How to create healthy routines, and stick to them
Brushing our teeth is something that (hopefully) most of us do twice a day. It is a routine that we probably didn’t enjoy that much when our parents helped us implement it as kids, but that we now do automatically after waking up and before hitting the sheets. We don’t think about it anymore. It has become such a natural part of our everyday lives that it is no longer considered as something we have to do, it is just something we do.
This is the goal with routines – to make them feel like something we do without thinking about it with minimal hesitation or resistance. It is easier said than done though, and it requires lots of time, energy and effort in order for it to become a natural and essential part of our lifestyle. And even when we finally have managed to turn an activity into a habit, it has required a lot of work in order for us to stick to it, especially when something changes in our daily lives, for example when we travel, are on vacation, celebrate holidays or when something else happens that interrupts our daily routines and lifestyle. Even when spending a lot of time at home, like many of us are doing right now, it tends to be challenging to be productive and stick to routines. Even though we have managed to go to the gym a few times a week before, it can be very difficult to work out in a different environment than we are used to, and without all the normal equipment, inspiring instructor, and motivating friends the activity normally includes.
So, how do we turn an activity into a routine? And how do we actually stick to it? As I have mentioned, it requires some effort, but there are some easy tips and tools I recommend my clients to use when setting a routine.
REMEMBER THE “WHY”
In order to set a new routine, you need to want to do it, otherwise, it will be even more challenging and it is unfortunately highly likely it will fail. It doesn’t matter how much you hear from other people that you should do something, you need to find the trigger and motivation within you in order for the new habit to be successfully established. That motivation is what will keep you going when it feels tough and challenging, and it is what will bring you back to it when you have lost track and fallen out of the habit. Hence, this is the first thing you should think about when you want to start doing something new and implement a new routine into your life. Finding the “why” is so important. Ever since I saw Simon Sinek’s lecture about it in New York one time, it has really stuck with me and I have realised that it is key to so many things in life where a lot of work and effort is required. So how do you find the “why”?
If you don’t know your “why” immediately and feel unmotivated, try to find out more about the subject and activity you want to implement so that you get closer to your reason to why you want to do it. Read about it, do some research and find out what consequences there might be if you don’t do this activity continuously, why it is good for you, and so on. Try thinking about the ripple effect of it and what benefits it will give you in the long run too, such as if you drink a green smoothie every day, you will be healthier since all the vegetables, fruits and superfoods in the smoothie will nourish your body and make you strong, which will help you stay well and energised, and hence help you to do the things you love without getting ill and run down. If you think about more than just the direct benefit, and also include indirect benefits such as other positive things it will contribute to (e.g. improve your cooking skills, help prevent you from getting sick, etc.), it will be easier to find your “why” and feel motivated and inspired.
PLAN AND SCHEDULE
So, when you know why you want to implement this new habit into your life, you need to take action, prioritize and plan for your new routine to take place in your life. This is really key – nothing will happen unless you make space and time for it. Hence, make sure you plan for it and schedule it in your calendar like any other important activity you schedule. If you need some extra help to remember it, set an alarm on your phone. Another thing that might ease the process is to use checklists where you can tick off each time you have managed to complete the activity. Using checklists and being able to clearly see your progress often helps us to keep our motivation. It also makes it more fun and we can think of it as a challenge.
STEP BY STEP
If the new routine feels too challenging and demanding in any way at first, try to break it down into steps and set up a plan for when and how to build it up step by step. Let there be a few days or maybe a few weeks in between the steps in order for the routine to successfully establish. However, you need to pay attention whether this really works for you or not and if the steps you have divided the activity into are reasonable and effective.
DON’T THINK, JUST DO IT
When you have managed to start your routine and have been able to do the activity a few times, try not to think about it – just do it! I am sure most of us have experienced stress, anxiety and exhaustion before we do something that feels a little challenging, but then we actually feel that it was surprisingly easy and not so demanding at all when we actually execute the task and when it is completed. It is easy that we build up an imaginary high wall around it and make it seem more challenging than it really is if we think about it too much beforehand. We want to do it without thinking too much about it because that increases the chances of it getting done. This will eventually happen automatically, but the sooner we manage to let go of our negative thoughts about it, the better.
The key for this to happen is to make it as easy as possible for us to do the routine. We want to make sure that we have made time and space for it and that we have all the equipment we need. Hence, make sure that all the depending conditions are as good as they can get so we don’t get interrupted and suddenly have time to think about it, maybe hesitate and feel resistance. We want to just let go of all the possible interruptions. Don’t think, just do it.
WHEN IT FEELS TOUGH
It is totally normal to have ups and downs; to skip your routines or even fall back into unhealthy habits. It can happen often, especially in the beginning. Just remember that there is a new day tomorrow where you can start again and choose the better option. Even though it can feel that your motivation fails sometimes, it is always you who makes the choices in the end. Try to get back on track as soon as you can and remember your “why”. That will keep you motivated and you will remember why you wanted to do this from the beginning. The reason why we lose track is often because we don’t remember why we initially wanted to implement the activity, what the intention behind it actually was. So, as long we try to remember why we do it (try to remind yourself about it as often you can), it will be easier to stick to the routine and to get back on track when you find yourself going in the wrong direction.
MY MORNING AND EVENING ROUTINES
I really believe in morning and evening routines. I’ve always been quite strict with my evening routine, and I have done it for years now. However, I have struggled throughout the years with setting a good morning routine since I am not at all a morning person and always want to get up at the very last minute. I have also found most mornings quite stressful, and thought I didn’t have time for spending about an hour on various activities before my day would start (which I know now is not the right way to look at it since a morning routine actually will help to make your mornings less stressful). Luckily enough, I heard interesting stories about the benefits of a healthy morning routine and why it is worth your time and effort. I read about many successful people and what they do before they start their day and heard stories from people I know, for example, how taking the time to work out or meditate first thing in the morning changed their lives. So, I decided to give it a try and what I have found out is that a good morning routine gives you a healthy and calm start of your day, and an evening routine helps you to unwind and prepare you for your beauty sleep. Also, if you start your day with healthy activities such as making yourself a nutritious breakfast, doing a light workout, meditating, etc., you tend to make better choices throughout the day. And when you then wrap up your day in a relaxing and peaceful way, your sleep improves and hence, you probably wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for your morning routine and day ahead. Moreover, the more routines you have and have managed to establish, the easier it is to implement new ones. Hence, having routines in the morning and in the evening will help you to set other routines in your life. It is the same as with anything else in life – the more you practice it, the better you become at it.
What I love the most about my morning routine is that I get things done early in the day, things that might get unprioritized otherwise because I won’t have time later. For example, it is more likely that a workout gets done if I schedule it early in the morning rather than think that I will have time to do it later in the day. I really love to workout first thing in the morning and be able to tick it off my to-do-list as soon as my day begins. Also, if I push it to later in the day, I often start to think about it too much, reflect on if I really have time or feel like doing it and I tend to find excuses why I should do it tomorrow instead. The thoughts and feelings prior to actually doing something, such as working out, often consume more time and energy from us than the actual activity – therefore, my biggest tip is definitely to do your workouts first thing in the morning and to make it easy for you; have your clothes and kit ready and do it even before breakfast (hence as soon as possible after you wake up so you don’t really have time to think too much about it). You’ll be fascinated with how easy it eventually starts to feel and how amazing it is to have done your workout before even starting your day. You’ve already done a very important and good thing for yourself just a little while after waking up. In addition, working out before breakfast gives you a little time of fasting, which many people often benefit from.
What I also like to do in the morning is to spend a few minutes in bed right after I wake up and set an intention for the day. I think of positive and exciting things that will happen in the day and also what I want to achieve, do, feel, etc. Those few minutes in bed help calm my mind and it gives me a more relaxing and controlled awakening in comparison to rushing up as soon as my alarm goes off. Moreover, drinking a glass of water with fresh lemon juice and a little bit of apple cider vinegar is also something I do, as well as making myself a wholesome breakfast. So, my morning routine consists of just a few activities; my few minutes in bed, a workout, a glass of infused water and a healthy breakfast.
My evening routine isn’t that long either but, I love it. I try to avoid any types of screens (tv, phone, computer) at least 30 minutes before I want to go to bed since the light from a screen makes us more alert and awake. Then, I always end my day with some tea and often a healthy snack, such as a raw food ball, some dark chocolate or a golden milk. If my body feels sore or stiff, I try to do some light yoga or stretching followed by a few minutes of meditation. Also, I write down (or think of) three things that were positive during the day, three things I am grateful for at the moment, and three wishes I have for the future, right before I fall asleep. Hence, a morning and evening routine doesn’t need to be more complicated or ambitious than that. It can be just one or a few activities that feel good for you and that you believe you will benefit from doing.
So, to successfully implement a routine into your life requires time and effort. And even when something has become a habit, it still requires work. However, you will quickly notice how it is worth it and hopefully experience that it becomes easier with time, whether you want to start training for a marathon each morning or are aiming to put your phone down earlier in the evening.