I love my routines. Left routine-less, I float about a little aimlessly – my heart in the clouds and my head buried deep in a pile of work, coming out only for food, and only when I manage to remember. In that daily whirlwind, I forget to remember the little things I love to do. Routines help me find balance and remind me of those things. They remind me to slow down, to take time to do the things that make me happy. So when someone asks how to start a routine, that’s the place I tell them to start. What do you love? Build around that.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” – Tony Robbins
So, what do you love?
To some, routines can seem like shackles, weighing down their creativity and spontaneity that would otherwise be playing amongst the clouds. And I can see where that comes from. But keeping your head in the clouds has its own problems, with no ways to bring anything you’re capable of creating down to Earth.
But, as I say with everything, there’s a way to find balance.
My morning routine, for example, is a time when I like to make sure I’m awake and following my routine, not to be productive or reach some kind of goal, but to remember to embrace the morning light, the sunrise, to have time with my dog at the park, to stretch and think in the quiet of the house before everyone else is awake (and of course, enjoy breakfast – aka the best meal of the day).
My morning routine has no purpose besides inspiring me.
I think it’s become an expectation that a routine must serve a purpose to ‘improve’ you, but really you can set the goal to be anything. The fact that they help me be more productive isn’t their purpose, that’s just a side effect from dedicating time and energy to what I love.
Routines are guidelines, built around how you live best.
11 Steps: how to start a routine
Set a goal
My first step for how to start a routine is to ask: why are you creating this routine? Not only will this encourage you to stick with it, but it will help to enhance the benefits of your new routine. If you believe this routine will make you more successful, chances are it will. When you really believe in something, you begin to subconsciously align yourself with it. You make it come true.
And for that reason, words are powerful things, so how you phrase your reason is important too. There’s two things to keep in mind here: is it coming from a positive place? And are you setting yourself up for success?
For example, “I’m too unhealthy” is a negative reason, coming from a place of lack and not feeling good enough how you are. It’s easier said than done, but when confronted with an unhealthy choice, hearing “I’m too unhealthy” in your mind will bring up feelings of temptation, of guilt and of self-hate. You might feel incapable and like you have so far to go, that you might not even take the first step. Flip it into something positive. “I make healthy choices for my body and mind”.
Your intention should also guarantee your success. Decide that you are a person who makes healthy decisions. Rather than “I will make healthy decisions”, decide on “I make healthy decisions”, the latter leaves far less wriggle room. Believing that that healthy person is already inside you (psst, they are as soon as you decide they are) will make doing those habits so much easier, because you already know you can.
Make a list of everything you want to do
Now, what do you want your routine to include? Write down the basics that you need to be there. If you’re creating a morning routine then breakfast, making your bed, showering and getting dressed are likely must-haves.
And then write down the things you’d love to do in the morning. Reading, meditating, exercise, watching the sunrise, taking some time to practice a hobby, going for a walk – whatever it is. These are equally important, believe that.
Start small and steady
It can be hard, when you have the list we’ve just written, to not just jump headfirst into the deep end. I’ve done it a thousand times before, deciding one night that I’m going to wake up and start my 5am super-healthy, uber-productive morning routine with fifteen new habits the next morning. And I failed miserably, time and time again – it’s too overwhelming and too sudden. I’ve learnt the hard way, that we must start small with these things.
Add in new habits a couple at a time. Try them on for size, see how they make you feel and what kind of difference they make. Once they become more habitual, you can add in more. This way you’ll be more likely to stick to your routine, develop your habits and also appreciate each habit, and the difference they’re making, better.
If you want, plan them out in an order. You could schedule them for specific times. Or you could tackle them in the order that feels best to you each day. Find what works for you.
Are you a morning, afternoon or evening person?
For habits that don’t need to be done at a specific time of day, but if not, decide when they’re best suited. If you’re a night-owl, you may find you have more time and enthusiasm in your night routine than in your morning routine: so put your more tricky or energy-consuming habits there.
These are your routines: there’s no musts, no have tos or need tos. Build them around what works best for you.
Break bigger tasks into smaller tasks
Let’s say you’ve put aside a chunk of time on a Wednesday evening to ‘clean’. But ‘clean’ is such a broad term that you always find yourself a little lost as the minutes tick by. Breaking such tasks down into smaller tasks can help you get more done and feel a better sense of flow and calm whilst doing it.
This calls for some good ol’ to do lists. Break your Wednesday ‘clean’ down into the tasks you’ll need to do every week, and then every week, if you notice the tub’s looking a little dirty or the oven needs cleaning, add these to your list on a week by week basis.
Even if the habits are in no set order, it’s important to complete your routines at consistent times.
Our brains love consistency. I spoke in my How To Concentrate Better blog about how I have a little ritual before I sit down to work: doing these tasks lets my brain know we’re about to enter concentration mode. The same goes for night routines, doing the same tasks everyday before bed tells your brain you’re going to be going to sleep soon and thus, you should find yourself more tired and slipping into sleep easier.
Set yourself up for success
If you’re finding a habit tricky to start, there’s a lot you can do to give yourself the best chance at completing it.
Let’s say you want to start a new morning routine and you’ve decided to get up a little earlier than usual. To give yourself the best chance of success, you’re going to need to go to bed a little earlier too. Setting habits to help you prepare for your other habits (sorry, it’s a little habit-ception here), you’ll have your best chance at succeeding and staying healthy whilst you do.
This is also a reminder to schedule breaks: they’re unimaginably important.
Do something fun!
Hopefully you find most of the habits in your routines fun, but if not, spice them up a bit! This could be anything: adding a nice post-workout snack to your gym routine, or putting some feel-good music on whilst you’re doing the less exciting parts of your morning routine. The more you enjoy your routines, the greater you’ll benefit.
Follow your new routine for three weeks
One problem people have with how to start a routine is that they don’t commit to trialling their routine for long enough. I recommend committing to a routine for three weeks and seeing what happens. Three weeks is a challenging length of time but it’s short enough not to be overwhelming. By the end of the three weeks, you would have had time to see the effects of what you’re doing, so you can continue on, remodel your routine or try something new.
Keep a daily journal
This habit is sooooo helpful in every aspect of life! I’ve written before about my experience journaling, and the benefits of doing so. But for assessing your routines, it’s a goldmine. I tend to read back through my journal once every few weeks and I always find it so interesting to see how I respond to different routines and habits. Sometimes, I don’t even notice a shift or change, but when I look back, I see how different I feel compared to just a few weeks before.
Be flexible and accepting
And my last tip when it comes to how to start a routine is to allow yourself flexibility. Leave periods of time routine-free (I have zero routine for my weekends), or leave some time open-ended. Set a time to ‘do something creative’ and see what you feel like doing when the time comes around.
Some habits are going to feel difficult and uncomfortable at first, as leaving your comfort zone always does, but you know your reasons for doing it (you’ve written them down!) and with each day that goes by, they’ll get a little easier.
Once you’ve created a routine you truly love and believe in, it becomes empowering and exciting. You’re investing in the things you love, afterall.
Spend your time doing things you love. Love, Ella-Rose xx