In the first of her new fortnightly columns, life coach Sadhbh Dunne looks at routines – the good, the bad and the flexible
The buckets and spades have been packed away and the school uniforms are, for now, still new and shiny. We can see the evenings are getting shorter and the leaves are beginning to fall. For a lot of people, September symbolises a new beginning. This seasonal shift, sometimes referred to as the ‘September reset’, is often accompanied by the desire to create new routines.
Personally, I follow a loose weekly routine – the order in which I get ready in the morning, the day I do my grocery shopping and my after work activities are fairly consistent. They’re not things I set out as a routine, more so a pattern of habits that I fell into out of ease and convenience.
Some people relish in and diligently follow a routine, whilst others appreciate its absence. What is it about having a routine in place that soothes us? And is a lack of one a bad thing?
Positive or negative?
The evidence overwhelmingly points to routines as being positive. They can have far reaching benefits for our mental health, which is considered especially important in times of stress and unpredictability.
Tasks such as getting up, showering and eating at the same time each day are said to help us to stay focused. Their comfort and familiarity limits our thoughts of ‘What should I do now?’. We know what, when and how we need to do things to get through the day. We get a sense of accomplishment and pride in our day when tasks, whether grand or minute, are ticked off our list.
However, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that becoming too regimental in following a routine can actually have the opposite effect. A list of things to be completed running through our minds can lead to increased pressure and stress. Consider how the failure to tick off an item would impact the rest of your day. Would you feel guilty? Like you’d failed? Under even more pressure? Maybe the effort to stick rigidly to the routine is having a negative impact on your life.
The happiness factor
But what does it mean for you if you’re not too keen on sticking to a routine at all? There is a belief that people with no routine can feel more anxious and less in control, but the consensus is not all negative.
Abstaining allows you the flexibility to choose the most suitable time to dedicate yourself to a task. An early-morning workout might not be the best start to the day if you had a restless night. On a busy day, you might want to keep your diary clear after lunch. Not following a rigid routine allows you to make these decisions on a daily basis, depending on the circumstances.
Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle spoke of ‘the dull routine of existence’. Do you, like him, think that routine sucks away any chance of spontaneity and freedom? Or do you fear that you’ll miss out on something if you never deviate from your plan?
Luckily, routines don’t have to be boring – far from it. They are formed from the habits we create, so it’s up to us to include elements of fun for ourselves. It’s crucial to make time for things that bring happiness.
As with most things in life, it’s an elusive balancing act. You may like the idea of following a routine because you feel more organised and in control, but at the same time you do not want to be a slave to it.
The good news is there is no gold standard, so you have full control as to what a healthy routine looks like for you. If you’re feeling inspired to introduce or hone a routine, start small. Be realistic to avoid feeling overwhelmed – do not plan to do a 10k run each morning if you have never run before.
And remember, it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. You can stick to a strict routine in specific areas of your life or you can very loosely follow one.
No matter your stance, go easy on yourself and follow what feels right for you.
Now, it’s that time of the week for me again – I must grab those shopping bags….