Depending on who you are, the word routine can conjure up many different feelings. To some, it might sound comfortable, easy, efficient; to others, boring, jaded, or unimaginative. Regardless of how you feel about it, it’s important to realize just how beneficial routine can be to making lasting changes along your journey to a healthier, fitter you.
First things first, let’s get past the idea that routine itself is tied to any sort of time frame. Those who argue that their lives are too chaotic or unpredictable to have routine might be conflating routine with schedule.
For our purposes, we are simply plugging actions into the equation every time I _____, I _____. This could be anything.
- Every time I grab the coffee carafe, I swirl it around before pouring.
- Every time I cut my toenails, I start with my left pinky toe and work my way to the right one.
- Every time I hear someone say “my wife,” I imagine (or impersonate) Borat saying it.
The examples are endless, because we fill our days with routines and habits like the ones above. You, yourself, probably have myriad examples that you’d have to try really hard just to come up with because they’re so ingrained in your everyday life as to become unnoticeable.
How Can We Use Routine to Our Benefit?
Let’s take exercise, for example. It is much more beneficial for your health and longevity to become a person who exercises than it is to get super motivated, throw yourself into a crazy workout routine, and then give it up after a month or two.
No one sees long-term benefit from overly extreme, short-term methods!
Ask someone who was overweight in college and then 12 years later is fit and toned how they did it, and their answer will never be “Oh, yeah – I did P90X when I was 25.” Their answer will likely be more along the lines of “Oh, yeah – I started eating better and exercising.”
Or look at someone who has never seemed to struggle with weight issues. It’s very easy to dismiss these people as being genetically lucky, even citing their lean-figured family members as proof. But perhaps they were simply instilled with healthy habits growing up. If you look closely, you’ll surely find a fair few examples of things they do (or don’t do) on a daily basis that largely influence the way they look, feel, and perform. Maybe even ask: no one could be offended by a question that starts with “Hey, you’re really healthy…”
The Long Con
Even if you spend two months packing up a bag and going to the gym three days a week for only 10 minutes, this new routine (or altered routine, depending on how you look at it) will provide incredible dividends over the long run. Eventually, yes, you’ll have to start going for slightly longer periods (though probably not more often), but I think you’ll find that the get-up-and-go-to-the-gym part proves much more difficult than the stay-ten-minutes-longer-once-you’re-there part. So work on get-up-and-go until it’s no longer an issue.
Routines Are Mindless…And That’s a Good Thing!
Another benefit of routine in many cases is that it takes the choice away. When you don’t have a decision to make, taking the action becomes effortless. And without needing to dedicate any effort to decision making, you’re not tapping into your singular tank of willpower.
I’ll give you two (very different) examples from my own life.
Every morning when I wake up, I grab some coffee, and I get in front of my computer and write for at least 30 minutes. At the beginning, I knew that writing was something I would have to start doing daily in order to make any progress. But with an already busy schedule, I would never have been able to wing it and “find” time every day to write. So I took the choice out. It was a little jarring at first, but now it’s just as much a part of what I do every morning as drinking coffee or brushing my teeth.
Every time I un-rack a barbell (a la back squats, shoulder presses, etc.), I brace my body and take three steps: back with the right, back with the left, adjust/square up with the right (huge thanks to Eric Cressey for that amazing tip). This routine allows me to limit the time spent making little adjustments that waste energy and expose me to the risks of rocking back and forth and shifting my weight from foot to foot. And in removing any need to think about where my feet are positioned, I’m free to focus on the exercise itself.
New routines and habits can be tough to implement. But once in place, I think we can all agree that they’re not very difficult to continue. And this is where lasting results begin.
There’s power in routine. Power that, hopefully, provides a lens through which you can view any changes you may have in front of you. As you work toward your goal of health, remind yourself to use this lens when contemplating a new routine.
And your first routine should be read my new post each week by signing up for my newsletter.