t this time of year we often turn our minds to new beginnings in the form of new years resolutions. We are looking for ways to be better versions of ourselves. Perhaps we’d like to be happier, calmer, more productive or more adventurous.
But new years resolutions don’t last – it’s estimated that 80% of new years resolutions are forgotten by February.
So you don’t need a new year’s resolution.
What you do need is to create a routine that you can stick to.
I know that can sound boring but there is increasing evidence to show that creating a routine could be the key to living the life you want.
As American author and leadership expert John Maxwell put it, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine”.
This sounds so simple that we could easily dismiss it. But the fact is, this simple principle is very true. Here are the ways that creating a routine could be the answer you’re looking for.
It’s estimated that 80% of new year’s resolutions are forgotten by February
Creating a routine gives us order
Routine gives us a sense of security and stability. It gives our life a structure that makes sense to us. Creating a routine that we’ve chosen means that we can wake up with a sense of ownership and order in our lives.
The psychological benefits of routine
Researchers have found that creating a routine can have psychological benefits including alleviating insomnia, anxiety and stress. Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist, says, “To manage anxiety, you need to consistently check in with yourself about what you’re worrying about, then address it. Just as we create routines with exercise for our physical bodies, we should do the same for our mental health”.
Creating a routine frees up mental space, making you more efficient
Another reason routine is important is because the actions in the routine become habitual. This means that you don’t have the think about the action or make decisions about it. This frees up mental space for other tasks.
Creating a routine allows you to make time for what matters to you
Routines allow you to carve out time to pursue your passion every single day. Once it’s a routine, there’s no more wriggling out of painting or writing or working on your business plan because you’re too tired or you’re not feeling inspired.
The most successful and prolific writers are those that stick to a strict routine when writing. Haruki Murakami, whose books have been international bestsellers, tells of his daily routine, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Creating a routine is a game-changer for creativity. It also keeps projects constantly percolating in the unconscious mind. And research shows just how powerful the unconscious mind is, helping us to reach better decisions than conscious thought.
Creatine a routine keeps you moving forward
Creating a routine means that we know what’s coming next and what to do. This means that we keep moving forward and avoid standing still or decision paralysis (not doing anything because we don’t know what to do).
Creating a routine helps us to build good habits.
Habits are automatic responses that we have taught ourselves over time. And we have hundreds of them. From the order in which you freshen up in the bathroom each morning (do you wash your face or brush your teeth first?) to what you do when you arrive back home after work in the evening. Creating a routine means you can incorporate good habits that serve you, into your daily life.
Small steps lead to big results
Routinely doing something each day, even something small, leads to big changes over time. It reminds me of the old Chinese proverb by Laozi “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, meaning that great things commence with simple beginnings. Although it may not seem that doing this one small thing today means much, in the long run, it all adds up. For example if you run 2km per day, in a year you will have run 730km, the distance of 17 marathons.
Great things commence with simple beginnings
What are some things we can incorporate into our routines?
There’s no need to overcomplicate your routine. When creating your routine, incorporate things you enjoy (or think you can learn to enjoy!), or that you feel will have a long-term benefit to you.
Here are some suggestions:
Thinking time: set aside time each day to think through any problems or worries instead of letting them build up.
Journalling: the benefits of journalling are huge. It gives you an opportunity to lay down your thoughts, concerns or worries and get some order out of them. Are you noticing a pattern of thoughts, for example? I’m a big fan of journalling to refocus your mind. I regularly use my journal to note down the things I am grateful for, which turns my mind to look for the positive in life.
Daily exercise: start where you are comfortable. This could be a walk, taking the stairs at work or a few yoga poses.
Daily Meditation: 5-10 minutes when you first wake can set you up with clarity and calm for the day ahead.
Nutrition routines: This could be as simple as eating a healthy breakfast or bringing lunch to work to avoid fast food options.
Getting to bed at the same time and waking at the same time each morning.
Creating a bedtime wind-down routine: for example a cup of herbal tea and reading a book.
Scheduling something you enjoy each week: perhaps it’s a painting class or meeting up with a girlfriend for a coffee.
3 tips to ensure the routine sticks
Of course it’s all very well to decide what your new routine is going to be, but to get it to stick can be trickier. Here are some tips adapted from psychologist and author B.J. Fogg.
- Start small. “Get more exercise” is not small. “Eat healthier” is not small. This is a big reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. For example, instead of “Get more exercise” choose “Take the stairs each morning to get to my office”, or “Have a smoothie every morning with kale in it”. These are small actions and therefore more likely to stick.
- Attach the new action to a previous habit. Work out what habit you already have that you regularly do. For example, if you already go for a walk 3 times a week, then add on 10 more minutes to the existing walk. This connects the new habit to an existing one.
- Make the new habit easy. You have to make the new action easy to do for at least the first week. Because you are trying to create a new habit, you need to practice the new habit 3 to 7 times before it will “stick” on its own. To help you through this 3 to 7 times phase make it as easy as possible. For example, write a note and stick it in your walking shoe that says “Total time today for walk is 30 minutes”. Write a note and put it where you put your keys that says: “Today use the stairs.” Put kale in the blender and have all your smoothie ingredients ready to go the night before.