Creating a Routine, Not a Punishment Schedule

A routine, or a schedule, has long been known to be beneficial for our mental health. These benefits extend to both those who are dealing with diagnosed mental conditions like depression, addiction disorders, ADD, ADHD, and anxiety, as well as to those who are looking to improve overall wellness. A routine allows us to make sure we address all the daily issues and tasks we need to accomplish while also allowing us to work towards our longer terms goals without becoming lost in the distractions of life. There is something to be said for the mindset of taking things as they come and not over planning for the future, but goal oriented thinking requires us to build a routine that at the very least creates a framework for how our days should be structured. Whether you are the type of person who uses a planner to schedule every minute of their day, a person who has daily to-do lists, or even a person who likes to take the day as it comes, a routine can benefit your mental health in major ways.

The problem with the recommendation for a person to make a routine comes from the fact that we all tend to overdo it. When we have struggled with scheduling or being productive and we find an urge to create a routine, we tend to launch headfirst into creating a hyper-regulated and packed routine. Every minute of every day is filled with a “to-do” item, most of which we have been avoiding for weeks. You may change your diet, start exercising 2 hours a day, work for 10 hours instead of 8, spend more time with your family and friends, and start a new hobby all on the first day of your new schedule. When a person crams everything they want to work on improving into a routine, there is typically burn out within a period of days. That first day there can be a wave of motivation and excitement that carries you to achieve all your daily goals, but by the end of the week you find yourself so exhausted that you likely fall back into the pattern before the routine that is full of drifting and wasted time.

Why Do We Overdo It?

When we want to make changes, we seem to overshoot and overwhelm ourselves right off the bat. Think of when you have a weight loss goal. Most of us first have the thought of, “if I totally dedicated to it, I could lose 25 pounds in a month.” Or if you want to start waking up earlier you may think, “I usually wake up at 10AM, but now I’m going to wake up everyday at 5AM.” When making a routine, people will often combine 5 to 6 major changes like this at one time and expect to be able to handle it. The fact we have to remember is that losing weight is hard, waking up earlier is hard, working more hours at our jobs is hard, but all these things are doable. Adding them all on top of each other and expecting rapid results is a recipe for failure. Part of our desire to do this comes from impatience. Part of it comes from perceptions of others who appear on the surface to have the ability to do all these things effortlessly (social media is a big culprit for this illusion). Sometimes this urge to overdo it can come from desperation if the way we are living currently is drastically different from where we desire to be at this point in our lives. I know that when I set a goal for myself, I often make unrealistic timeframes. Recently I had made a financial goal for myself that after 2 weeks became clear that my initial timetable for this goal was too short by a factor of 10. It is natural to overestimate how fast change can happen, and in regards to creating a routine we often structure our schedules in a way that make those goals “hypothetically” possible, if we had unlimited energy and no complications along the way.

Know Your Likes, and Dislikes

When creating a routine or schedule, make it individualized to yourself. Know things that make your day better and know things that you hate doing. Separate the things that you hate doing into absolutely necessary, and disregard those that are not. For the necessary tasks that you don’t enjoy, be creative to make them tolerable. An example would be cleaning the kitchen. Many of us despise that chore. So when making a schedule that has you clean the kitchen once a week, put that task in between 2 breaks or 2 other tasks you really enjoy. Stacking up 3 or more tasks that you hate in a row is only going to either cause you to burn out or frustrate you so much you give up on your new routine. Remember to keep balance in your day as well. If you are a person who needs leisure time or alone time, make sure that is part of your schedule as well. It is a common mistake that people make a new routine that when compared to their personality, it is a major mismatch. An introvert who enjoys reading and relaxing exercise like walking, may get caught up with new motivation and create a schedule where they go to a high impact cardio class with 4 friends and not schedule any time to read during the day. Again, this may work for a few days but eventually our nature will take back over and we will disregard this routine.

What would your day look like if you designed a dream day? Now, after you take some time to create the perfect day, list the things you must do that are responsibilities and also add one area or two that you want to improve in. That is more than enough for most people to have a full plate of tasks to do to fill their schedule and develop a routine that works for them without causing burn out. It is key that when you are looking to create a routine that you balance it between things you like and things you dislike but are necessary. A self-punishing routine almost always ends in causing more damage than it was worth.

What Should Be In My Routine?

The contents of your routine are your own. However, there are some basic tasks that are nearly universal in creating a functional and healthy routine. These basics are:

  • Wake up time
  • Hygiene
  • Food
  • Work
  • Exercise
  • Social Time
  • Family Time
  • Hobbies
  • Bed Time

Waking up and going to sleep at roughly the same time nearly every day is key to a healthy routine. This does not mean you fall asleep at the same moment every night (although that would be a neat trick), nor does it mean that weekends need to have you up as early as a work day. It is more important to have no major gaps between wake and bed times during the week. An example of a troublesome schedule would be waking up at 7AM for work on weekdays but sleeping until Noon on weekends. This gap causes regulation issues in your circadian rhythm that can be problematic. Hygiene should be in your routine every day. Brushing teeth, showers, and other hygiene related tasks help us feel refreshed and motivated for the day. Food should be in your routine but is very customizable for your schedule and goals. Work is well, work. Exercise should be a daily activity, at least 30 minutes a day. Social and Family time will vary from person to person but it is known to be healthy for us to speak to other people at least once a day to keep the social areas of our brain active. Hobbies, leisure, or chores can all be switched around as time is available and should be the most flexible items in your schedule. These basic tasks form the framework of where we can develop a healthy and pleasant routine.

If you would like to work on developing a healthy and positive routine, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


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