You start each day intending to spend half an hour going for a walk, preparing your lunch for the day and then write a new post for your website. But you’re out of ideas and chicken, there are 50 unread emails in your inbox, your rent was due last week, and your car has it’s NCT tomorrow morning. So you put off your morning walk or working on your website for one more day. And then one more. And then one more.
Does this sound familiar?
Lately I’ve been trying to follow a six-step plan that I’ve personally found effective for establishing and maintaining a routine for almost anything, even in the middle of a moderately busy life. Here are the six steps you can follow to establish a daily practice of almost anything:
1) Set Your Intention
Get very clear about what you want to commit to, and even more important is why. Why is it important to you that you go for a walk in the morning, or go to the gym, or sketch ideas? What part of you does it nourish? Write down your reasons. The more specific you are, the more likely you will be to do it. It’s not just “I want to get ripped.” It’s “I commit to going to the gym at least 3 days a week because it keeps me calm, grounded, and improves my overall health.” To make your intention even stronger, share it with someone close to you.
2) Establish A Cue
This is what reminds you to start your practice. The most simple and reliable cue is a specific time. For instance, you decide you will prepare lunch for tomorrow every evening from 9 to 9:30 p.m. It can also be a floating cue: you will go to the gym right after you finish work, whenever that happens to be. To ensure that your good intentions don’t get overrun by other plans, carve out the time in advance. Write it into your planner and don’t schedule anything else during that period. Be sure to build in time for any preparations or cleanup that's necessary.
Remember, start modestly. Walking for ten minutes every day for a year is more beneficial than walking an hour a day for three days, then burning out. Again, it can help to let the people close to you know what you're doing. That way they can support you in your commitment.
3) Get Your Supplies
Make sure you have everything you need for your practice in a place where you can find it easily. That way you don’t have to waste your precious time looking around the house. Keep your gym bag in sight, your walking shoes by the front door and if you want to write down your thoughts every morning, place a notebook and pen on your bedside table.
4) Do Your Practice
So you don’t spend your dedicated practice time spacing out or trying to figure out where to get started, it helps to have a routine in place, especially at first. Know what walking programme you want to follow, couch to 5k or whatever it may be —and stick with one method for at least a month before switching.
5) Reward Yourself
Yes, theoretically the practice is its own reward. But especially when you’re establishing a new routine, it helps to have an external reward as well. After your morning walk, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and sip it slowly while watching the sun come up. After your evening gym session, watch a silly movie with your friends. Our brains love this kind of positive reinforcement.
6) Track your progress
Keeping a record of what you have and haven’t done increases your sense of accountability. You can go the old-fashioned route by checking off boxes on a calendar. Or you can use one of the many apps that are available, depending on your goal. Personally I use MyFitnessPal to track my eating and the Stronglifts 5×5 app to track my workouts. And when I’m feeling very inspired, I’ll write my goals, thoughts and ideas into my journal.
Remember, this is about celebrating your accomplishments, not beating yourself up when you miss a day. Through daily small changes of routine, your whole life can shift over time to a new trajectory. Just remember to enjoy the journey.
By Odhran O'Mahony. You can read more of his work here.