Feel Better and Accomplish More: How to Make Your Routine Work With Your Bad Habits and Energy Levels

Self on 10.03.11
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Photo: Ed Yourdon / Creative Commons

Yesterday afternoon, I found my hand reaching into the economy-size junk food tub. I was slumped into the easy chair with this container of chips so big that it spans from my lap to my chin. I washed down the chips with a bottle of pumpkin ale while I wondered, "How did I get here?" My husband looked amused while I looked at the clock. It was 4:30PM, my personal witching hour.

At 4:30PM every day, it's time for me to consider walking into the kitchen to begin dinner preparations, yet that's the time that my energy level peters out to nothing and I just want to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling while my daughter crawls over me. I've tried fighting through the fatigue like it's a bad habit I can overcome, but my 4:30 slump will not be beaten.

There have been too many days that the hubby arrives home from work, also exhausted, and we abandon plans to make dinner in favor of buying takeout. All because at 4:30, my energy dips. Now that I recognize my late afternoon crash as a recurring curse that's negatively impacting my family's health and budget, I'm willing to do what it takes to make a change.

Let's Mess With Tradition

During yesterday's stupor, I remembered seeing a tip, I don't know where, from some parents who begin their dinner prep as early in the day as possible, usually around 9 or 10AM.

They do whatever they can to further the dinner-making process very early in the day: they might assemble the ingredients, chop the veggies, perhaps they brown the chicken or meat. Then they put the perishables in the fridge in easy-to-find containers so that when it's time to get dinner on the table, they have very few steps to contend with.

It makes sense: you're reasonably well rested in the morning, and the day's events have yet to screw up your mojo. Yet when I first heard of this suggestion, I thought, "Ew. Who can deal with dinner in the morning?" and "What a bunch of weirdos."

Why Not Change Your Routine?

My initial knee-jerk reaction aside, I have to admit that chopping broccoli at 10AM is a winner of an idea. You're less likely to decide at that early hour of the day, "To heck with it, we're ordering pizza for dinner." You're essentially clearing all the obstacles so that you can fulfill your family's need for the more healthy and economical option of a home-cooked meal.

This is the first change I'm making to my routine: at 10AM, while Alex naps, I'm going to start my dinner prep. That might not be the right choice for you, though. Let's talk about how to assess and change your own routine.

How to Change Your Routine

In this Greater Good video, Christine Carr shows us how to change our routines for more happiness and connection.

There are two steps:

1.       Write down your existing routine so you can see what's working and what's not.

2.       Reengineer your routine to make it feel better.

What does "make it feel better" mean? For me, it means to go with my natural inclinations, rather than what I think I should do. Let's face it, those urges and habits we have often beat our good intentions anyway, so why not work with them?

Shift Tasks to "Auto-Pilot" Times of Day

Think about the times of day that you have energy ebbs and flows, and work within that context. When do you most feel like tackling certain tasks? Look for when your "should" and "should not" thinking might get in the way.

For example, I always have this burst of neat-freakness first thing in the morning that I resist. In my head, I think that the house "should" be tidied when the day is done, right before bed. I think that we "should" wake up to a neat house. While that might be true, that way of thinking isn't working for me. If I go with my natural inclination to tidy the house in the morning, then it gets done.

Another example? Knowing that at 4:30PM I get snacky and lazy, then I might as well alleviate my guilt and plan for it. Thinking that I "should not" sit down for a snack at 4:30 hasn't prevented it from happening.

I'm purposely adding a 4:30PM veggie feast to my routine so I won't feel like I "should" be prepping dinner at that time. Bonus: if a 4:30PM veggie snack is sanctioned, I'm more likely to leave the tub-o' junk in the cabinet. Besides, my daughter loves it when I bust out a bag of munchin' veggies in the afternoon, a habit I don't mind fostering in her.

Figure Out Where Your Routine Meets Reality

It helps to write down your routine so you can make your routine more efficient. Then examine where your plans are going awry when they meet reality.

For example, your written routine says that you "should" take out the trash after dinner, since it will contain stinky food scraps. But your reality is that after dinner, you just want to clean the kitchen and put your feet up, and the trash rarely goes out until it's overflowing.

Perhaps you can change your routine by taking out the garbage when you're going to leave the house anyway, rather than saying you're going to do it right after dinner. That way you alleviate guilt, and the trash goes out when it's convenient rather than overflowing.

Work With Your Quirks to Find Success

If your routine routinely falls apart, don't beat yourself up. Routines regularly change with the seasons and as our kids grow and change. Instead of fighting your natural inclinations, just keep revising your routine until it works for you.

Be aware that routines are living, breathing works of art and they need to be changed often to keep up with our evolving lives.

Katie Morton is the founder of The Monarch Company. Get a FREE copy of her eBook, 10 Steps to a Blissful You, to get started on developing extraordinary willpower for life.

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