What time do you wake up in the morning? What do you do as soon as you get home from work? You probably already know these answers, because, intentionally or not, you have routines. How you use those routines to your benefit is the key. Today we’re going to look at how you can alter your routines and your habits to reduce stress, work toward your goals and simplify your day-to-day schedule.
Habits and routines are fundamental to our day-to-day lives. Think of the first time you ever drove a car or tied your shoes. You were hyper-aware of every aspect of those steps. Now, you probably tie your shoes without looking and driving your car while listening to music or talking to your passengers.
Habits move your routines from the forefront of your mind to the part of your brain that can automatically and compulsively take care of business without much thought. Without them, we would be mentally exhausted by the time we got to work in the mornings. The problem with habits and routines is when unhealthy things become easy to do.
Coming home from work and drinking a six-pack, checking a text while driving, smoking to calm down on your work break, eating junk food when you’re too tired to cook. One time things that satisfy a craving or need become habits faster than we realize. It can be hard to break them because once we’re in the right routine, our brain works on auto-pilot. Turning off that auto-pilot is mentally exhausting.
The most successful way to stop old habits and begin new ones is to look at not just the action (drinking, texting, smoking, eating, etc) but also look at the trigger (or cue) and outcome as well. For example, when I get home from work, my baby tends to nap and that means I typically sit in my chair and scroll through my phone for the next hour. The baby napping is the trigger/cue, the scrolling is an action, and the dopamine boost I get from pinning, liking, and sharing content is the outcome/reward.
Does this mean I should stop the baby from napping? Haha, no. But, maybe instead of me sitting in the rocking chair next to her nap spot, I go sit at my desk or in the dining room. That simple change will get me out of my regular routine enough to spark new habits. Simply changing a cue can be enough to shift your mindset and start on a different track.
Trigger, Action, Outcome. Using this formula, write out some of the habits that you’d like to work on. If you’re having a hard time identifying some of the steps, here are some ideas to get you going:
- Trigger: When my alarm goes off, I grab my phone to turn it off. Action: I then scroll through my social media feeds while in bed. Outcome: Dopamine kick and instant gratification.
- New trigger: Put my phone across the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off. New action: turn off the alarm and get ready for work (I’ll already be standing up, so going to the bathroom without my phone is easy). Outcome: I’ll have time in the morning to not feel rushed, eat breakfast and start on new habits.
- Trigger: When I get home from work, I put my stuff down and sit on the couch. Action: I scroll through my phone, watch TV or take a nap. Outcome: I feel “rested” and as though I took a well-deserved break.
- New trigger: When I get home from work, I put my stuff AWAY and take the baby and puppy on a walk to the park. Action: I get exercise and when I get home, I’ll have energy rather than feeling lazy. Outcome: I feel healthier, my dog and baby get some time outside and I have more energy from my mild workout.
There are a million habits you could cultivate in your life. If this is a change you’re serious about making, I recommend you read one or all of the books below:
By Spall, Benjamin, Xander, Michael
Habits are just individual steps in your daily routines. Habit stacking is a popular way to use the habits you already have in place to build new and better habits. The idea is that you use established habits as a cue for a new habit. So, if you already brush your teeth in the morning, maybe you want to floss more, you can set your floss on top of your toothpaste to remind you to floss first. Or if you forget to go to the gym after lunch, then before you make your food, change into your gym clothes and remove some of that friction.
When I started to plan this post, I knew I wanted to attempt to change some of my routines and habits as a case study, to test out the methods and tricks I’ve just talked about. I wanted to do something extreme, though, so that I could see how well these tricks could really work. Instead of working on just one habit, I worked on a few. Here is my current day-to-day routine:
Wake up around 4:30 am, scroll on my phone, feed the baby, make some coffee for my husband & I, get dressed and ready for work, leave the house by 5:45 am, work from 6 am to 2 pm, feed the baby, and lay her down for a nap, have a snack, get some housework done, watch some youtube, scroll on my phone, maybe get some work done or play with the baby, start dinner around 5 pm, usually have a beer or a soda, watch TV while we eat, clean up, put the baby to bed, get ready for bed, go to sleep by 9:30 pm.
Nothing special. There are definitely some habits I want to cut and some new habits I’d like to add:
- Wake up by 4:30 to give myself 30 minutes of Bible Study and prayer time
- Make a healthy snack after work rather than eating junk food
- No more soda or beer while at home — only if we’re eating out or going to a bar with friends
- Work on my business for at least 30 minutes after I put the baby down for her nap (ideally, I would work as long as she’s asleep, then play with her until dinner)
- Eat dinner without TV (this is a big once since we tend to waste 1–3 hours watching shows at night)
- After dinner, go to the gym or go for a jog with the baby (I’ll alternate gym days with the hubs so that we can take turns watching the baby)
- Get to bed by 8:30 pm and read or listen to meditations to go to sleep.
That’s A LOT of changes to make in only 4 weeks. Essentially I’ll be cutting out unhealthy foods and drinks, stopping watching TV, and scrolling on my phone. Instead, I’ll be working out regularly, putting consistent hours into my business, and getting more/better sleep. Coincidentally, during this month, one of my favorite YouTubers put out THIS video about this exact thing. It really inspired me mid-month when I was feeling drained from all the work.
At the end of the month, I was able to complete the following habits:
- I woke up at 4:30 22 out of 31 days. Not bad considering there are 8 weekend days mixed in there.
- I managed to have a healthy snack after work all 23 days of work.
- I didn’t do great on this one because we spent a lot of time at the pool with beer or soda and drank wine during the bachelorette… I skipped soda and alcohol 19 days out of 31.
- Yikes. We ended up moving at the end of the month and everything was out of schedule due to some work emergencies, family emergencies, and packing. I only worked on my business for a total of 4 hours out of 11.5 hours of “designated work time”
- We still watched TV every night with dinner, but every night we only watched one 30 minute episode and then went on a family walk after clean up. Big improvement that I hope to keep working on.
- I started this habit later because it’s been SO hot, we can’t take the baby out when the weather is so warm. From the days we were able to do it, I was able to walk after dinner with the baby 14 out of 15 days.
- This is the habit that was the hardest — Get to bed by 8:30 pm and read or listen to meditations to go to sleep. I listened to meditations all 31 days, but my “go to sleep” times varied wildly because our baby went through a sleep strike. We always started a bedtime routine at the same time (7:30 pm) so that’s about all we can do in our control. I give myself full points for trying.
These seven habits might seem small and may be easy to you, but adding these into my routine completely changed my day. I sleep better at night, I have more energy in the afternoons, and even though a move and some family stuff, I was able to keep up habits that I hadn’t been able to stick to before.