Learning how to create a routine is something I have always struggled with, thanks to issues with my mental health and motivation. Set routines have always felt like immense pressure, and heavy expectations so I tended to avoid them. Even just the mention of a rigid routine sends shivers down my spine.
However during Coronavirus lockdown, I found that every day started blurring together and I began to lose any sort of meaning in my day to day life. This caused my mental health to slip. I knew i needed some sort of structure, so I started learning how to create a routine in a meaningful way that would stick. Here’s the tips that helped me, using the example of creating a routine for my blog:
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1. Figure out what you want to achieve
If you’re looking for tips for how to create a routine, there’s probably something you want to achieve. What is it?
For me, I wanted to try and create a career out of writing in some way. This was something I have always wanted to achieve, but the thought of committing to something and having those expectations of myself felt suffocating. (Fear of failure anyone?)
So instead of focusing on the routine I needed to create or the expectations, I focused on the goal. My goal was to publish words, so I started taking steps to make that happen. The same can be said for things like working out! In this case you would identify that your goal is to get fit, and start creating steps to get there.
Honestly, discovering your goal is the easiest part of the process but it’s really important, because you’re not going to stick to a routine to achieve something you don’t care about.
2. Figure out how to achieve that goal
The next step was figuring out how to actually achieve it. Obviously, to start writing, I simply had to create a platform and content to write about. I sat down and figured out what i needed to achieve that. (e.g the platform, the content, the audience.) I could then build a daily to-do list that needed to happen.
Break these steps down as small as you need, and be realistic about what you can achieve each day. If your goal is fitness, don’t suddenly expect to go for a 10km run each day. Too high expectations will set you up for failure and burn-out. Instead you might start with a 10 minute jog or something. (Look, I’m not a fitness guru, I just use Ring Fit Adventure, which I highly recommend by the way).
What steps are required for you to achieve that goal? Create a timeline of what needs to happen when. Be specific!
3. Focus on achieving the goal, not on how to create a routine
If you’re like me, the thought of following a strict routine may give you a sense of dread. Seriously, I can’t stand the word ‘routine’. However, they are necessary. So how do I handle creating a routine, without instantly feeling burnt out?
Don’t focus so much on the routine, focus on the goal and the steps you need to take to reach that goal. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in feeling like we have to do things in specific orders and specific times, but it’s rarely helpful.
Try and view your routine through the lens of what you’re accomplishing, not through your expectations.
For example, don’t think ‘ugh today I have to do x’ instead try and shift your mindset to ‘If I do x today, I will be 1 step closer to my goal’! It’s all in the mindset.
4. Don’t force it
This sounds really counter-intuitive, I know. Every advice post ever tells you to set aside a time, be rigid and make yourself do it. I hate that, nothing feels more de-motivating. Should you aim to regularly take the steps you need to get to where you want to be? Yes, of course! However forcing myself to do something in a specific time block has never worked for me.
For example, I took the advice of blocking out specific time each day just for my blog, and almost instantly found my motivation to be an issue. I would be trying to accomplish things while my head was focusing on other things, or when I simply wasn’t in the right mindset.
Sometimes you have to work with yourself and pick your battles. If it’s going to take you 3 hours to do 30 minutes of work, let it go and try at a different time. On the other hand, take advantage of when you are in the right zone!
I have spent hours to write one crappy paragraph for the sake of writing something, but at other times I’ve also smashed out multiple posts in one day. It’s all in the mindset and you have to respect that you aren’t a machine. Remember, there’s no trophy for being perfect.
5. Let it flow
What suits you? Instead of focusing on what should work, focus more on what will work. For me with my blog, I start writing when I felt like it. People have this image of bloggers sitting at a beautiful workstation in the morning with a cup of coffee and joy. Yeah.. Not me.
I am not a morning person, in fact you might find me writing a post at 3am. Is that conventionally suggested? No. Does it work for me? Yes! So while it works for me, I will continue to do it that way. You need to find your own way that works for you. As long as you are making progress, the way you get there doesn’t matter.
6. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day
Especially with the fluctuations of mental health, some days you are not going to accomplish what you wanted to. That’s ok. I really struggle with feeling like a failure sometimes, and a massive step was accepting imperfections. Take a breath and try again tomorrow.
To give yourself some breathing room, when you’re feeling really good, do a little more to compensate for the inevitable days where you just can’t.
You are not a failure for not always being perfect. It’s perfectly human to need a break. Whether its just needing to do something or having a bad mental health day you can always regroup and try again.
7. Incentives to stick to a routine
What incentives will help you stick to a routine? For me, I focus on the goals I am trying to achieve. I also find it motivating to track my progress, which I do with a phone app that shows how long my ‘streak’ is of doing something everyday. (ps, these apps are also great for remembering to take meds!)
If you prefer something more tangible than an app, both Amazon and Blessing Manifesting sell some gorgeous planners. (Find a full review of Blessing Manifesting journals here)
Finding an incentive works because instead of focusing on the obligation I am focusing on the progress and the wins which is far more motivating. I turn expectation into seeking self-fulfillment. Again, mindset is key.
Putting it together
By putting all these steps together, I have created a sustainable routine. It’s not conventional, it’s not fixed and other people may say it’s not optimized, but it works for me. Will this work for everyone? Probably not, very few things do. This works for me because I am focusing on the motivation to reach my goals. (And I don’t want to end my app streak!)
If you have to create a routine for something you really don’t want to do, or have no interest in, my best advice is distractions (e.g music, podcasts etc) and a small dose of just do it However my same advice stands of don’t beat yourself up, and find a way to make it work for you. You as a human are more than the things you accomplish.
The impact from learning how to create a routine
Learning how to create a routine that works for you is so beneficial to mental health. It has given me something to focus on and something to structure things around which has really helped me manage my anxiety and depression.
It has also really helped me feel like I am achieving something. Whenever I feel like it’s a waste of time I can look back and see the results which helps me maintain my motivation. The sense of accomplishment helps me keep forging forwards even when negative thoughts tell me I should give up.
Find your goals, then go get them. Remember that even a small step forwards is still a step forwards! Starting is the hardest part but you’ve got this.