A few days ago, as I was writing my morning pages, I reflected on the fact that I had let my morning routine slip. What started a few months ago as a very structured routine (morning pages, yoga, meditation with reminders set up to make sure I was on time) was by then almost non-existent.
So I asked myself why. Why was it that something that was good for me and was actually helping me be productive was now secondary and being ignored? Have you ever been in this situation yourself?
Why you need a routine
If you are familiar with Tony Robbins’ 6 core needs you’ll know that we are all guided by six needs: certainty, variety, connection, significance (the four human needs) and growth and contribution (the two spirituality needs).
The human needs work in pair (i.e. certainty vs. variety and connection vs. significance). In order to feel balanced or have a balanced life, an equilibrium needs to be achieved within each pair. In other words, if your life is what you would describe as “crazy” or “full on” and you always have a lot on (at work or at home), you are most certainly meeting you need for variety. But how do you go about compensating for it? This is where having a routine is critical.
Having a routine is one way to meet your need for certainty. It creates a structure, a predictable set of events in your life. It tells you what to do and when to do it. As such, it provides clear directions and enhances productivity while reducing stress and anxiety. No more time wasted wondering (and worrying about) what you need to do next.
Is your routine supporting you?
But what exactly constitutes a routine? A routine is simply a sequence of actions, followed regularly. You can see from this definition that a routine is not necessarily a good thing! Watching TV for hours every day after work is a routine. But how many times have you told yourself after watching so much TV “I feel great”. I know I never have!
Other routines may appear good or healthy on the surface but actually are not. For example, having a yoga practice in the morning may sound like a good thing to do. However, if it stresses you out because you do not know what to do or you are running late for work every morning because of it, it is obviously not working for you.
Here are the signs of a bad routine:
- You skip it all the time or keep postponing it – it started as a routine but now it is only a name! You may have excuses for it, but how many are valid? Keep reading to find out!
- You do it because you “have to” or because you were told it was good for you. Having a routine simply for the sake of it is not beneficial for you as you will end up resenting it and feeling worse about yourself for not sticking to it.
- It creates more stress (e.g. running late for work). This is going against the reason for having a routine in the first place, so it is obviously a big no-no.
This tool will give you some insights into which of your current routines are good and which ones are bad. As you will see, some of your routines may have started as something beneficial and yet they no longer are. For example, watching TV may have been something that you enjoyed. It was your way to relax when it was 30 min every night after dinner watching your favourite show. However, now, instead of turning off the TV at the end of your show you watch other shows, often switching between channels, and spend hours on the couch. When you finally switch off the TV you think about all the things you wanted to do that night and you go to bed feeling anxious about your expanding to-do list.
How did something that felt nice and relaxing to start with turned into a self-loathing, stress-generating activity? There are 2 reasons:
- your routine is not (or no longer) supporting any of your goals. This is typically when you start something because you read somewhere that you should do it. For example you may have been told that meditation was great so you decided to do it. But if I were to ask right now why you meditate you would not know. Or you may have started a certain practice for a specific reason, for example lose weight. However you have reached your goal and the routine is no longer serving you.
- you are avoiding something (i.e. procrastinating). This could be because you are being challenged in some ways and getting out of your comfort zone (this would be the case with any activity promoting self-growth such as journaling, yoga or meditation) or because you are avoiding doing something else (so you end up spending more time doing something that you like, such as watching TV in the above example).
Here are 6 steps to avoid falling into these traps and create a routine that supports you.
How to create a supportive routine
1. Have a purpose
If you do something because you have to or because you have been told it was good for you you are less likely to stick to it. When you read an article that tells you about a routine and you are tempted to put it into practice, first ask yourself these questions:
- How does it apply to me?
- How does it support my life goals?
For example, many articles recommend meditating. Meditation has many benefits, but how does it apply to you specifically? If your goal is to lose weight, then you may be interested in a programme like the Gabriel method. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a practice to help you with grief, this meditation will be more appropriate.
The purpose should be in line with your goals and something you are committed to.
2. Plan ahead
When the time comes to do your practice is not the time to ask yourself what you should do. This is taking the predictability out of it. For example, if you are planning to do some yoga, you should know what sequences you will be doing rather than spend time looking for one online.
First of all, assess how much time you have. If you can only afford 15 min, it would be quite unrealistic to want to do yoga and meditation and go for a run. It may sound obvious, but we often overestimate how much time we have.
Schedule your routine into your day at the same time every day. Make sure you have carved out time for it and still have enough time for everything else (e.g. breakfast and getting ready for work). If you do not schedule it in, you are more likely to skip it (thinking “I don’t have time”) or find something else to do instead.
If you are planning to do multiple activities, set a reminder for each activity. This will help you stay on track (especially if you have to go to work or have appointments to attend). This is particularly important in the beginning as it will help you remind you of what you had planned. After all while, it will become automatic and the reminders may be superfluous.
3. Be flexible (to an extent)
This is a tricky one. If your routine is too flexible, then it may lose the predictability aspect that makes it a routine and will make it hard to stick to. If it is too rigid, you may drop it as you find it inconvenient or hard to adapt to your schedule.
If, for some (valid) reason, you have to skip part or all of your routine, it’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up for it. The key point here is valid. If you start having many valid reasons to skip your routine, then it shows you that it is no longer working for you.
Being flexible also means adapting your routine to your needs and limitations of the moment. If you are injured, how can you adapt your routine? For women, how does your routine align with your cycle? Leading up to your period and during your period you should avoid any strenuous activity. How can you adapt your practice accordingly?
4. Make it enjoyable!
Having a purpose you are committed to may not be enough. For example, if you are looking to lose weight and your plan is to run although you hate it, it is very unlikely that you will do it.
Find an activity that supports your goals and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning or something that you know you will not find excuses to avoid.
5. Make it sustainable
Often, when we start something new, we are motivated and we make unrealistic commitment. You may feel excited right now and are planning do have a 1-hour morning practice. Before you commit to it, ask yourself: is it realistic? Can you commit to it every day for 6 months? If the answer is no, cut back.
This is like building a muscle. Doing too much too quickly will not achieve anything and as the potential to hurt you – not only physically but also emotionally. Failing to keep your routine may be a big blow to your self-esteem.
Start small and build on it. Especially if you are looking to do a morning routine where you have to get up earlier. Sacrificing your sleep will not achieve anything good!
6. Review it
Like everything we do in life, there is a time for implementation and there is a time for review. After trying your new routine for some time, you need to assess whether or not it is working for you.
The big question is how long you need to wait before asking these questions. There is a popular belief that it takes 21 days to create a habit. However, I am sorry to break it to you, but this is not true. A 2009 study showed that, on average, it takes 66 days to create a new habit. So, ideally, you should give your new routine just over 2 months to make sure it works for you.
To review your routine, ask yourself the following questions. Once again, when answering those questions, do not judge yourself and your actions (or lack thereof). You are exactly where you need to be right now. The important thing is that you take time to review where you are at and take action accordingly.
- Is it still supporting your goal? If not, redo the above steps to help you define a new routine.
- Are you enjoying it? What aspect are you not enjoying? If you do not enjoy your practice, before changing it, consider whether following it makes you feel better. In my case, journaling is one activity that sometimes is not enjoyable because it brings up things that I do not want to deal with. However, I always feel good afterwards. So, despite not enjoying, I keep it as part of my morning routine.
- Have you been skipping your routine? If so, what excuses did you give yourself? What have you replaced your routine with? This is not a time for self-loathing but for objective assessment. Your excuses will tell you what does not work for you, so listen to them.
- “I am too tired” is often the first excuse we come up with. It may be valid. Test it out: go to bed earlier and notice how you feel. Or is it another way to say “I don’t want to get up for it”. This is good too. This is telling you that you are not enjoying it. What aspect are you not enjoying? How can you make it more enjoyable?
- If you are telling yourself “I do not have time” and yet still wake up on time but spend time on your phone instead of getting up and doing your routine, this tells you there is more to it. You have time, but you are avoiding your routine. Why? What are you really avoiding?
This is not a once off exercise. Keep reviewing your routine regularly. How often you review it is up to you. A good indicator is when you start losing focus or have skipped it too many times.
Need help designing a routine that is right for you? Book in a FREE coaching session to help you get started.