Have you ever wondered how it is that you became so ‘stuck in a rut’ with some of your routines? Have you ever tried to change some of them? Not easy, is it? While we tend to think of routines as being dull, boring and something we need to change the reality is that they are often helpful in achieving our goals. Is there a goal you’re striving for? Your routines can help you get there!

Routines allow us to think less and as a result there is less stress in what we’re doing ~ unless what we’re doing is something we don’t wish to do anymore such as eating too much fast food or not getting enough sleep. Once we become aware that its time to change a routine we have to look at the pieces involved. Routines are made up of a series of habits so it might be useful to understand habits.

Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit” talks in his book about how important it is for us to learn the three pieces to a habit in order to understand how its either helping us or harming us. Habits are very much like routines ~ we often do them without thinking too much about them. The three pieces of a habit include the cue its time to do something (such as brush our teeth), the habit itself (in brushing our teeth) and the reward we get for having responded to the cue (the feeling of tingling in our mouths) once we complete the habit.

Translate that to your goal to workout more consistently or eat healthier meals and you can see how this would work to your advantage. Since it takes between 14 and 30 days to have a new behavior feel more routine, you’ll need to be attentive during those days to get yourself on course but after that? Oh so much easier!

Let’s take the routine of packing healthier lunches. If the cue is that its 6:45am and its time to pack lunch the behavior will be to grab out of fridge the healthy options you’ve already put in there for lunch (maybe assisted by a list you have put on the door of the refrigerator) with the reward being both the satisfaction of having packed such a great lunch and then knowing while you’re at lunch that you’re moving toward your new goal with each bite you take!

Want to work out more consistently? Set out your sneakers so that first thing in the morning you’re putting on sneakers to get out for that walk rather than hanging out in slippers and then “running out” of time.  You’ll feel the reward once you return home knowing you’ve already accomplished a goal for the day! See how it works?

Looking to break a routine or habit? Start by identifying the cue that gets you started and from there you can slowly begin to substitute in new behaviors when cued. Let’s look at that sinking spell that hits a great number of people around 3 or 4pm. You know that feeling when you feel like you could fall asleep at your desk? If you are current getting up and getting yourself a soda from the vending machine, you might want to go ahead and get up but this time instead of the vending machine take a 5 minute walk outside or around your office; get some water and then return to your desk. Over time you’ll be able to puzzle out what is really triggering the cue: is it the time or the need for some sugar? Would you like to do something else instead?

Set a routine up, stick to it in the beginning and know that in the long run you’re on your way to new, healthier habits!