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Making the most time - Developing a routine and creating the conditions

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This set of articles have hopefully provided some perspective on the importance of taking care of our basic needs as fundamental to having a healthy body and mind. Being “basic” is not always the same as “easy” and therefore for many reasons (some of which are covered in our articles on stress and childhood) many of us do not always know how to attend to these “basic” needs. This next article begins to look at how we can bring these elements together under the framework of a “routine” as a way to plan ahead to ensure we are taking care of our basic needs.


Why is routine important?

Human beings are creatures of habit. From the first moment of consciousness to our first gasps for air, our lives are a series of repeating processes and continuous loops. When things are working well they are consistent in that they are continuously changing while at the same time following an underlying pattern. For example, we know that for infants regular interaction with an important other (mother, father or other caregiver) is crucial for the development of social skills, thinking ability and learning how to manage our feelings. Our bodies function at their best when we have regular times when we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, or when we eat meals at regular intervals. Our bodies’ internal clocks are set for all kinds of functions which are constantly ongoing and crucial to our life. If any of these automatic loops are interrupted they can lead to problems.

Research has shown that children who grow up in “chaotic” households struggle more with self-management and also show greater levels of inflammation (associated with increased stress and risk of chronic health problems as an adult). These observations point towards the importance of anyone who is trying to live a healthy and fulfilling life establishing healthy loops. Ideally, these loops or routines will mirror the natural loops of our internal systems. While structure is important, being flexible is also important as sometimes life throws something unexpected at us which requires us to adjust our plans.


Creating the conditions within and without

Introducing a new habit or behaviour alone can be hard work, and introducing a new routine can be even harder. However we have some ideas that might be helpful for you to make a start.

  1. Start small, pick one part of your day you would like to make more routine. We suggest starting with the morning or another key transition in the day such as when you get in from work or school.

  2. Take a baseline, look at what you doing in this time period typically, write it down or keep a list on your phone. You can split this by whatever means makes sense to you e.g. by hour, or just a list.

  3. Make a checklist, think about two or three things that you want to include in your routine.  We can make it easier on ourselves by “outsourcing” a lot of the hard work. For example using a calendar, or smartphone app set reminders or prompts.

  4. Set some goals. Having SMART goals is a good way to really clarify what you are trying to achieve and also helps to monitor that things are going in the right direction.

  5. Plan and prepare. By doing some work in advance you can make it easier to follow-through. For example doing tasks before you go to bed so that in the morning you can just “get on with it”. It is almost like trying to make it automatic.

  6. Ditch the phone or make use of do not disturb, or focus apps. Concentrating on one thing at a time is really important when we are trying to embed new processes. Our technology can aid or hinder this depending on how we use it. It can be helpful to disconnect from these devices for periods of time in order to reconnect with ourselves.

There are more articles which go into further detail about these various points as well as our “developing a routine” worksheet which you can find in Resources or access below.

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