Daily tasks can often be overwhelming, particularly if you are someone dealing with a mental health condition such as major depression, substance use disorder, or traumatic stress disorder. Accomplishing everything on your to-do list may seem impossible.
Establishing a daily routine is absolutely essential to effectively manage tasks and maintain optimal mental and physical well-being, regardless of one’s age or developmental stage. Routines are important at every stage of life—from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. Numerous studies have provided compelling evidence for the extensive positive impact of daily routines on mental health. These routines have been found to play a crucial role in various aspects, such as mitigating the effects of bipolar disorder, averting substance abuse, and effectively managing symptoms associated with a wide range of mental disorders.
Routine vs. Habit
According to Nir Eyal, the author of “How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life,” a habit is defined as a behavior done with little or no thought, while on the other hand, a routine involves a series of repetitive behaviors. To develop a behavior, one has to regularly perform a routine before it can become a habit.
However, many of us try to skip the “routine” phase as we think that habits will allow us to put unenjoyable tasks on autopilot, Eyal says.
Richard Uzelac will agree with Eyal that it makes sense. Unlike habits, routines are uncomfortable and require much effort. For example, waking up early to run every morning or meditating for 10 minutes every night are rituals that, initially, are challenging to maintain. On the other hand, habits are so deeply ingrained in our daily lives that not engaging in them feels peculiar not to do them. Just imagine not brushing your teeth before bed or skipping a cup of coffee in a day for coffee lovers. If these are habits, you have already formed, abstaining from them might even make you feel bad.
How to Conquer a Routine
Conquering a routine involves developing strategies and a mindset to establish and maintain the desired routine effectively. Here are some steps you can follow:
- Define your goal: Determine the specific routine you want to establish and the purpose behind it. Having a clear objective will motivate you throughout the process.
- Start small: Begin with manageable tasks or activities related to your routine. Trying to tackle too much at once might make you feel overwhelmed and feel discouraged. Gradually take small steps at a time.
- Create a schedule: Set a dedicated time for your routine in your daily or weekly schedule. Treat it as a non-negotiable appointment with yourself and prioritize it accordingly.
- Break it down: Divide your routine into smaller, actionable steps. This makes the routine more manageable and less daunting. Focus on completing one step at a time, gradually progressing toward the full routine.
- Establish reminders: Use reminders or alarms to prompt you to start your routine. It will be helpful to have visual cues like sticky notes or notifications that signal the beginning of your routine.
- Stay consistent: Consistency is the key to establishing a routine. Aim to practice it regularly, ideally every day or on specified days. Choose a time that works best for you and commit to it.
- Track your progress: Keep a record or journal of your routine activities. Tracking your progress helps you visualize your achievements and identify any areas for improvement.
- Stay motivated: Celebrating small wins like rewarding yourself reinforces positive behavior and motivates you to continue. Rewards are central to the principles of operant conditioning, a learning theory developed by B.F. Skinner. According to this theory, behaviors that are followed by positive rewards are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors followed by negative consequences are less likely to be repeated.
- Adjust and adapt: Be flexible and willing to adapt your routine as needed. Life circumstances may change, and your routine might require modifications to remain effective and relevant.
- Give yourself grace: Remember that establishing a routine takes time and effort. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a day or face setbacks. Be patient, resilient, and continue working towards your routine with a positive mindset.
Routine in Alleviating Burnout
Routines combat burnout, which can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion, strained relationships, and reduced productivity. To prevent burnout, consider these changes to your daily schedule:
- Stick to a morning routine.
- Avoid hitting the snooze button.
- Take periodic breaks throughout the day.
- Schedule time for solitude.
- Practice gratitude by noting one important thing.
- Establish a consistent end time for work.
Creating a healthy routine involves making small changes gradually. Cut out negative habits and introduce positive activities, like spending more time with loved ones. Remember, consistency is key, but perfection isn’t necessary. If you miss a day, simply aim to improve the next day.
While routines can benefit mental health by managing symptoms and improving sleep, they are not a sole solution. Individuals experiencing mental health symptoms should explore additional treatment options alongside establishing a routine.