“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we 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
I tend to be the sort of person that loves to think of themselves as adventurous, so when I decided to look at ways to enjoy a little more flow in life, routine was not a word that naturally jumped into my mind. But the more I read and learned from others, the more I could see the benefits, and now I swear by routines.
A Habit is a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. In other words, habits are actions that we repeat every day or at regular intervals of time over and over again. When we stream together multiple habits, that is a routine. And frankly it is our habits, and especially our routines, that guide our health and productivity. I have learned my routines determine how I spend my time and whether or not I achieve my goals, health and otherwise.
For instance, if I want to get 7 hours of sleep every night, I should safeguard my evening routine to make room for relaxation and to have a set bed time to ensure those 7 hours of sleep. If I am in the habit of glaring at social media or streaming a show until 11:30 pm, this habit may not be helping achieve a restful night’s sleep if I need to be awake by 6:00 am. (want to learn more about why light and sleep are not great together check it out here). For many years I was not conscious of what my habits actually were. And I had no idea if these habits were helping me achieve my goals and supporting my needs.
So I decided to take a good look at my current habits and determine if they were leading me down the roads that I wanted to go down. I needed to change my unconscious routines into a chain of habits that actually support what I want to achieve. I also knew that too much at once would overwhelm and likely derail me. I needed to make it simple by looking at only one portion of my day. I began with my evenings because evenings are what set me up for the next day and would have the most benefit to start.
So how did I go about constructing a routine?
I started with priority numbero-unu, I wanted to make sure I got enough sleep since being well rested is simply one of the most important aspects to living a healthy lifestyle and feeling great. Think immune system, hormonal system, cognitive, weight and insulin…..all the benefits! I set a bed time that I knew would ensure I could get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. I also know that having a set wake time every day is good for you too, so I made that part of the plan. I need to be up and starting my day by 7:00 am. That makes my bed time no later than 11:00 pm. And here is the simple truth, that does not mean be in bed at 11:00pm and read until midnight. That means be in bed with the lights out by 11pm. It was important to get clear with myself about what I wanted out of this habit. Once I had clarity, I understood why this habit was important to adhere to and how to make it happen.
Now I had a set time to end my day, I could then plan what activities or habits needed to be in place to support my other goals. I wanted to have a clean kitchen and have all the prep done to make breakfast the next day. It is cold here in Montana and frankly I prefer to snuggle in bed with my adorable husband for several minutes before jumping out into the cool air. If I could spend 10 minutes prepping breakfast the night before…I could snuggle and coo for 10 minutes in the morning. This is important bonding time for us and if I could make it happen while saving time and stress in the morning, that would be a big win! Plus, planning ahead means that I consciously choose a healthy breakfast.
So my next habit to put in place starts at 9:00 p.m. I planned to go into the kitchen and start cleaning it up and prep the next day’s breakfast. It usually takes me 15 – 20 minutes to do all of this (I usually have help so the extra hands makes this chore go fast).
My next action to turn into a habit is to lay out my clothes for the next day. Check the weather and make for the closet so I can prepare all the clothing I will need for the next day. This has been great! No more forgetting the extra shirt that I need to bring along for after work (to teach a dance class of course), no more wishing I had that extra layer because I did not know it was going to be chilly…pre-planning helps me make great decisions and be better prepared. Win-win-win. This only takes about 2 or 3 minutes and has had a big pay off in comfort and time savings, because I no longer have to make a trip home during the work day for the forgotten item(s).
This next habit is based on something Steve, my husband, and I were already doing. We study Esperanto together. Learning a language is fantastic for the brain and it also has made us much more conscious of English and empathetic to those learning it as a second language. So how would this work into my new routine? I needed to talk with Steve to find out when it would be best for him and not bump around my pre-set bedtime. We both agreed to sit down between 9:45-10pm and do our lesson sets together. I generally drink a calming cup of herbal tea during our lesson, so I added heating water and steeping to my kitchen time earlier in the evening. This is the start of my winding down time. Our lesson takes about 20 minutes.
By 10:20pm I planned to do my evening hygiene routine. It is not much. I floss and brush my teeth, wash my face with cool water, clean under my fingers nails, and brush my hair. Once all of this is done, I go fill up a 16 oz glass of water and place it on the counter top in the kitchen. I will drink this first thing on getting out of bed. Again, one less thing to do in the morning.
At this point, I know I needed to plan to be sliding into bed and I shot for no later than 10:45pm. I love to read as a way to finish the day, nothing too heavy on the old brainbox because I do not want to stimulate myself into a wake mode. The lights are low and the reading enjoyable. At 11:00pm, I shut off the light and go to sleep.
Viola...to bed ready for a restful nights sleep and prepared for the next day! New Routine installed!
It took about a month of being really conscious of the new activities and at what time I should do them. I made a few alarms in the beginning to be sure I stayed on track. Now, those activities are habit, my evening routine. I just do them as a matter of course. This routine supports a healthy night’s sleep, bonding time with my husband, less morning stress, and I am better prepared for the next day in general. Which is so much better than the unconscious routine I had before that often left me tired and scrambling in the mornings.
Do I do this routine every single night? No. I still go out and stay up late once in a while. Those nights generally mean that very little of the routine gets done. But those nights are often weekends where I can fudge without much discomfort. The thing is, a routine should be hard to break, so I just get back to doing it the next night. Getting back on track is easy because I enjoying the healthy benefits that the routine brings me. I now have a morning routine too, along with some other week long routines that have bolstered my health and happiness. It is the habits that we do every day that makes good health or bad health…choose wisely grasshopper.
Kathi is an all around Chiropractic Assistant and the Clinic Manager at Park County Chiropractic. She loves to help people find ways to make health a lifestyle and uses herself as a guinea pig to find and understand different ways to make a healthy lifestyle work in today's busy world.