Did you know that almost half of the things we do each day are done out of habit? That means we don’t consciously think about almost half of the things we do as part of our daily routines; we just do them. Think about your day-to-day and the routines and habits in your life.
Not all habits and routines are ones we want to keep, right? Some simply do not benefit us.
So how do we create the healthy routines and habits we want and make them stick?
Are Routines and Habits One in the Same?
A lot of people confuse habits and routines, but they’re not actually interchangeable. The difference has to do with intentionality.
A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, whereas a routine is a series of behaviors that you repeat often and intentionally.
We all have our routines, the things we do on a daily basis and the order we do them in, but if we wanted to, we could change a routine fairly easily. However, habits are learned behaviors that become automatic and they are much harder to change AND much harder to create.
For example, I love my morning time and I’ve created a morning routine that is basically the same everyday. I wake up at 6am, brush my teeth, go downstairs to make coffee, and then I sit in the same spot on my living room couch to drink my coffee while I read and write in my journal.
I do this routine for the same amount of time and in the same order every morning. However, a few months ago, my morning routine included a workout instead of reading and journaling. I made a conscious choice and changed up my routine to better suit my needs.
I was able to change my routine fairly easily. On the other hand, habits are not so easy to alter.
My husband recently changed the lights in our foyer closet to be motion-sensored so that when you walk into the closet they automatically turn on. So of course, every time I walk into the closet since he’s changed it, I still go to try to turn on the light switch. It’s totally automatic, I don’t even think about it.
Now I have to break this habit and learn the new behavior of simply walking into the closet without reaching for the light switch. I wonder how long this will take? It’s been almost 2 weeks now…
The conventional wisdom is that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit, but according to Wendy Wood, Professor of Psychology & Business at USC and author of the book “Good Habits, Bad Habits”, this is false. She says “[t]he best evidence we have at this point is that it can take two to three months to form a simple habit—to make something so automated that you don’t have to think about it, you just do it.”
Why are habits and routines important?
I believe that your routine should be focused on making life for your future self better. Have your present self take care of your future self by creating routines that will eventually establish the habits you need to be the person you want to be.
A lot of people have this flipped. They’ll sacrifice their future self for their immediate pleasure or comfort and fall into routines that don’t necessarily benefit them down the road.
My routine of mindlessly scrolling social media each night before bed was not helping me become the person I wanted to be, so I’ve learned to establish a new routine of not looking at Facebook or Instagram within an hour of bedtime.
Now I’m getting to sleep earlier so I’m better able to wake up with a positive mindset and do the morning routine that helps bring me peace and clarity and benefits me much more in the long run.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot happier and more stable when I stick to my routines. I have a certain way I go about my days and it works for me.
Of course I never want to be totally rigid and I realize that our routines can evolve over time. I am always seeking ways to better myself, thus I know that adding new things to my routine that enhance my personal growth and development is key.
If you are intentional with creating a routine that makes you feel like your best self and are able to stick with it most of the time, some of the behaviors within your routine can eventually turn into habits.
How do you stick to the routines and habits you want in your life?
1.) Set realistic intentions
Know that some routines can become habits, but not all can or will. Some things simply require too much concentration, deliberate action, and effort to become habits.
For example, journaling can certainly become a consistent part of your routine, but it requires too much conscious thought and effort to ever become a habit. Whereas, drinking more water throughout your day is a behavior that can eventually become a habit if you start by keeping a water bottle with you at all times. Eventually it will require very little conscious effort and you’ll soon be sipping your water mindlessly without really thinking much about it.
2.) Shift your mindset.
You might think you don’t have the ability to stick to a new healthy routine. If so, think about your past routines.
Even if they weren’t the routines that were best for you, like binging Netflix every night after work, they were still routines you had created and stuck to.
By acknowledging that you have done it before, have the confidence that you can stick to a routine again. This time a routine that is good for you!
3.) Make it easy
Think about what has kept you from building a healthy routine in the past and work to proactively remove those barriers before they show up.
Make it as easy as possible to stick to your routine and adopt the habits you want. Here are some ideas that might help:
➡️Block out time.
Maybe you were not able to stick to an exercise routine in the past due to time constraints. Try blocking time on your calendar to practice the behavior when you know you won’t be interrupted like early morning before the kids wake up and their needs take precedence.
➡️Try habit stacking.
Whenever you have a new habit that you want to adopt, add it onto the tail end of something you already do. This is called habit stacking.
For example, let’s say you want to start making your kids lunch instead of purchasing the school lunch. You can try making your kids’ lunches for the next day as you’re cleaning up from dinner. It is already a habit to clean up the dinner dishes each night, so by adding on the new habit of making your kids lunches during that time, it becomes easier to adopt and stick to.
➡️Keep it in your line of sight.
Make it easy to get to the stuff that you want to encourage in your life and more difficult to get to the things you want to discourage.
If you want to incorporate yoga into your routine, make it a point to leave your yoga mat where you can easily see it and access it. By the same token, if you want to encourage your kids to read more, make their books easily accessible (and their electronic devices difficult to find!).
When something is in your line of sight on an everyday basis, you are more likely to use it.
4.) Make it fun and rewarding.
Habits form more readily for the things we like so whatever behavior you are trying to adopt, make it fun and rewarding.
One idea is to use temptation-bundling. This means “bundling” something you find fun with the habit or routine you are trying to create, which might be something you deem as not so fun. If you want to make it a routine to get outside and walk once a day (something you don’t find intrinsically enjoyable), bundle it with listening to your favorite playlist or podcast.
5.) Be patient and flexible
It takes time and repetition to form new habits. Start with small increments of change that you can build up over time.
If you want to start waking up earlier, it will be really difficult to go from sleeping until 8am to suddenly waking up at 6am everyday. Instead, gradually move up your wakeup time by 15 minutes every few days until eventually you are at your 6am wake up goal.
Also, it’s important to be flexible and consider adjusting your routine to match your mood. If one particular aspect of a routine continually falls to the wayside, don’t throw in the towel.
I used to get up and exercise first thing in the am, but once the winter months hit and it was cold and dark in the morning, I found that I rarely wanted to get out of my warm cozy bed to workout.
But, I didn’t give up on exercising as part of my daily routine, as I’d seen how much it had been benefitting my mental health. Rather, I shifted my routine and started exercising later in the day.
I found an equally valuable alternative to move into this early morning time slot and started waking up to my reading and journaling routine. This has allowed me to wake up more gently and has been a better fit for me.
Sticking to a routine shouldn’t be stressful and if it is, it won’t be sustainable.
I hope these tips will help you maintain the healthy routines and habits that you want to cultivate in your life.
Carly is a wife, mom, and former NYC fashion industry executive turned writer and life coach. Through her writings on littlevoicebigmatter.com, she shares practical advice, heartfelt insights, and actionable resources to inspire and support women in motherhood, relationships, wellness, and life. Carly also helps women create better balance in their lives and live with more joy, purpose, and connection every day through her coaching.