident in meeting your routine goals.
The Benefits of Routine
Routines are beneficial for your life in many ways. Better overall physical health, increased sleep quality, higher brain functioning, and mental health management, just to name a few.
In life there seems to be constant planning and thinking about “what’s next.” Having a routine can take away from the overwhelming thoughts like that. Sure, you will still have to plan what’s for dinner and what to wear for the day, but by having more of a routine you’ll be a more efficient planner.
Efficiency leads to better time management… and we all know how it feels to need just a few more hours in a day.
Which brings us to the benefits of routines. When you get into a habit or a flow, you start learning how to keep yourself on track in a day which means you’re more likely to meet your goals. Meeting goals provides a sense of self-worth and shows you that you are truly capable of many things if you put your mind to it.
I don’t know about you, but when I complete tasks (even in my grumpiest of moods) I feel a little more accomplished and my mental state improves.
The idea of “routine” might turn a lot of people off. But really, we could think about them in terms of creating stability, security, and a sense of certainty.
Imagine you are out to eat at a restaurant and you’ve been waiting a long time for your food. Do you feel better when the server comes out and explains that the kitchen is busy but your food is on its way OR do you prefer your server to hide in the kitchen and peek at you through the window, leaving you in the dark about the delay?
If you’re kept in the loop, you’re less likely to be “hangry” because you know the food will be coming at some point. Knowing what to expect creates stability, security, and certainty.
And what about those times when you want to improve your skill? Creating repetition and flow helps you improve your ability to do the tasks in your routine (like exercise, meditation, etc.) — and improving your ability and commitment will help you feel more confident, too. Work smarter, not harder, right?
In relationships, a set routine can help provide a sense of stability and security for each partner. Whether you are feeling happy and loved or slightly lacking those feelings in the relationship, starting a new routine is a good way to reconstruct how you show each other love in a consistent manner. Sometimes, we fall into a version of autopilot in relationships that creates more distance instead of facilitating connection. Creating new routines together can strengthen your relationship, even if they are a weekly at-home date night.
Daily rituals allow space for creativity and building love connections in the relationship. Simple rituals such as waking up to have coffee together in the mornings and conversations about gratitude in the evenings may be something to look forward to each day.
Now let’s relate that to children. Similarly to adults, children can benefit from structure. The most important parts of routines for children are the consistency and the relationships. Those two parts help provide a sense of comfort for a child.
The likelihood of experiencing emotional strain lessens when the child learns the structure of each day — they know when they eat, when they nap, and when parents may return home from work so they are not left worrying about what comes next. Creating structure and order for them helps prevent “meltdowns” because they know what to expect next.
A schedule is like an unspoken outline of rules for the child. They know what to do and when to do it based on the repetition. An example of structure could be teaching a child to wash their hands before eating. This act enhances their physical health (germs) while adding responsibility to the child’s life.
So what does having a quality routine do for you? Let’s break it down even farther. Take a journey with me to see how hugely helpful and important these small changes in routine can be.
Routine decreases the uncertainty that causes stress. Less stress can positively impact the quality of sleep. Sleep and rest impact your overall mental state. A better mental state means:
- Better brain performance
- Higher energy levels
- Heightened ability to manage emotions
Increased rest also means your body recharge for the next day’s activities. Daily activities can enhance physical health. Part of physical health is eating habits — when there is a more defined schedule, you are less likely to rush and eat last minute. Not rushing eating leads to better eating habits. Better eating habits leads to better physical health. Satisfaction with physical health is likely to affect mental health and self confidence.
Is this convincing you to start a routine?
Why Routines are Hard to Create and Maintain
Establishing new routines may be harder than you imagine — even if they are itty bitty changes.
To start a new routine, you are basically having to make it a habit — which means you actually have to practice it long enough for it to turn into a habit.
Studies have shown that it takes about three weeks to make or break a habit. Three weeks can seem like a long time to feel unsettled in a new change, but in this time it is imperative to remain focused on the new ritual. If you skip one day — fine. But skipping two days will essentially restart your whole routine building process… and no one wants to start over and over with no progress in sight.
That is grounds for making us throw in the towel.
Maintaining a routine counts as building a healthy habit, which can be extremely hard when there are outside factors causing turmoil in your life. Take the last year or so, for example. COVID forced us to reassess what fits and does not fit in our current lifestyle. Not only were there many things out of our control, but the increased stress just plain overwhelmed a lot of people from being able to do things that they once viewed as simple tasks. This shock to our emotional well-being reprioritized what we deem important.
It also created opportunity for new routines and habits — ones that fit our priorities and values.
Of course, not all new habits and routines are helpful or beneficial. Some habits are obvious improvements to your daily life, while others may play the role of a distraction and avoidance from tasks that may be difficult. Kelsey Nimmo, the founder of Kalamazoo Therapy Group, wrote an article that helps explain habit stacking and how to get out of autopilot. This may provide an example of how to break the “bad” habits and introduce new ones in an efficient way.
How to Be Successful in Creating Routine
You’re probably pretty convinced now. You want more routines in your life for yourself, your relationship, and your children. So it’s time to set yourself up for success and break the barriers that prevent you from starting new routines.
Find a time frame that consistently works for you, meaning you will often have that time slot available and you are able to be productive within that time frame. Maybe you aren’t a morning person and that’s okay. Carve out the time for your new activities in part of the day that you feel most productive.
Rather than perfecting your new ritual, just focus on starting it.
Make the ritual a high priority and the perfection can come later. Give yourself the grace to get started without setting high expectations that could lead to self doubt and disappointment. After all, you have to start somewhere and perfection is not always realistic when starting something new.
Start small. Oftentimes when we feel motivated for change, we want change now. We want to develop a whole new approach to our lifestyle (imagine forever long lists of new habits you want to start), and that means A LOT of changes.
You might think “Well, these are all small shifts, I can handle it.” But in reality, there is entirely too much pressure being put on yourself to balance life on top of rearranging your daily activities.
Instead of trying all those new habits at once, try incorporating ONE new routine at a time. Do this new activity ONCE a day. Once that ritual has been molded to fit your schedule and has become a habit (roughly 3 weeks), then you can add your next ideal rituals.
Starting small also means small.
If your goal is to start taking the dog for a walk every morning with the kids, get that leash out and hang it right on the front door. Set your shoes right by your bed. When you walk by and see the leash and the shoes, you’re likely to put them to use rather than putting them away. Better yet, get coats on the kids and tell them you’re taking the dog for a walk. Now you’re really committed!
If you want to start eating at the dinner table, make sure you clear off the table, and keep it cleared off! Eating at the dinner table as a family is great for building your connection as a family and provides space for everyone to reconnect after a long day.
Work SMART, Not Hard
You’ve made it. You’re ready. It’s time to make a realistic outline of your ideal routine. Prioritize the specific acts you would like to incorporate.
Use SMART goals to make sure you are setting yourself up for success when identifying your routine goals. Using this approach to meet your goals helps avoid setting unrealistic expectations that may lead to shame, guilt, and disappointment if you do not meet your high expectations — which could discourage you from wanting to try again.
Here’s an example of a new ritual before and after applying SMART goals. Pay attention so you can learn how to set yourself up for successful new routines in your own life.
Goal before using SMART goals: “I want to workout.”
- Who is exercising with me? Me (and anyone else you think could motivate you).
- What do I want to accomplish? I want to be more active throughout the week.
- Where will I exercise? I will workout at a gym, in my basement, outside, etc.
- When will I start? I want to start before April.
- Why am I choosing to add exercise? I want to create more healthy habits.
- How often do I plan to do this? Three days a week.
- How will I know I have met my goal of incorporating exercise into my life? I will be consistently working out three times a week.
- What would progress toward my goal look like? Adding one day of activity a week at a time.
- Do I have the space and means to start exercising? I can make the space in the basement, I will get a gym membership, etc.
- Have other people been able to do this? Yes, people start exercising all the time.
- Is adding three workouts a week realistic? Yes, I have free time throughout the week and three days is manageable.
- Have I given myself enough time to meet this goal? Yes, I have provided myself six weeks to develop this new habit.
- Can I commit to achieving this goal? I am at a place in my life where I have the time and energy to put effort into achieving my goal.
- Does my goal have a deadline? Yes, I want to be exercising three times a week by April 1st.
Goal after using SMART goals: “I want to add three days of exercise a week to my routine by April 1st to be more active.”
The cool thing about routines and rituals is that you can mold them and start and stop them as they fit into your life and bring you joy. There is no generic routine that fits for everyone, so trial and error is necessary to find what feels right for you.
The word routine might sound lame and mundane, but it doesn’t have to be. Look for things that would make your life feel more full.
- How about a weekly date night?
- Eating at the kitchen table and discussing highlights of your day?
- Putting your phones away at 8pm?
- Reading 10 pages of your favorite book just for fun each day?
- A weekly family pizza and movie night?
- Coffee in the mornings together before work?
- Teaching the kids to help clean up after meals?
Life is too short to wait for important things to just fall into place. If it’s important to you and can bring you any bit of satisfaction, then make it happen.
The most important step is just simply taking the first step, so go on and get started!