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Is your routine setting you up for failure?
Do you feel as though you’re stuck in a rut and unable to reach your goals as a result? You’re certainly not alone, but it is possible to step out of your comfort zone and gain a new perspective. We’ve asked the experts for their help…
It’s 8pm, the kids are in bed and you’ve just slumped down in front of the telly to eat your quick-to-cook-but-not-very-healthy regular weeknight dinner. The remote’s in your hand and you’re flicking to your favourite Netflix show, while all thoughts of exercising, job hunting or catching up with friends fly out the window. Sound familiar? Changing our everyday habits is something many of us struggle with, but it’s not impossible. And by transforming your routine into one that serves your needs rather than hinders your goals you can redirect your life to embrace greater success and happiness. Sounds good, right?
It’s important to remember that routines aren’t all bad – and they’re certainly not the devil here. It’s true that for some a routine can become a rut from which it’s hard to escape from. It can be a repeated pattern of behaviour that frustrates and bores us but which we find ourselves inexplicably trapped in – a bad habit of mindlessly scrolling through Instagram before we switch off our bedside light, moaning about work every day and yet doing nothing to change our situation, or buying the same nutrientpoor meals every week.
But for others, it’s structure that motivates them and keeps them going down a healthy path – going to the gym once a week soon becomes a regular habit, as does always making sure you have a couple of portions of veg on your plate.
Interestingly, as humans we crave some sort of structure in our lives. “Structure and routine is safe, comfortable and known,” explains Emily Wysock-Wright, a transformational coach and founder of Adira Lifestyle (adiralifestyle.com). “As children we craved routine to feel safe, and as adults, we crave routine to feel purpose. Regulating your daily actions deactivates your fight-or-flight response and you live life knowing what happens next, instead of fearing for the worst or unknown.”
But, as the experts point out, this safety net isn’t always beneficial to helping us reach our goals. And there’s also the fact that too much structure can be overwhelming.
“If you have too much routine then you can stifle creativity, reduce spontaneity or halt movement beyond your comfort zone, all of which can affect your work, relationships, fitness levels, health, wellbeing and friendships,” says Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, psychologist and change specialist (drlyndashaw.com).
It seems then, the key is to make your routines interesting and to introduce change when possible. “I recommend that you shake your routine up a bit every so often, to check that what you are doing really is the best way,” Dr Shaw advises. “The brain also develops when we add change into the mix. We change attitudes and behaviours for the better when we step outside that safety net and take a small leap of faith.”
Emily agrees. “Change is mandatory, and the flow of life requires flexibility, so choosing to step outside of your comfort zone in a controlled way improves your ability to be resilient and agile. The more often you introduce small, mental and physical changes into your life, naturally the more resilient you will become. Therefore, you will feel more in control of the changes and shifts that life gives to you.”
Interested in shaking up your routine? Dr Shaw shares her five-step plan on how to get out of your rut and start something new…
Your 5 step plan to get out of a rut and start something new
Step 1: Shake things up a little
Sit quietly and think about what you do and what no longer serves you. Habits become empty when the reward circuit in the brain is no longer activated. Once you have identified a routine or habit that is no longer doing a good job, replace it with something that is enjoyable. The reward circuits in the brain will reinforce the new way of doing things and change will happen.
Think about easy swaps you can make in your day. Switch your bedtime scroll through social media to reading a book, or trade your 3pm chocolate biscuit for an apple.
Step 2: Challenge yourself
Are you approaching it with a ‘can’t do’ fixed mindset? We are inclined to choose options with a familiar outcome. Push yourself to consider other options and do your research. Avoid having a narrowing or shrinking, fixed mindset and aim for a growth mindset instead. The brain is fantastically adaptable, and the chances are you can do it.
Fed up in your current job? Believe that you can achieve more if you put your mind to it. Update your CV and really take the time to focus on all the positive points you have included there. Look at how much you’ve accomplished and review new job opportunities with an optimistic mindset.
Step 3: Control your emotions, so they don’t control you
It is completely fine to feel emotions like anger, anxiety, fear or sadness and it is important to sometimes just sit with those emotions. But your mood can influence your decisions and interactions so there is also a point when you should acknowledge them and try to move past them.
Feeling frustrated after a bad day at work? We all know how that can impact even the best-laid plans. But instead of letting your emotions change your intentions, write down exactly how you feel and why, acknowledge this and then make the decision to focus on your goals.
Step 4: Cultivate a positive mindset
This can be the deal breaker between you doing something or not. The outcomes are predictably in favour of someone who is often positive rather than someone who is usually negative.
Try to approach everything with a can-do attitude, and silence your inner critic. Think you can’t run that race you want to? Ask yourself why. It will only be yourself that stops you.
Step 5: Look after your health
Good health is crucial to giving you strength. Make sure you are sleeping enough and eating well. Obstacles can seem insurmountable when you are overtired and you will feel less motivated, have trouble concentrating and be less productive. In times of change and stress, allocate time for stress combating exercise such as yoga, meditation or walking.
Make it your mission to get eight hours of sleep a night and eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day – you’ll be amazed how small lifestyle tweaks like this can make you feel.