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Ask any doctor, therapist, or wildly successful entrepreneur, and they'll swear by the myriad benefits of setting and sticking to a routine. Even if you're a little more spontaneous, you've likely experienced the desire to have a set schedule. Say, after a chaotic holiday season, following a gluttonous vacation, or another stressful period in your life, like losing a loved one or going through a breakup.
As humans, our bodies-and more to the point, our minds-crave the comfort and mindlessness that routine offers. How so? Routine requires very little conscious thought, freeing our brain to focus on more complex tasks, according to Samantha Dutton, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker and associate dean and social work program director at the University of Phoenix. This makes everyday tasks, like commuting to work, brushing our teeth, taking a shower, and so on, second nature. When we aren't thinking about those necessities, we can pay more attention to other parts of our lives. "If we've learned anything from the previous year, the unexpected can happen, and it can cause anxiety," Dutton says. "Having a routine will lower your anxiety because there's no conscious thought in the everyday details of life. When you're not worried about the daily grind, it can help you have more energy and be adaptable to the unexpected."
There are plenty of other benefits too, from our mental to our physical health. Here, we spoke with experts to identify why we should invest in a routine this year.
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Routines encourage healthy habits.
If you've set resolutions for yourself that involve better wellness habits, a routine may be the trick to making them happen. As one study conducted in 2019 found, those in good health tend to engage in highly routine health behaviors. In other words: people who drink enough water, exercise regularly, choose balanced meals, and meditate, do so on a schedule.
"Since humans typically choose options that are easier than others, and since routines become automatic and require little decision-making, this study concluded that developing routines within individuals' current lifestyles will help increase adherence to health care recommendations," explains Joan Davidson, a licensed psychologist, co-director of the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, and assistant professor in the Clinical Science Program at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Routines allow you to maximize your time.
Dutton says while many of us believe we're great at multitasking, chances are we're not actually maximizing our time. If you were to track your daily actions, you'd likely find that responding to text messages adds an additional half-hour to one work assignment. Or having dozens of tabs open on your computer is more distracting than beneficial. However, when we create routines and time blocks, we can check off every deliverable because we have reserved our time and mental power. "By creating a routine around your to-do list, you'll start to be more accountable for your time," she says. "Remember, we all just get 24 hours in the day. Routines will help you maximize your time and lead to an understanding of how you want to spend your time."
Routines help you achieve goals.
There's a reason why entrepreneurs take the guesswork out of their days: They need their genius going directly toward their business and solving problems. Even if your ambitions and demands aren't quite at C-suite level (yet), we all have goals we're working to reach, whether it's a higher salary, writing a book, running a race, earning a second degree, learning another language, buying your dream home, or taking an extended vacation. When we create routines, we break down those goals and aspirations into daily stepping stones, which eventually lead to success. "Whatever the goal, developing routines paves the way toward achieving them," Davidson says.
Routines fight against depression.
If you've ever experienced a bout of depression, or you know someone who has, you likely experienced the withdrawal tendency. As Davidson explains, when we are feeling blue, we tend to pull back from activities and people who bring us joy, which can leave us feeling deprived and sadder. That's why one of the first steps of cognitive behavior therapy is resuming basic routines and habits. "This includes planning consistent, concrete and specific practices, often at designated times and places," she continues. "Such consistency and specificity help clients build structure and routines for developing and practicing new behaviors."
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Routines are calming and comforting.
When you walk into your go-to restaurant, where the bartender and owner know your order, you feel at home. When you cuddle up in a sweatshirt you've had for decades, it instantly makes you safe and cozy. Routines can be like this, too, since Dutton says familiarity is comforting. "Having a routine can have a calming effect and can set the stage for the day," she says. Even when the world is unpredictable with the pandemic hanging over everything, having a set morning routine, for example, will keep you feeling more relaxed and ready for whatever the day throws your way.
Routines ensure enough time for what energizes you.
It's human nature to enjoy some tasks and to loathe others. Sadly some of the must-dos you dislike, like folding laundry or filing taxes, have to be completed. But if you can create a routine that also includes activities that make you happy-like yoga, reading, or taking a hot bath-you'll boost your energy instead of draining it. "With so many tasks and demands competing for our time, we must schedule activities that recharge and motivate us," Dutton says. "Doing something you love every day will naturally boost your energy and leave you feeling positive."
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