We all know that to achieve our goals and feel better in how we manage our days or life we need to create more sustainable habits and routines. But that’s easier said than done.
Some of us crave a fixed, organised schedule and, if that’s you, then creating ongoing habits is probably not such a problem.
However, others, myself included, have difficulty sticking to the straight lines of a set routine and often sabotage our schedules even while we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re trying to follow them. We double-book activities, pencil in to do things we actually dislike doing, or just don’t give ourselves enough time to tackle priorities.
There are many reasons we might do this. For me, I’m a bit of a rebel and I automatically baulk against the idea of “having” to do. For others, routines might make them anxious or their perfectionism kicks in and then the slightest setback creates havoc.
But regardless of whether you like flexibility or prefer to keep a firm daily timetable, there are three simple steps that we can ALL take to create sustainable habits and routines. Here they are:
Step #1: Make your habits matter
Creating a certain habit because you’ve been told you’ll benefit from it or that this is what “successful” people do is going to be a challenge to sustain.
If you want to change and bring something into your life that you’ll really be able to stick at, then that something has to come from a core desire that you have. It has to be something that really serves you at a deeper level.
What do I mean by this? Well, the habit that you’re establishing in your life should relate to an internal, or intrinsic, goal that you have. For example, you may decide that you’re going to start exercising more each week. If doing that activity is related to some deep wish that you have to be healthier or have more energy so that you can play with your kids or do fun activities with your friends, then you are much more likely to stick with it than if it’s for some external goal like wanting others to think of you as more attractive.
So contemplate about why you want to start incorporating various habits and routines into your life and if the reason is a little more “external” than “internal” maybe see if there’s a shift that needs to take place.
Step #2: Choosing the right habit
Secondly, the habit you choose to go with that goal is very important. So let’s take the example again of wanting to feel fit and healthy in your body. You have many choices in how to achieve this.
You can start training regularly. You can change your diet. You can work on your mindset and mental fitness (do you need the body of that woman in that magazine to feel good or are there other ways to feel good about yourself?).
I don’t like going to the gym and I definitely don’t enjoy cardio work! But I do love yoga and eating well so they would work much better for me as habits in this area than scheduling in daily HIIT workouts!
Step #3: Go with the flow
The final step in creating ongoing habits and a schedule you’re happy to follow is to understand that you’re in charge of your routine – not the other way around.
If you really don’t like having a set agenda then don’t force yourself to do “x” every day at “y” time. Instead, make a note (mentally or otherwise) of the habit you want to incorporate into your life and then go with the flow.
For instance, you may know you want to start journaling more frequently and, if that’s the case, just allow yourself to do this during the times that work for you. You’ll be able to build up the habit in a way that seems more natural and enjoyable.
On the other hand, if you pressurize yourself to journal at a certain time every morning or evening, you’ll likely end up resenting – and then discarding – the activity altogether.
Another way to be more flexible is to find regular times that suit you. Say you want to do a yoga or workout class twice a week and you need to commit to a certain time, decide first what times work best for you. Do you have more energy in the morning? Are the evenings less busy? If it’s a particular class at a particular time, can you change things around so that attending that class every week is easy for you to do?
My moto is “find what works for you!” This means, avoiding imitations of how others manage their habits and be willing to adapt or change things up until you find your own rhythm.
So, let’s recap on the three important steps for creating sustainable habits and routines:
- Be crystal clear on why you’re doing it and be sure the habit is attached to a deep internal goal
- Find a way to reach this goal by creating habits that make you feel good
- Ensure your habits fit in with the flow of your life so that they’ll eventually become a part of your day without you really having to think about it.
EXERCISE: Find sustainable habits
Finally, to help you choose three habits that you can bring into your schedule with ease today, let’s do this exercise together:
- I want you to think about what you want to feel more in your life – what is the emotion you are lacking most at the moment?
- Write down why you want to feel that way. What will it change for you? Be very specific. After each answer, ask why and answer some more until you are stuck.
- What are the things you currently do that are making you feel the opposite of what you want to feel.
- Think of ways to either not do it anymore or do it differently. Brain dump, everything that comes to your mind, doesn’t have to be rational or doable now.
- Write down of all the habits you believe will help you achieve the emotion you are looking for.
- Now look at that list and you choose only THREE to focus on. To know which three, ask yourself : I am doing this for me or because I was told? Is it really necessary? How do I like the idea? (if it doesn’t excite you at least a little bit, you don’t want it).
- Out of the three, choose one to start with.
- Set an intention to FOCUS solely on that habit for one month until it becomes natural. When it has, move on to the next and focus on that one for a month (while still doing the first habit). Finally, embrace the third habit and focus on that.
Now you have three habits to focus on over the next three months and a life that you’ve been dreaming of opening up in front of you.