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Healthy Routines vs Ruts

DISCIPLINE STRATEGY® Blog by Timothy L. Coomer, PhD

Lessons on applying scientific research to solve real life challenges within a framework called DISCIPLINE: [Decide] [Investigate] [Sort] [Conceive] [Implement] [Loop] [Intensify] [Notice] [Enjoy]

The word routine has almost become insulting. People are warned about the soul-crushing effects of the relentless grind. They’re encouraged to “break out” of their ruts and embrace new things.

And while that can be good advice sometimes, routines can also be highly positive, particularly when it comes to conserving energy for the important things in life.

The key is to build your routines with solid habits that support progress toward your goals. With these in place, you can run on autopilot and save your mental energy for when you really need it, such as when making choices and establishing more good habits.

Conserving energy is essential to making the transition from planning to doing, from working out a strategy to living it, from determining that you need to muster discipline to actually living with that discipline.

When you first start dreaming of your life change, you’re excited, and that gives you plenty of energy. Even better, you don’t have to do much that isn’t mental. You might type up your plans or discuss your ideas with others, but most of the work is in your brain, and the power of your ideas and plans will re-energize you.

But once you start doing, your ideas and plans are no longer new, and possibilities must face reality. Your momentum is in danger of stalling, but you can offset that greatly with productive routines and good habits that run on autopilot.

And always bear in mind that these habits must benefit you, not punish you, or force you to do things you don’t want. One strategy is to remember to work rewards into your routines. Plan to give yourself a solid high five when you’ve spent the day working toward your goals, and make that high five personal.

For me, if I have completed my routines and goals for the day, I like to go home and have a piece of dark chocolate and a glass of red wine. Maybe you’d like to binge a few episodes on Netflix or dedicate the rest of the evening to a hobby. Whatever the reward, make sure you enjoy it only on those days when you have done what you set out to do.

This reward isn’t just for “being good.” It’s an effective method for making new habits stick. We all experience resistance when making life changes. Implementing a new routine may involve changing the time you wake up or how much leisure you get on the weekends.

You need to associate your revised routines with feeling good about yourself. That too will help you with maintaining your energy, and thus your focus, and even coax you out of old comfort zones where those old bad habits lurk, waiting for our return.

Following a routine also allows you to keep your mind on taking all these changes “one day at time.” Shifting from research and planning to implementing and doing is challenging. The status quo bias kicks in and you start to ask questions like, “how much is left” and “how much more effort will this take?”

Each day, allow your routines to take care of the familiar chores with your brain on low-power mode so that when you encounter challenges, or you are pushing your comfort zone, you have the physical and mental energy to be successful.

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