A routine is defined as a sequence of actions regularly followed. This can be as simple as the routine you follow when you brush your teeth to the routine you follow when you get to work in the morning. In each of these, you can likely think of each of the actions you perform, and in what order. These are examples of routines that have already been established . . . But what about when it comes to establishing a new routine?
In many ways, routines are synonymous with habits. The series of actions you perform as part of your routine are habitual and you know that performing them sequentially will yield a certain result.
The habitual component of routines is the essence: establishing a routine means you create habits. Once you have actions that are a habit, there is less brainwork and energy involved – fewer decisions, reduced cognitive demands – and hence, it becomes easier to execute. For example, you don’t think about brushing your teeth and how to do it, or put off doing it because it is hard. But at one point, you did and it was!
This simplicity of habits in a routine translates directly to other behaviours you want to adopt – exercise more, drink more water, eat less processed food. When you can establish a routine around your desired change, you will be more likely to inflict said change due to increased automation and decreased opportunities for you to deviate from the routine or fail to follow the sequential steps.
It is clear that routines are beneficial, and in many cases, are critical in helping you adhere to desired behaviours. But what defines a good routine, and how do you establish one that you can count on to become habitual, and hence help you reach your goals?
The Reason and the Why – Start with why. Your reason for creating a new routine or changing a current one needs to be really strong and compelling. Choosing to establish a routine because a friend did or because you saw it in a magazine is likely not a good enough why to push you forward when times are difficult or you do not want to perform the actions. If for example, you are looking to establish a new routine around your diet, what is at the root of your desire to change? Get really clear on this aspect, write it down and put it in a visible place. Each time you start to fall off track with your routine, read your why and be reminded of the success you are capable of.
Laws of Habits – Since a routine is a series of habits, the basic laws of habits, as established by James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, are important to abide by. In order for an action to become a habit, Clear recommends it follows the flour laws of habit change:
- Make it easy
- Make it attractive
- Make it obvious
- Make it satisfying
If you were trying to drink more water for example, you should make it easy and obvious to get water, by regularly having a full water bottle nearby. You should make drinking water more attractive and satisfying, by occasionally substituting it for herbal teas or by adding lemon and mint.
Sustainable and Reasonable – The purpose of establishing a routine is so that you can start to carry out actions that you will be able to do for a long time, and that will ultimately put you on the path to achieving your goal. This is not possible if you have an unsustainable component in your routine. For example, if the routine is not financially viable and you will run out of money; if the routine is not time efficient and requires too much time to complete it. If the routine is not sustainable given your living, relationship, or job status. You can think of the routine as something which you are trying to seamlessly slide into your life, with minimal disruption, and hence minimal chance that there will end up being a reason you can’t carry on.
Establishing a new routine does not have to be time consuming or difficult. With a clear understanding of what a routine entails and some basic principles to follow, you will be launching into a new decade already experiencing success.