The Secret to Healthy Habits & How to Get Back Into Your Routine
This topic is probably one of the most Googled things in the wellness space at the moment. There is all this talk about creating healthy habits and getting into routines—morning routines, evening routines, workout routines, etc. We’re also in this weird social media phenomenon of wanting to know about everyone else’s routines and trying to emulate them, because if it works for her, it must work for me, right?
I love a good routine as much as the next person, don’t get me wrong, but I think there is an over-emphasis on the need to create routines and not enough talk about why we have them in the first place or how to go about making ones that stick.
If I were to ask you the reason behind creating habits, your answer would like sound something like this: to do something often enough that it eventually can be done without much thought or effort. Right? On a macro level, this is true. But we’re missing the micronutrients here.
You’ve also probably heard that the key to breaking bad habits is to create better new ones that replace them. This is a great goal to have, but again, it’s only surface level. We both know that if you’re currently in the habit of coming home after a long day at work and dropping into the couch with some salsa and chips and a glass of wine, me telling you to reverse-Jesus that wine into water and swapping the chips for carrot sticks is simply not going to cut it. Sure, you’ll give it a try and make the swap for a day or two, but soon enough you’ll say they just aren’t doing it for you and you’ll be back crawling back to the corn chips and vino in full force, every bite filled with a twinge of self-loathing for not being able to do the “healthy” thing.
And the reason is simple: you don’t look forward to the carrot sticks. The water isn’t as rewarding as the wine.
The reason why it’s so easy to get into a “healthy routine” only to fall out of it after a weekend or even a single evening is because you aren’t filling your days with healthy things you actually love and look forward to. And let me tell you— doing healthy things that you hate is not a healthy routine. I know you know what I mean.
You can’t simply quit bad habits (things you loved doing but know aren’t great for you) and force yourself to do something “healthier” that you don’t actually like and expect it to last.
Let’s revisit your definition of habit formation shall we? If the goal is to incorporate things that eventually become effortless to do, we can’t have resistance to them. Where there is a need to force ourselves to do things, there is resistance.
And yet we see this all the time. With the best intentions, we’ll start going to spin classes every day after work instead of going out to the bar, start eating flax crackers instead of our bagel, and record our water intake into some smiley-faced cartoon water droplet mobile app all the while listening to our coworker munch on a sandwich and talk about her happy hour plans while we plaster on a half-baked smile.
You simply can’t create a habit out of doing something you don’t love or enjoy.
I’ll repeat that. You cannot create healthy habits or build a routine if you do not look forward to doing it, because it will always feel like work.
The key to creating healthy habits that stick is to make them things you actually want to do, and in doing so, the choice to do them will feel effortless rather than a struggle, and you will be fully present in the action of doing them.
Here’s a personal story for example. I hate strongly dislike bootcamp style and high intensity workout classes, but there was a period of time where I was trying to get myself into the habit of going to them a few times a week because I thought it was a necessary part of a “healthy” workout routine.
But the same pattern would always happen: I would feel good at first (because endorphins), but by the 3rd or 4th class my body would be utterly exhausted, resisting the workout, and my mind would be anywhere but present in that moment (I really don’t want to be here. When is this over? We’re only 20 minutes in? Fuck me. Wonder if he texted me back yet. Should I text him again? Is this bitch really going to make me do another burpee right now? I deserve a whole pizza for this shit.)
When I stopped forcing myself to do these workouts that I dreaded and decided instead to do something that I loved consistently, like yoga and low-impact resistance (more on that story here and here), getting my body to move every day became effortless.
It no longer became difficult to get myself to exercise, instead it was easy because I actually wanted to do it and looked forward to it, I craved it. It doesn’t take much thought for me to show up on my mat each day, but once I am there, I am there fully— mind, body and spirit.
Now this is an important distinction to make. It’s an effortless choice for me to do yoga every day because why wouldn’t I? I love it, and it feels good, and I get excited to do it. But there is still effort in the action itself— I still challenge myself in my practice, as that is how I improve and that is how it best serves me.
And that’s really the point of any healthy habit or routine, right? The point of doing it is that it serves you in some way— leaving you better off for doing it than you were before, in all respects, mentally and physically and spiritually.
So when someone asks me “how do I get back into a healthy routine?” or “how do I stay motivated in my routine?” my answer is this: if your routine is mentally difficult for you to do, you need to change it. You need to find things you enjoy, that you look forward to, that you wake up each day and say to yourself, “I get to do this” instead of “I have to do this.”
The other trick is to make it easy for yourself to do them! If you love doing yoga, make it easy to come home and hit the mat by rolling it out on your floor before you leave for work. If you love eating delicious healthy fresh cooked meals but don’t have an hour to spare, roast your veggies while you take a shower so they are ready for you as soon as you towel off.
And if you are coming back from a week of being on vacation and you took extra days off to lounge or eat a bit more indulgently, don’t get hard on yourself for being a bit more sore during your next class, or for feeling the need to order out more often that week because you’re low on groceries. Give yourself time to adjust, think about non-zero days, make it easy to cook by simply getting yourself to the grocery store, and find that momentum again. Remember, it’s not because you have to, but because you want to and it makes you feel good.
By approaching your days in this way, it will no longer become an arduous task to get back into your routine, and more importantly, it will be a whole lot harder to fall out of it.