In a self-improvement-obsessed world, it’s easy to find a reason to change your routine. Every day, there seems to be new research or book that tells you what time you should get up, what you should eat, and how you should sleep.
But a successful routine looks different for everyone. Just because someone else swears by a particular routine and attributes their success to that, it doesn’t mean that you’ll experience the same thing. Before you think about drastically changing your diet, or setting your alarm two hours earlier than you normally wake up, it’s worth asking these questions below.
1. What’s My End Goal?
When writer Daniel Dowling became a full-time freelance writer, he realized that it was no longer enough to “let his energy levels” dictate how much work he would do. He needed to do it the other way–let his workflow dictate his energy. Dowling made a series of changes, from working out first thing in the morning, stepping away from his desk every 30 to 45 minutes, to eating a breakfast of healthy fats and protein before he started working. Previously, Dowling would start writing first thing on an empty stomach, and find that he wanted to faint by the time he got to the end of his draft.
These are all substantive changes, but Dowling had a clear end goal–to keep his brain sharp and alert so he can crank out great copy for long periods of time. Had he not had this clear objective, he might not have been able to stick with it for so long. If you don’t personally know why you’re making a change, you’re more likely to give up sooner and not stick with the change in the first place.
2. What’s Not Working In My Current Routine?
Sometimes society arbitrarily tells you what’s “good” without any valid reason. For starters, reading the morning routines of many executives can lead you to think that you need to be an early bird to succeed. Not necessarily. If you find that waking up early makes you tired and cranky, there’s no reason to switch your alarm to 5 a.m. when your 7 a.m. start works just fine. As Bulletproof CEO Dave Asprey previously wrote for Fast Company, “Starting work at 10 a.m. doesn’t make you a bad person. No matter what you’ve heard growing up, there are morning people and night people.” Of course, if your boss has instructed you to get to the office earlier, that’s an entirely different matter. But if they haven’t, then it’s best to stick with what makes you the most productive.
3. What Change Is Going To Be The Most Effective?
Even a small change in routine can be difficult to maintain, particularly when that change involves not doing something. Say that your current nighttime routine involves Twitter scrolling and watching Instagram stories–and you’re trying to avoid screens before bedtime. It’s likely that you’ll have more trouble implementing that change rather than deciding to read a physical book before bed instead.
As psychology and marketing professor Art Markman previously wrote for Fast Company, “Unfortunately, the brain mechanisms that develop habits cannot learn not to do something.” It’s much easier to introduce a positive action that replaces the habit you are trying to change.
4. How Committed Am I To Making The Change?
When you start your habit change, you might be adamant that you won’t let work, travel, and special occasions interfere with your goal. But let’s face it: At some point or another, this is bound to happen. In addition to knowing a clear “why,” it’s also important for you to be honest with how committed you are to making the change, and whether you’re okay with missing out on the opportunity cost. Let’s say that you want to start exercising after you get home from work. Are you willing to trade your Netflix time for an hour at the gym?
As Laura Vanderkam previously wrote for Fast Company, successful routine changers “structure their lives to make these habits possible.” Vanderkam’s dad, a professor of religion, has been reading Hebrew texts for 30 minutes every day for 39 years, which he starts the moment he has his first cup of coffee. Journalist Jodi Helmer doesn’t schedule anything until 9:30 a.m., to ensure that she has time to write in her journal every morning.
5. How Can I Make The Change In A Way That Works For Me?
Career and executive coach Suzan Bond had the goal of practicing yoga every day. However, an injury intervened with her plans, and she found herself unable to get back to the mat daily, even when she laid out her yoga gear and mat the night before. She decided to start small–a four-minute yoga practice using an app that she could use at home. She let herself practice whenever she had spare time (rather than setting aside a time), and found her motivation by using calendar check marks to show that she had completed her yoga practice for that day. She wrote, “Committing to just four minutes a day helped me tap into the power of tiny habits without trying to overcome my perfectionism, the part of me that just needs to stick with something on a regular (okay, fine–daily) basis.”
Bond designed her habit change in a way that suited her personality and goals. When she tried to do so in a way that ignored her perfectionist tendency, she didn’t succeed. Just as it is important to figure out your “why,” when it comes to routine changes, it’s equally important to work out your “how.”