Friday, August 8, 2014

How and Why Routines Are Important in Everyday Life

The subject of this post is something I've reflected on for many years and it was brought into relief yet again this past week, so here goes...


This cycle doesn't just pertain to exercise!


We humans are, in general, creatures of habit.  With rare exceptions, we've all got habits and routines ingrained in our brains for just about everything. Whether it's how you get ready to start your day in the mornings, how you pack your suitcase, or what you do before going to bed at night, you subconsciously have a routine for nearly every facet of life. They provide structure and comfort, and keep us tethered to a sense of normalcy in an increasingly chaotic world. At their core, a habit, whether it's good or bad (and we all have both good and bad habits), is something you do so often that it becomes second nature and eventually perform without thinking about it...almost like a reflex. Many related habits bundled together make up a routine. Our brains tend to reinforce the habits, good or bad, by whatever reward we get as a result. Eventually, the reward leads to a cycle of stimuli or cues, followed by the reflexive habitual behavior, and finally the eventual reward (reward in this sense not necessarily meaning only positive, but either positive or negative). Once the pattern becomes ingrained, it becomes routine and eventually the effort involved is no longer truly conscious as the brain has by that point been trained to react to cues.  However, get thrown off of your routine and it's almost as it your brain initially panics and doesn't know how to react...it can feel a bit like a needle skipping across a record, at least to me!



I was reminded of this yet again when I was away on a business trip last week; I'm sharing it here with the assumption that many, if not most of you will be able to relate to what I'm describing.

I have a lot of routines in my life, from daily routines like how I eat my meals at roughly the same time every day, to when I wake up in the morning, how I get ready for work in the morning, when I exercise, how I relax at night, and what I do before going to sleep. In addition to these behavioral routines, my body itself is in a pretty consistent rhythm as far as when and how I sleep, eat, drink, exercise, and "stay regular" (euphemistically speaking).  I've been settled in this way for many, many years and apart from the rare occasional blip, I don't deviate from it.  I'm sure most of you have similar patterns that you follow throughout the course of everyday life.  However, last week I took one of my many business trips down to South Carolina and spent five days there. From the outset, I was completely thrown off my routine: first, I had to go bed much earlier than usual because I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3:30am in order to get to the airport in time to catch a 6am flight. Then, throughout the week, I was working long days and eating meals whenever I and my coworkers could fit them in.  Breakfast was usually between 7:30am and 8am so that wasn't too bad, but lunch was anywhere from noon to 2pm, and dinner any time from 6 to 9 pm. It's also very hard to eat healthy and feel good when you're on the road since every meal is eaten at a restaurant. Even ordering lighter dishes like salads or sushi only helps so much, because a salad at a restaurant still sits heavier in your stomach than one prepared at home.  Depending on when we ate dinner and then sat around the hotel lobby having a drink and planning the next day's work, it was anywhere from 10pm to midnight before I was finally able to get to sleep, only to wake up early and repeat it the following day. By the time I got home on Friday afternoon, I was exhausted, my stomach felt heavy and gross, my body rhythms were completely thrown off, and I hadn't exercised in a week.  I quite literally just did not feel right in the slightest. It took me until Monday morning to feel like myself again, and having finally gotten back into my routines, today I'm now back to normal (until the next time I get thrown off again)!

How many of you out there can relate? Do you ever get thrown off of your routines and how long does it take you to get back on track? Let's discuss in the comments section below!

3 comments:

  1. Trips always throw me off, for good and for bad. Sometimes I think it's nice to mix things up. But other times I really need the comfort and reliability of routines, particularly when time is of the essence. I hate it when one of my kids tries to mess with the routine of getting them to school in the morning.

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    1. I hear you! Trips always mess me up, and normally I'm ok as far as mixing things up to keep it interesting but what really throws me out of whack is when my eating/sleeping/exercise gets thrown off. Ever since I got in shape and dedicated to being healthy several years ago, I've gotten my body in such a good routine that when I get thrown off it, I definitely notice it for days until I'm able to get back on track. I don't mind when it's for a family vacation or something fun like that, but when it's for a business trip, it really bothers my equilibrium.

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    2. And I'm glad you mentioned kids, my wife and I use structure and routines with our kids and it really helps...it's also noticeable when THEY get thrown off and they seem relieved when they get back on track (especially our oldest two). What sort of routines do you use with your kids?

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