Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Using routines to your advantage
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
The holidays are officially over! Time to get back to the usual routine of life in this brand new year with all the hopes and anticipation that it might foster.
Most people seem more than ready to jump back into routine and regimen, particularly after the holiday season and all that it evoked: more rich and plentiful foods, parties, celebrations, family, sleeping late, going to bed later, decorations all over the house and gifts that need a permanent place to reside. Whew – most people are ready for that normalcy that comes from their routine!
Most of us have heard it said that “there are benefits to having a routine.” And, I agree! Let’s take a peek:
- You are more effective and efficient at getting tasks done. When you have an established way of doing things, your life runs more smoothly and you feel more accomplished. Having a morning routine, for example, makes you feel more certain and positive about getting the day started successfully. “The kids were fed, the dog was walked, the laundry was begun and I’m on time at work” are words that kick-start the rest of the day in a positive light.
- You pay attention to important things in your life that otherwise might get neglected. “We have family game nights every Thursday,” “my spouse and I have a date night on alternating Fridays” and “I call my mother every Sunday” are routines that focus consistently on those things in life that are important to us.
- Your life feels more controlled. Having a plan or a sequential way of doing things provides a sense of assurance that all is well. Deadlines are met, bills are paid on time, homework is completed and meals are planned, for example. Life feels ordered and prepared for.
However, like most things in life, anything positive to the extreme easily can become negative. (Think: ice cream!) How do you know? Let’s examine …
… when you’ve become resistant to change. Ask yourself, “Have I become rigid?” If your routine stifles the excitement of serendipity, you might be approaching rigidity. “I’d love to go with you, but Saturday is when I mow my yard” or “No, you may not stay up and watch the ceremony because bedtime is 9 o’clock” or “We’re not ordering pizza because Tuesdays are for tacos.” Yikes! Routine overload!
… when you fear change. Sometimes a routine can become so comfortable that it stifles growth. “But I’ve always driven a sedan; why would I want a motorcycle?” or “I’ve always written checks for my bills on the 15th of each month; why would I need to learn online banking?” Yikes! Routine-stunted growth!
… when you have become boring. Let’s face it – sometimes we can allow our adherence to a routine make us so predictable and overused that we’ve become downright dull. It is OK to shake things up every once in awhile, to ditch the routine for the spontaneous and to “think outside the lines.” Otherwise … yikes! Red flag! Routine doldrums!
So as each of us returns to a routine and regimen in this unfolding New Year, let’s also enter it with a willingness to allow for the joy of spontaneity, for the surprise of serendipity and for the occasional pleasant interruption. The perfect balance – routine with flexibility!