Live Better: 5 Steps to Transform Your Routines into Habits

What turns a routine into a habit? Desire. Or better yet, the value we intrinsically put on a routine. If it’s enjoyable, moving or pleasurable, if we can see a benefit, if it lessens consequences down the road, there are values that push us to stick with it, to practice and to cultivate. But it takes more than just wanting to better ourselves or create a consistent schedule.  

To turn a routine (an action or task which will have contention if not completed) into a habit (an automatic compelling action), it needs to evolve from necessity. Something your mind or your body feels it needs to accomplish in order for life to move forward pleasingly, like pulling the car into the garage if it’s going to storm, or taking the garbage out when you are passing by the cans. This is the line that needs to be crossed in order for habits to be formed.

Do you have boring routines? Routines you wish could be done with ease? Instead of dreading housework every Monday, how could you make yourself want to clean the house on Monday? You love it when it’s done, and really, you know it isn’t such a horrid task to do. You just put it off, because you don’t value the task until it becomes necessary. Let’s break down the transition from routine to habit into steps so the necessity becomes clearer. 

First Step: Make the Routine Enjoyable

We’ll use cleaning the house as an example. This task is easier if built into our routine. What can you do to make this job ‘fun’?  Create a situation or atmosphere in which you look forward to cleaning. Try putting on some upbeat music, maybe a song that’s been stuck in your head. Perhaps you could light a few fragrant candles to coax you from room to room as you clean. Or, you could inspire yourself by browsing through beautiful, tidy homes on Pinterest or Google, to spark desire for your home to look the same. Whatever you choose, bring an enjoyable aspect to the routine. If it’s laundry you need to complete, maybe give your laundry room a new coat of paint to brighten your spirit while you divide the whites from colours!

Second Step: Pick a Convenient Time

Make sure your routine can stand the test of time. If it works well in the winter after work, but not in the summer after your rugby game, rethink the plan. Try and schedule your routines so they become automatic; you don’t have to think about them, they are in the plan and you do them. By giving yourself the benefit of a routine, you create a mental association between the situation (cue) and the action (behaviour)*.  So when the situation occurs, the action is anticipated, creating a positive mind-set. When you perform the habit, the mind won’t contemplate any other option.

Third Step: Be Consistent

Your routine should be carried out at the same time, in the same place. This way, it becomes a mind-set; your brain associates the task with the day/place/time and expects to accomplish the task in those parameters. If you want to develop a workout routine, you should exercise at the same time, in the same gym. If you decide to hit the gym before work, stick to this for a few weeks. With time, you’ll find your body & mind come to expect the early work-out as soon as your alarm goes off.

The task is already set into your schedule and you don’t have to take extra time and effort (which pull you out of the ‘feel good’ mode and into the ‘stress’ mode) to manage your workout amongst your other plans. If you keep on rescheduling your routine amongst other daily occurrences, your workout becomes more of a burden and less of what it was originally meant to be: a good thing to do for your mind and body. Keep original objectives for your routine in place, and your habits will fall into natural order.

Step Four: Give Yourself Small Rewards

Recognising the completion of your routine is also a good way to create positive feelings when transferring your routines to habits. Take an extra 5 minutes in a hot shower after working in the garden or sit down in your clean home and listen to the music with your eyes closed. The rewards are best if not planned out, just taken, and soon, these can become part of your routine-turned-habit. When they do, create another. If you lay a beneficial foundation, you won’t even think about your task, you will just do it, and will feel great about it afterwards.

Step Five: Recognise a Possible Disruption

Inevitably, somewhere along the line, your routine will be sidetracked. Perhaps by others, perhaps by your own hand, but it is a wonderful way to test your barometer of the ‘routine changed to habit’ process. Have you missed your regular hair appointment or skipped weightlifting at the gym? Consequently, you are not in your groove. You end up having a ‘bad hair day’ or your muscles begin to tense and cramp. This is your body telling you your habit has been missed; it is trying to self-correct the absence. If you are feeling the loss, you know you have moved from routine to habit. This is great news!

No matter what the routine, whether it is committing to plan a trip every year or make the bed every morning, realise the joy in its being and completion. Take these steps to readjust routines, and settle into the calm and completeness of a good habit. Who knows, maybe you can teach your kids to make their beds too!

*eliasben; ‘It’s not a habit because you do it everyday’; Routine Excellence. http://routineexcellence.com/its-not-a-habit/. 15/04/2018

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