We are creatures of habit and in recent years, there has been a considerable amount of psychological research on the important role that routines play in our lives. We all follow routines to some extent and they have far-reaching effects on our mental and physical well being.
Habits such as going for a run every morning or flossing your teeth every night will improve your physical health, for sure. But routine is also good for our mental health: by following routines, we have fewer decisions to make. Creating a natural rhythm to your day reduces stress and anxiety and frees up mental space for creativity and innovation.
However, there’s nothing innately good or innately bad about routines. Whether they have a positive or negative effect on you will depend on your character and personality. Some people find following a routine too strictly feels stifling and can lead to missed opportunities. If you’re reflecting on the influence on your everyday habits, here’s a rundown of the positive and negative aspects of routines.
Because routines are repetitive and predictable they help us to take control of our day, calming us and reducing stress and anxiety.
Set your alarm so that you have plenty of time for exercise and/or early morning tasks before you have to leave for work. Don't jump from one job to another but create a daily schedule and stick to it. This frees up mental space and you’ll waste less time and energy.
Sticking to a regular, predictable routine allows you to save your mental energies for making big decisions. Whether you’re planning to apply for a new job or move house, routines give you the brain space you need to focus on deciding what’s right for you.
Good sleep hygiene starts with your bedtime routine. Switch off all your screens at least an hour before bedtime and try to avoid stressful TV shows and news programmes late at night.
Try meditating for a few minutes or read something light. Some people find that taking a warm bath just before bedtime helps them to sleep: by raising your body temperature and then allowing it to drop back to normal, you are mimicking what your body does as you fall asleep. By getting to sleep on time, you will wake up energised, refreshed and ready to tackle whatever your day has in store.
With a hectic family schedule, it can be difficult for families to spend much time together. Creating a routine of eating dinner together every evening - and clearing up afterwards - is an excellent way to give you and your family time and space for chatting and catching up on the day’s events.
Once you have established a regular, predictable schedule, you’ll find you have more time for doing the things you really love. Whether gardening, reading, an exercise class, or just an evening walk with your partner, your favourite activities will also become part of your everyday routines.
Following regular habits can indeed help to reduce anxiety, but following strict routines isn’t good for everyone. Adhering too strictly to a routine can sometimes lead to a drop in creativity and becoming stuck in a rut.
When you’ve established a routine, things can crop up unexpectedly that will prevent you from following it. This can lead to reduced motivation and productivity than if you had been following a more flexible schedule.
When you turn down an invitation to something you’d like to do because you feel compelled to stay in and catch up with your favourite TV programmes, you know you’ve got into a rut. Sticking to a routine too rigidly can lead to missed opportunities.
Many of our habits and routines are not good for us. For some people, it’s a cigarette break, for others, chocolates or cake mid-afternoon, or a beer or glass of wine after work - or maybe all three! If you’re trying to cut back, breaking the old habit is the hardest part. It can take up to three weeks to rewire the brain to accept a new routine, so don't give up too quickly.
Most of us benefit from routine in our lives. If you feel more routine would be helpful to you, take a pen and paper and note down your daily activities over a week, and see what you can reduce or cut out.
Then work out a new routine that will fit in with your lifestyle and personality. It’s no good setting yourself the goal of getting up with the lark to go for a run if you’re a night owl, as it probably won’t be something you can persist with for very long.
Once you’ve created your new routine, it should be like second nature after just a few weeks. But if something doesn’t work for you, don't be afraid to make changes.
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