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Building a Routine - Where to Start

Are you a creature of habit, or do you rage against the routine? If the latter applies to you and you have a hard time creating or sticking to routines and rituals, keep reading. 

Explained below is some of the science behind building a sustainable routine, as well as the benefits that routines can provide in your life. You’ll also find some tips that will help you create new routines and stick with them long-term.

 

 

What Is a Routine?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a routine is a “habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure” [1]. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly structured person, there’s a good chance you have at least a couple of routines in your life. 

people crossing the road

Do you wake up every morning, stumble to the kitchen to make coffee, and then take a shower while the coffee brews? 

You probably don’t have to think about every one of these steps (which is why you might not even consider them to be part of a routine). You just do them automatically. 

At one time, though, you had to be intentional about taking these steps and getting ready for your day.  

 

 

Why Are Routines Important?

Despite the fact that we all follow routines (at least to a certain extent), some people are still more comfortable with routines than others. 

If you’re part of the group of people who don’t love routine, you might change your mind when you learn more about the benefits they can provide. Here are some of the top reasons why it’s important to establish some solid routines in your life:

 

Reduced Stress

Think for a second about how you feel when you have a list in your head of things you want to do but no idea of how you’re going to get them done. Chances are you probably feel at least a little stressed out when this is the case. 

Having established routines can reduce stress and bring you peace of mind [2]. It also takes a lot of the guesswork out of your life. You always know what to do next to achieve a particular outcome, so you don’t have to waste time and energy thinking about it.

 

Better Sleep

Do you sleep well when you have a lot on your mind? For most people, the answer is no. 

Stress, including the stress you might feel from a lack of structure, stability, and predictability, will have a negative effect on your sleep quality and quantity [3]. 

sleeping rest

In both the long- and short-term, poor sleep can cause a lot of problems in your day to day life. If you don’t want to wake up feeling groggy or struggle to find the energy you need to get everything done during the day, then good sleep is a must.

 

Healthier Habits

When you implement the right kinds of routines, you can also enjoy better overall health [4]. Lots of people have routines in place around exercise, meal planning, meal preparation, taking vitamins, etc. 

If you take the time to create these routines, you can reap the benefits of having healthy habits. For example, you might have more energy from eating a balanced diet or better cardiovascular health from regular exercise.

 

Better Time Management and Productivity

Think about how much time you waste trying to decide what to do next when working on a project, or looking for things because you don’t have a routine for putting them away after you’re finished using them. Now, think about how much more you could do in a day if you didn’t waste all that time.

For kids, routine and structure play an essential role in helping them to develop their executive functioning skills. These are the processes that help us plan, focus, remember, and manage tasks [5]. You might not be a kid anymore (even if you’re young at heart!). However, if you find yourself struggling with your executive functioning skills, there’s a good chance creating routines can still help.

 

 

The Science Behind Routines

Okay, you can see that there are benefits to creating routines and rituals in your daily life. What’s happening in our brains when we’re trying to establish a routine, though? A lot, actually.

The following are some highlights from the research conducted by Charles Duhigg, a journalist and author of one of the top books on habit change, 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business [6]:


  • “Chunking” occurs when the brain converts a series of actions into a routine that happens automatically
  • Chunking is at the root of any new habit
  • Habits occur because our brain constantly looks for ways to save effort and work more efficiently
  • When we have healthy routines and habits in place and our brain works more efficiently, we have more bandwidth to handle new challenges and aren’t bogged down by basic behaviors

 

How Long Does it Take to Form a Routine?

It’s important to note, too, that it takes time to establish a routine and create a lasting habit. A common myth states that it takes 21 days to build a habit. That’s not actually true, though. 

Research shows that it actually takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. However, there’s a lot of variability associated with that number. It depends on a lot of factors, including the complexity of the routine the individual is trying to create [7]. 

That’s why it’s important to be patient and consistent when building a new routine. It takes a while for the steps in the process to feel automatic. If you give up after a couple of days, you’re never going to make the kind of changes you’re hoping to create in your life.

 

 

Tips for Kickstarting a Routine

Have you tried unsuccessfully to establish new routines in the past? If so, here are some tips that can help you flip the script this time around:

 

Decide What You Want to Accomplish

What kind of routine do you want to create? A morning routine? A study routine? A nighttime routine?

 

Identify Your Motivation

Why do you want to accomplish this routine? What kind of benefits will it provide? How will you feel when you follow this routine? 

Take the time to think about or write down your motivation. This can give you the push you need to go from merely thinking about following a routine to actually building it into your life.

 

Make a List

Next, write down some things you’d like to add to your current routines. If you don’t have a routine in place at all, you can also create a list of steps that you think would make up a healthy routine. 

writing down notes to do list

Remember to be realistic here. When writing down steps, make sure you’re picking things that you can actually see yourself doing on a daily basis.

 

Add Just One Thing

Now, pick one step from the list you created. Then, work on adding it to your routine. Just do that one thing for now. 

Remember, the goal is to build a lasting routine and establish healthy habits. If you get so overwhelmed that you give up altogether, that’s not setting yourself up for success, is it?

 

Set a Reminder

Set an alarm or reminder to help you focus on doing the one item you picked from your list every day. Eventually, it’ll become second nature, but until then, the alarm will help you to be consistent.

 

Make It Enjoyable

When creating a new routine, it helps to make the steps more enjoyable and sustainable. How could you make a new step in your routine more fun?

If you chose to add one minute of stretching to your nighttime routine, you might make it more enjoyable by rolling out a comfortable yoga mat or stretching in front of the heater so you’re not shivering the whole time. 

If you added the step of drinking a glass of water before your coffee, maybe you could add an electrolyte drink mix to make it taste better (and keep you hydrated) and give yourself some extra nutrients. You might even want to display your packets, like Hydrant, next to your coffee maker so you remember to mix up your glass while your coffee brews. 

 

Add Another Step

Once your new behavior feels habitual and you find yourself remembering to do it without the alarm going off, try adding in another behavior or extending the current behavior. 

For example, if you’ve been meditating for one minute in the morning, maybe you can extend the time to two or three minutes. Or, you could add in another healthy behavior, like a minute of stretching or reading a page from a book. 

Over time, after the next step has become habitual, you can continue adding in more steps. Eventually, you’ll have a routine that you enjoy and that enhances your life. 

 

 

Start Creating New Routines Today

Are you ready to establish new, healthy, and productive routines in your life? It’s easier than you might think. 

Whether you want to create a routine around better eating habits, exercise, sleep, hygiene, or something else entirely, keep the tips listed above in mind. Follow them and you’ll be on your way to more structure and stability before you know it!

 

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Sources

[1] Routine. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/routine
[2] Piedmont Healthcare. Why Routines Are Really Good for Your Health.  https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/why-routines-are-good-for-your-health#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20study%20by,day%20and%20subsequently%2C%20your%20life
[3] Yasmine Azza, Marcus Grueschow, Walter Karlen, Erich Seifritz, Birgit Kleim, How stress affects sleep and mental health: nocturnal heart rate increases during prolonged stress and interacts with childhood trauma exposure to predict anxiety, Sleep, Volume 43, Issue 6, June 2020, zsz310, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz310
[4] Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2018). The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 13(2), 142–144. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618818044
[5] Harvard University. Executive Function & Self Regulation. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/
[6] The Science Of Habit Formation And Change. https://fs.blog/2012/03/everything-you-need-to-know-about-habits-the-science-of-habit-formation-and-change/#:~:text=Habits%2C%20scientists%20say%2C%20emerge%20because,to%20ramp%20down%20more%20often
[7] How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world Lally, Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle - European Journal of Social Psychology - 2009

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