Routine and Ritual - Why are these important to our efforts to get healthy and stay there?
Let me start by saying I’m a routine kind of girl. Always have been. And while I feel spontaneity gives life it’s juiciness, and is a big part of discovering new things, it is not as "comfortable" to me as routine. Routine helps create habit, and new habits are what help us achieve our goals.
Morning routines have shown to create a foundation for mental health throughout the day. This can include an overall positive mood, a decrease in anxiety, and can lead you through a more satisfying day.
But how do we go from floating through our day, thinking we are being spontaneous and adaptable (but actually not always really achieving anything) to being productive and creating a new habit, such as exercising?
Well apparently there is quite some psychology behind this process of creating a new habit. After doing a bit of reading on the topic, the best advice that stood out for me was this:
“The best time to add a new habit, is immediately after an established sequence of behaviours”
So simply put, looking at habits you already have in your day, and creating new ones on the back of those existing ones. This means studying your own daily behaviour and routines, in order to see where you can add in a new habit. For example if you need to start taking a particular tablet every day, then perhaps you know that every day, without fail, you clean your teeth. So then cleaning your teeth becomes the cue for you to, straight afterwards, take your vitamin.
We can apply this process to fitting in a new exercise program. Take some time to look at your current weekly routine, and decide on a couple of places where you know you do the same thing each day. It may be that you do school drop-off, and 2 days a week you have at least an hour before needing to do anything else. Perfect! Hit the gym, go for a walk, find a group class that fits into that time slot. The regularity of that school drop off, means you have a cue for a new habit. Perhaps you have a few days a week where you finish work early and usually take your time heading home, stop by the shops, go for a coffee.. instead use that early finish as your cue to exercise.
Getting healthy, or physically fit, does take some dedication. I won’t lie about that! If you are over 55 years old, and have been told by your GP that you need to get moving, then that is going to take some dedication, organisation and effort on your behalf to create a new habit for yourself. But it's not impossible!
If you can’t think of a current habit to add to, the other option is actually scheduling in exercise time. Physically getting your calendar, or iphone, or ipad out, looking at your week and scheduling in your exercise time. So Sunday night, sit down and look at your week ahead:
First - write down all your appointments and commitments that you MUST DO. Work is (generally) part of this, along with family commitments, school events and doctor appointments.
Second - write down all the things you NEED to do – the practical things that are needed to run your life/house - food shopping, pay bills, car into service.
Lastly - you can fill in all the things that you would LIKE to do, but aren’t crucial – cups of teas with friends, lunch out at a café, a bit of window shopping, a massage, time in the garden.
So the question is, where do you fit exercise into all of that? Ask any health professional, and I’m sure they would say the MUST DO list. It really is as important to your routine and life as work commitments and family commitments. Without a healthy you, those other parts of life either become difficult or impossible. The key to staying healthy is making it a natural part of your day and week.
Research says that the length of time to create a new habit varies between people and activities. Drinking a glass of water every morning may only take 21 days to become automatic, whereas daily sit-ups becoming automatic may take months! Be consistent, and seek the help of health professionals when you feel you are losing your way or struggling with your goals.
Just remember - It’s never too late to regain your health, so… find your motivation, keep it regular (create that habit), start slow, try different types of exercise until you find something you enjoy.