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Is a Routine Refresh the Key to Success?

Hello Readers! It is finally September which means that we are on the cusp of Fall where the days get shorter and the school work gets greater! I have been in school for about three weeks at this point, and my biggest challenge as of late has been integrating some good routines into my schedule. It’s so funny how each semester I come in with all these different techniques and processes that worked very well for me in the past, and yet, somehow, I still struggle to get into a good flow of things. And honestly, this can be quite frustrating when I see how practices which worked so well for me last semester have dissimilar effects this time around. Yesterday, as I was thinking about this very annoyance, I had an ‘aha’ moment of how I, and you, can functionally refresh our routines.

Before we launch into my theory, I think it’s important for us to define what is the difference between a habit and a routine. I’ve seen many people use these words interchangeably, but there is a key difference between them. And that difference is choice. You see, a habit is something that is purely muscle memory, and there is no choice involved. It’s an action so ingrained into our way of life that our brains need no longer to question why it is being done, and simply just does it. Whereas conversely, a routine is a group of actions chosen to be regularly followed. In short, a routine is the practice of separate habits and this makes all the difference.

So why does this distinction matter? Well, this proves that in order to refresh our routines, we must first look at the separate habits which comprise them.

To begin, I’ve realized we must first become aware of the habits that we are in. Though this may sounds obvious, I would argue that most us don’t even realize how many habitual behaviors we have. Often times these actions are so engrained into our routines that they become unconscious to us. Personally, an unconscious habit I’ve noticed is going on Instagram first thing in the morning. I had started my mornings like this for so long that when it came time to revamp my morning routine I didn’t even think to change it until I first noticed it. And more importantly, when changing routines I believe it’s too easy for us to focus on the habits we are trying to make that we end up forgetting all about which habits we already have. And ultimately, we can’t change our routines until we are first aware of ALL the habits which compose them.

The next step, once you have identified your habits, is to think about the routine itself. What are you lacking in your routine now that has brought you to this moment of change? Does your new job require that you get a full nights rest instead of watching Netflix until 3am? Does your mental health now demand less phone time in the morning in order for you to feel your best? The possibilities are really endless for why one might choose a Routine Refresh. The trick is identifying which is the right reason for YOU.

I think this is a good point for me to write my usual disclaimer that what you might see other people doing is not a good place to start your Routine Refresh. Few things in our path to healthy living are as personal as the routines we live day to day. Each of our schedules, responsibilities, and goals are so different that comparing individual habits is as logical as comparing fingerprints. Though I don’t doubt your neighbor’s new vegan diet is helping them to achieve their goal towards better health, believing that their solution will be as beneficial to you is not realistic and possibly harmful. Unfortunately, like most aspects of self discovery, refreshing your routines is better described as trial and error than follow the leader. And, though one can always take inspiration from others, I’d suggest that you only judge its applicability AFTER you have tried and tested it’s process in your own context.

The next step in our Routine Refresh is curating your new routine. And, the best way we can do this is to identify which habits bring you closer to your intended goal and which do not. Some habits will continue to be beneficial and won’t need to be changed (thank goodness!) These will most likely be habits that you’ve had for life or have already intentionally incorporated, like mediations or exercise. Note how in the search for new habits we should never forget the old ones which continue to work in your best interest. The others? Maybe not so much. All other habits you will have noticed will either be draining your time, or energy in some way, and should be discontinued for the time being. Maybe watching Youtube during breakfast was beneficial when work limited your personal time last year, but now is only makes you feel groggy and overstimulated. Refresh. Or, maybe you used to get a coffee every morning on your way to work, and now it’s only drains your weekly budget. Refresh. Weighing the value of your habits may be unsettling if you are reluctant to let go of un-beneficial behaviors. Yet, reframing these refreshes as bringing new growth instead of letting go of fond patterns will help to invite this new phase of life (and hopefully lessen the sting.) Overall, being realistic and reflecting on what is working for you and what isn't will not only freshen up your routines, but also make them more beneficial for you in the long run.

Finally, the last step of this Routine Refresh is most likely the hardest: enacting them. The reason we call them habits is because these things are habitual. That means they are hard-wired and hard to break. But, luckily for us hard does not mean impossible. This is to say, expect a level of resistance at the beginning of any new routine. It’s okay to feel weird and awkward doing things outside your norm. But, if you focus on one habit at a time, and find comfort within the discomfort of difference slowly you’ll begin to see the benefits of acting in your own best interest. Times like these can also be a great excuse to ask those around you for help. Asking your early-bird roomate to wake you up at the time of your alarm makes it easier to keep yourself accountable, or even asking a friend to let you complain about the pains of starting a new routine can be helpful too! Just because your routine is personal to you doesn’t mean you’re the only one who must bear the burden of enacting it.

To better illustrate this process in full, let’s go back to my earlier example of refreshing my morning routine. Coming off summer especially, the first routine I must revive come fall is my morning routine as I’ve found it makes a substantial difference in my productivity. This fall I started first identifying my habits. In general, my habits were snoozing my alarm, going on Instagram, journaling sometimes, and drinking tea. After the initial observation, I then qualified that the reason I wanted a better morning routine was so that I could be more efficient getting out of the door each day. Then, I compared the four habits I listed with my goal of being more efficient and I could easily see that snoozing my alarm 50 times and mindlessly scrolling social media were the habits which were not in alignment, and how that time would be much better served for my more beneficial habits of journaling and tea time. Finally, to keep myself accountable I am deciding to charge my phone on the floor so that I must now physically get out of bed to turn it off and am unable to roll over and lazily open apps. Though this is one of the million examples of how one might change their routine, the basic steps remain the same. Observe, Qualify, Compare, and Enact. And I’ve found that once you reframe your minds eye to act on what you WANT to do oppose to what you JUST DO your routines become a lot easier to maintain.

So, now that we know how to reevaluate our routines, the next question is why? What can one really gain from a routine refresh?

A routine refresh helps one to compare what they are used to doing with what they need to be doing. Our goals for ourselves are constantly changing depending on our health, responsibilities, and society. It’s a bit frustrating to admit that what used to work for us may no longer be helping us to succeed, but it is a crucial realization for forward growth. And even though admitting that our habits of the past can’t be brought into our future can be a little unsettling or downright sad if we have a strong emotional connection to those activities, acknowledging that there are different and even better ways to live that conform with our new identity and goals will place us in a better position overall.

What is a habit that you wish to change? Leave your takeaways in the comments!

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