How to Stick to Your Schedule or Routine

New schedules and routines are usually inspired by some big life-changing goal you suddenly get very excited about. You want to lose 30 pounds, actually feel healthy and rested, get that short story collection stored in your brain out on paper, or see your mental health issues fade into the distance as you embrace mindfulness and meditation techniques.

Goals like these are great, and having goals is a part of a healthy, meaningful life. But the way you go about achieving your goals can set you up for either exciting successes or depressing failures. A lot of people try to set up routines that will make their goals become realities, but something goes wrong along the way and they just can’t seem to stick to them. After the initial week or two of excitement, the attempted routine fades away, and thinking about it only makes the goal-setter feel guilty and ashamed. How you can avoid this pitfall?

Consider possible reasons that you’re not sticking to your routine:

1. You’re thinking in terms of life-changing goals, not lifestyle-based changes.

According to Stanford University professor and human behavior expert BJ Fogg, this is the main problem that people run into when they try to start new scedules. All they have in mind is the BIG goal at the end of the routine: the marathon, the weight loss reveal at the friend’s wedding, the promotion to district manager. These are big goals, so people try to implement big changes all at once to get to them rather than setting realistic baby steps. They cut out carbs, desserts, and processed foods; they try to go from waking up at 9:00 a.m. every day to 5:00 a.m. every day; they plan a workout regimen of 2 hours 5 days a week.

2. You feel like sticking to a routine is giving up control.

When you first start a schedule and you’re not yet used to it, it can really feel like work. If you’re like most people, you already feel like your time isn’t your own at work, so having to force yourself to do something in your free time that feels like more work is hard to get used to, even if you believe that it’ll eventually pay off with the results you want.

3. You enjoy the feeling of “guilty pleasures.”

Elizabeth Grace Saunders explains that your inner child may be holding you back from sticking to your routine. When you were young, it was fun and exciting to stay up later than you were supposed to or to eat ice cream for dinner. As an adult, some people are simply still attracted to the thrill that comes from guilty pleasures like these.

So with these potential obstacles, how can you avoid the temptation to fall off of your routine and slip back into the old habits that only frustrate you and make you feel guilty?

Try these tips to increase the likelihood of sticking to your routine:

1. Start with small changes, not big ones.

As BJ Fogg suggests, start off small so the routine doesn’t feel too intimidating. Yes, it may be less thrilling to announce to someone, “I’ve started drinking 8 glasses of water a day!” than it is to announce, “I’ve lost 50 pounds!”, but it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get to make the second announcement without making the kinds of small changes exemplified in the first announcement.

2. Address the real root of the problem, not the superficial root of the problem.

Celestine Chua recommends a process of “drilling down” to find the real root of the problem when it comes to sticking to a schedule. For example, maybe you’re trying to eat more fruits and veggies as snacks but keep reaching for the chips instead. The process of “drilling down” might look like this: When do I reach for chips? Usually when I come home from work. Why can I not stop eating chips then? Because I’m starving by the time I get home from work. Why am I starving then? Because I often skip lunch to work through the lunch hour. So, in the case, the issue isn’t going to be resolved by a magical reserve of will-power; it’s only going to be addressed by fixing the root of the problem, which is sticking to a more regular eating schedule at work rather than skipping meals.

3.Track your progress.

You can do this any way you like – an app, a journal, a chart, whatever. We usually already come to the routine with a sense of being in competition with ourselves; we’re unhappy with ourselves in some way currently, so we’re automatically motivated to change. The satisfaction that comes just from recording that you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish that day will, therefore, feel meaningful and increase your desire to be able to record that accomplishment again the next day.

4. Make plans for exceptional circumstances.

Too often, we let exceptional circumstances interrupt the routines we’re trying to start and then we just give them up. Maybe you’re trying to start new eating patterns right around the holidays, and the holidays just ruin that plan. Maybe you’re trying to exercise 3 days a week, but then you have to go on a 9-day business trip. These things happen, but you can plan for them. Going home for the holidays where they’ll be endless tempting foods? Get a family member to be your accountability partner. Going on a business trip? Research where the local gym is and pack your sneakers. Exceptional circumstances don’t have to derail you.

5. Choose habits that are linked to each other.

This is another smart recommendation from Chua; the basic idea is to try to implement multiple new routines that will support each other. For instance, maybe you’re interested in spending more time with friends and also interested in losing weight. If you usually see your friends at restaurants where you eat greasy, unhealthy food, those new routines won’t work so well together. So think about how you can link them. For instance, you could host your friends at your house for home-cooked potlucks.

Sometimes, starting new schedules can feel much harder than you anticipated, especially when the change is something you were looking forward to. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you just don’t have the willpower it takes. With a few strategic adjustments to how you approach new routines, you’ll see that your will-power isn’t nearly so bad as it seemed.

Having schedules or routines is a great way to practice self-care and to cultivate a healthy mindset. If you’re interested in talking more about developing strategies for taking care of yourself, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult.

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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