The Importance of Routines and Habits

Throughout my life I have had several habits that haven’t served me well. I’ve never been a smoker or heavy drinker, but I turned to food when bored or upset, watched too much television, and spent far too much time sitting both at work and at home. Over the past few years I started trying to develop new habits and dump the negative ones. But creating new habits and stopping old ones isn’t always easy.

Pulitzer Prize winning-reporter Charles Duhigg wrote in his book The Power of Habit, that you can’t just say you’re going to stop doing your bad habits, you have to find ways of changing them into good ones. For example, if you reach for a unhealthy snack in the afternoon try switching to a piece of fruit, protein shake, water (thirst is often mistaken for hunger) or doing something active (again, you might be more bored or stressed than hungry).

Sign with arrows pointing toward good habits and bad habitsAnother key to changing your habits is tracking your changes. Over the years I’ve tried a few different methods for tracking my habits and about a year ago started using an app on my phone called Way of Life (for iPhone and Android), which was effective. I came up with a list of things that I wanted to make new habits and entered these into the App. Whenever I did one of them, I checked it off. It would even remind me every evening to enter which habits I had completed. Some of my daily habits include:

    • Meditate
    • Exercise (for at least 30 minutes)
    • Drink my goal amount of water for the day
    • Have a conversation with my child without any tech (so no TV, radio, etc. on in the room)
    • Journal
    • Floss
    • Read at least 5 pages in a non-work related book

Several months ago I started following author Todd Henry on Twitter and began listening to his podcasts and reading his books. Henry calls his list of daily habits his “dailies”. In his book The Accidental Creative he explained that he used a note card to track his dailies, but later disclosed on Twitter that he had switched to using the app Productive (only for iPhone). I made the switch too when I realized that I could set daily habits that only applied during the week or on weekends. This is handy because two of my goals are also to go for a long walk and climb the seven flights of stairs in the main library, both at work, and both only applicable Monday through Friday. I also like that I can easily schedule habits for multiple times a day. I try to take a few minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening to meditate. It helps to relax me and keep me focused.

I also make time to complete my habits. First thing in the morning I do about 3 minutes of yoga just to stretch out, then some gratitudes and affirmations. I don’t look at my phone until those are done. I get into my exercise clothes and then go downstairs to workout in the gym we put in our basement (you could go for a walk or workout somewhere else if you don’t have the luxury of the space at home). Then I have a healthy breakfast and start my day. I put time on my calendar (most days) to write in my journal. I even schedule in my stair climb and long walk on my work days.

I am not perfect, and there are days when several of my habits don’t get checked off, but the tracking of them has become a routine and made me much better at accomplishing these habits.

Having this routine and focus on completing good habits has made me more productive, more relaxed, and more fit and healthy, something I’m going to write about in detail in another post. Think about what daily habits you currently have that you’d like to change, think of a way to track your new or changed habits (pick a method that will work for you), and schedule when you will do those habits.

Do not, I repeat, do not beat yourself up when you don’t complete one or or more of your good habits on a given day. This is more likely to lead to you discarding the whole thing or engaging in unhealthy habits to provide you with short-term comfort. Note what you didn’t do, think about what the barriers to you doing those habits were, and consider how you’ll deal with those barriers tomorrow.

As Todd Henry noted in this post about his personal manifesto, “Your daily personal habits and rituals determine your destiny.” Even making a small change can cause a ripple effect in the rest of your life.

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Photograph by The People Speak!. Used under a CC-BY license.

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