Do you remember learning to drive? I do. I remember being stressed about how often I was checking my mirrors, how close I was taking curves in the road, and being terrified about navigating a 2 lane highway when a semi was driving toward me. I don’t stress about any of that any more (ok, maybe the 2 lane highway tractor trailer situation is still something I closely monitor). The reason I don’t need to consciously think about checking my mirrors any more is because it has become routine. I automatically check my gauges, mirrors, and am aware of other vehicles around me because it has become a routine my brain is used to. Can you imagine if every time you drove a car it was as stressful as those first months learning with a parent analyzing every movement?
Every human being is born with an ability to get into a routine. Routines can be both incredibly beneficial to our daily lives as well as detrimental. Today I want to discuss one reason a strong daily routine will improve your life. Once your mind has a routine… any routine… it is able to focus on something else. As soon as you aren’t spending energy ‘thinking’ about getting ready for your day or driving to work or eating food, you are able to concentrate on something else (like listening to an audiobook or having a conversation). While this can be beneficial in many ways, there is a specific area that it can help with… Stress.
You have stress in your life. I know it because you are human! Stress isn’t necessarily evil in any way. It teaches us and grows us and challenges us. Too much stress for a prolonged period of time will deplete your body and brain of vitamins that you need to fight disease and mental health problems. Here is how routine can help… If you already have a lot of upheaval in your life (new job, new city, new significant relationship, etc.) then a strong routine can see you sane. Those who have strong routines in certain areas of life; patterns that you simply can do without thinking, are able to navigate stress far better than people who don’t. Routines and patterns provide a level of safety and security to your daily life that allow you to navigate other complex problems. I’ll give a couple of examples.
I worked at the largest homeless shelter in Canada for about a year and in that time was constantly aware of how difficult it is for people without feeling safe to cope with stressful situations that others have no problem with. Those who don’t have a home and strong network of people they feel safe with have more difficulty with stress because they are using a lot of brain energy just thinking about where to sleep or eat that day. One of my coaching clients recently moved to a different State. When he arrived he bounced through a few jobs in the first few months finding difficulty to find something that fit. He was sometimes overwhelmed with situations that other people would not be overwhelmed with. My suggestion to him? Stick with one job for a while even if he didn’t like it or it wasn’t a great fit. The reason encouraged him to do this was because he already had so much change and upheaval in his life. What you will find is that as you stick with something until you don’t need to think about it any more, you will be able to deal with other potential problems in life far better.
Routine can act as a foundation so that we can focus on things that are more important to us. If you don’t need to worry about where you are sleeping or eating, you now have energy and time to focus on not only on problem solving, but also on how to make life better this year for yourself! I want you to ask yourself these questions right now: Do I have a morning and evening routine that allow my mind to spend time thinking of the things that are important to me? Do I have a weekend routine that sets me up for success for my weekdays? What areas of life would be made far simpler with some strong routines?
I’ll finish off with a quick personal story. Christmas time can be hectic and difficult for a lot people because there are so many new things to think about. My family has some set traditions we are building into the holiday season to help us and our kids navigate what can be a stressful time in the year. One routine is when we meet with different in-laws to celebrate. Every year for the last 5 we have gone to one family for Christmas day, another family about a week later, and another about a week after that. I believe this really helps everyone involved because when my wife and I know what to expect and aren’t overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done our kids aren’t as stressed. We are very aware of how we affect our kids and this year, even though my wife became quite sick over the holidays, we weren’t overwhelmed with everything that needed to happen. The sickness wasn’t something we planed for, but we were better able to deal with it because of our routine.
Have an excellent week, and dedicate the next few months to setting up some routines in your life that will help you navigate your world with freedom instead of being overwhelmed.