Aspects of well-being, part 9

Routine.

Kind of broad and all encompassing, huh? I mean, all of the previous 8 parts of this series could be said to reduce down to “change your routine.” And that’s true. What I want to cover here is the broader idea of having a routine and how it can help with behavior and habit changes. I’d also like to dispel the common usage of the word routine to mean “boring,” mundane,” or “underwhelming.” Routines are an important part of our daily lives, and it’s time we realized and embraced that fact.

Think about your average day. How does it start? Chances are it’s something like this: alarm goes off > roll out of bed and hit the bathroom > brush teeth > shower > get dressed > grab coffee/breakfast > hit the road.

Guess what that is? That’s a routine.

Now let’s say that you want to change what you eat for breakfast. You’ve been grabbing an energy bar, recently you found out that they’re mostly sugar and you know that’s not the best way to start the day so you want to shift over to something more satiating. Since breakfast is smack in the middle of your morning routine, there’s an easy way to make this change. It’s called triggering.

A trigger can be nearly anything you do on a regular basis. In this example we’ll use getting dressed. Once you get dressed, your next stop is the kitchen for coffee and breakfast. If you want to change the behavior of breakfast, you associate it with the trigger of getting dressed so that when you hit the kitchen you’re ready for the new behavior of eating some eggs instead of an energy bar.

There’s a lot of discord among behavior experts on how long it takes for a new behavior to become a habit, with most zeroing in on somewhere around 30 days. So for one month, you use the trigger of getting dressed (or you can get more specific and use putting on your shoes, for example) to prime you for the new behavior of eating a good breakfast. The idea is that by the end of that month, you’ve dumped the energy bar habit in favor of a hearty breakfast of eggs.

Having this whole thing revolve around the fact that you have a morning routine is what makes this change possible. And the best part is routines are quite flexible. Let’s look at your mid afternoon break at work. Most people start to feel tired around 2-3 PM. Without getting into the specifics of why this happens and what you can do about it (saving that for a post of it’s own), let’s look at a way to change the outcome of this break.

Right now, you likely start to nod off over your keyboard. So you get up and head for the break room and a cup of coffee and/or a “treat” from the vending machine. These combine to give you the boost you think you need to make it through 5:00. Now, what do you think would happen if you used getting up from your desk as the trigger, and instead of the break room, you headed outside to walk around the block and followed that up with a glass of water from the watercooler? How much better would you feel, not only physically, but about yourself in general?

This improvement is possible because you have a routine in place that you can easily modify with triggering. This is a change process that anyone can use, to modify nearly any daily habit. Does it still take willpower? Of course. Is it easier than trying to change a behavior completely off the cuff? Of course. Might it be worth trying? I would say so.