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R is for Routines

What is a routine?

A routine is simply a sequence of actions/habits that we do regularly. They create patterns of activities within our days and create the rhythm of our lives as these patterns interact with each other.

Routines are a bit like Marmite – you can love them or hate of them - but regardless of your own personal feelings towards routines, through necessity we all tend to follow routines in our lives for at least some aspects of our lives.

"The type of routines we had or didn’t have as children have an effect on our lives as adults. Routine is consistently found to be important for children. A bedtime routine is associated with increased family functioning and improved sleep habits. Family routines have been linked to the development of social skills and academic success, and adherence to family routines has been identified as important for family resilience during times of crisis. However, the importance of routine is not unique to children. Observational research indicates that individuals in good health engage in highly routine health behaviours. For example, those successful at maintaining weight loss often eat the same foods, engage in consistent exercise, and do not skip meals. "*

Are routines helpful or unhelpful??

The case for routines

“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” Mike Murdoch

Setting a daily routine helps us to stay organised and focused by creating structure to our day which in turn can help us reach our goals and reduces procrastination.

Some writers swear by routine to get them in the frame of mind to write whereas others find routine unhelpful and prefer to stumble upon things that spark ideas naturally by chance.

“I have a very set routine. I work six days a week, but only half days. I work from 9 in the morning till 1 in the afternoon, without any interruptions, a fair slug.” Peter Mayle

“I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.” Roald Dahl

Routines can help us override our emotions and help us be productive and positive regardless of our fluctuating moods and feelings. Developing a daily routine can help us to feel more in control of our lives and allowing us to make room and prioritise what’s important to us. Routines can also help improve our mental health.

“I love routine! It helps me when life is stressful and unpredictable and makes me feel calmer and more in control…..Routine doesn't stifle my creativity, in fact it helps me to be more inclined to be creative and productive because I'm calmer and more in control of my day! ”

Jill H

Routines are useful tools that help us to develop will-power, self-discipline and determination (grit) and for achieving a good work-life balance.

Routines help us save energy because they do not require conscious effort or thought. Routines enable our actions by diverting and focusing our energy on our goals rather than allowing it to be drained through distractions.

Routines are useful a bridge between our dreams, goals, intentions, plans etc and our actions.

Routines restrain our choices in a positive manner, allowing us to focus on what is important and not become distracted by multiple other options that are not related to our values and priorities.

The real power in routines is the way they can help us build momentum, break bad habits by creating new ones and general prioritize our lives thereby making us more efficient.

The case against routines

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.” Henry Van Dyke

Routines can also restrain our choices in an unhelpful manner; leading to a fixed mindset.

“Well a certain amount of routine is necessary otherwise life would be pretty chaotic. But ,speaking personally, there is always a danger that routine can take over completely and make life a bit boring and predictable and, worse, dependent totally on keeping to a set routine come what may....” Cathy W

Routines can keep us in our comfort zones, repeating familiar routines causing us to become stagnant, afraid to do new things and can make our life boring rather than enriched.

“The less routine the more life.” Amos Bronson Alcott

Perhaps there is a compromise?

“Celebrate life in all its glory - challenge yourself to let the routine sing, and the new dance.” Maximillian Degenerez.

It's not always possible to stick to a routine so this is when flexibility becomes key. Within routines it is possible to have a degree of flexibility so that when you recognise that things in your life are not flowing in a helpful manner you can reorganize your schedule and adjust where necessary to the changes that you are facing.

“Flexible routines can be useful if you own them. If one is caught up in another’s inflexible routine it can be a trap! Lots of interests that are interchangeable at different times are a useful and positive tool for mental health and part of a flexible routine. They can also be a drain on time and tiring if not well managed. So in short routine can be heaven or hell!!”

Jane C

Routines exist nevertheless

“Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behaviour appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.” David Eagleman

The majority of us follow a number of daily routines on autopilot. We all have daily mundane routines i.e. we get up, get washed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth etc What is important is to learn how to make these routines work to our advantage.

“Routines enable us to manage the mundane but they can also be used to maximize our creativity by factoring in regular practice at a developing skill set.” Tony B

This is particularly true for those learning to play an instrument or developing some physical skill be it sportive or creative.

Some people manage to slow down and use mundane activities as opportunities for mindfulness practice

It is useful to rethink routines because

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labour with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.” Annie Dillard

Our lives are a composite of our days and our days are a composite of our routines which are based on our daily habits and actions. When we invest in ourselves, by intentionally practising helpful habits, we spend our days wisely and build up routines that support and enrich our lives and help us to flourish

“Most of life is routine - dull and grubby, but routine is the momentum that keeps a man going. If you wait for inspiration you'll be standing on the corner after the parade is a mile down the street.” Ben Nicholas

How can we create routines that help us live a meaningful life?

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”

Mike Murdock

The mind is a powerful tool and it can hinder us or helps us. Our brain undergoes changes with or without our conscious knowledge so it is important that we control and set the direction for these changes.

In his book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod he suggests that your day will start better when you follow six principles, called Life S.A.V.E.R.S., to start your day.

These stand for:

S – Silence. By starting the day doing inward-directed activities such as meditation, breathing exercises or prayer it will enhance the rest of your day with calm and peacefulness.

AAffirmations“Affirmations are our mental vitamins, providing the supplementary positive thoughts we need to balance the barrage of negative events and thoughts we experience daily” Tia Walker. Affirmations can be sayings or quotes that you choose to repeat to yourself on a regular basis to develop a positive mindset.

V – Visualisations. Visualisations help us to reflect on the type of future that we want.

E – Exercise. Elrod states that having some sort of regular exercise regimen is crucial to success - walking, swimming.....

R – Reading. It is important to make reading a habit to expand our knowledge and perspective on life. It's very easy to think that we don't have time to read but just in the act of making reading - eg 10 pages a day - a priority then it helps us slow down and regain control.

S – Scribing (or journaling) . Make some time each day to write down your thoughts and ask yourself questions about what you want from your life.  Not only does it provide a tangible record for your thoughts and emotions and progress but studies show that it can help towards mental health and calm.

“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, must take control of our consistent actions. It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” Tony Robbins

How do you decide what routines you can and will incorporate into your life?

Routines are there to serve us; therefore if they are to be effective in enriching our lives, they need to be based on our values and priorities

The routines we create in our lives can help us towards our goals.

“Your morning sets up the success of your day. So many people wake up and immediately check text messages, emails, and social media. I use my first hour awake for my morning routine of breakfast and meditation to prepare myself.” Caroline Ghosn

Starting our day well can actually begin the night before. We can start our day proactively if e.g. we set out clothes, lay the breakfast table, load the washing machine up ready, have a ‘to do’ list made, phone numbers/tools available/laid out already etc ie anything that helps us start our day efficiently rather than procrastinating

Making lists – shopping list, to do lists etc are a useful ‘aide memoire’ and it is often useful to see things crossed off in ‘black and white’ (or whatever colour pen/pencil you use!) There a lot of things I keep meaning to do but don't get round to. I have noticed though that I am more likely to do something if it is written down and I have an opportunity to physically cross it off once it is achieved. If I just 'hold it in my head it often doesn't get done'... i.e there is a difference between intention and action!

Set times to reflect on your day, or to discuss the day with your partner or the family can provide a useful opportunity to draw one’s attention to the focus of the day

“We have a 10 minute "board meeting" most mornings over a coffee to plan that day's activities or jobs to be done. Even if it's only planning what we're going to have for tea later, it sets us up for the day lol!” Jackie H

If we want to create effective routines we need to start small. Habits are about automating the things that we know we will repeat the benefit from if we are consistent and repeat them regularly.

Rather than rush straight into our day by switching on our phone, checking our messages etc It can be useful to take a few minutes to centre ourselves e.g. drinking some water, being aware of our body and how we are feeling, purposefully looking at the blue (hopefully) sky i.e. getting some daylight.

People say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day with lots of anecdotal rhymes to back this up ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince dinner like a pauper’. Rather than throw in your first hit of caffeine to kickstart you into gear , try water and lemon or tea first as this will help hydrate you better

The people who live the most fulfilling lives know what is important to them and intentionally create lives around their values and priorities at the centre of their lives. We come to know what is important to us by being curious and through paying mindful attention

Routines can help us implement what is worthwhile in our lives. As we develop flexible routines that enhance our lives it builds our character and develops will power and resilience. We play a determining role in how reality unfolds for ourselves. What we don’t do is equally as important as what we do do.

“At the end of your life's journey, what do you want to say you did with your time? There is enough time if you choose to invest it in yourself. Inch by inch, day by day . . . make yourself a priority.” Jackie Cantoni

We often get to the end of the day and haven’t done the things that we intended and perhaps that doesn’t matter too much because there is always another day. But it is worth thinking about what if we get to the end of our lives and we still haven’t done the things that we say are important to us by using our days to craft our routines?

Further reading:

The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine – Katherine R Arlinghaus and Craig A Johnston

“The only routine with me is no routine at all.” Jackie Kennedy

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