How to build routines

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Jon Lee

"You have to find something you like. That’s the number one thing."

You have to find something you like. That’s the number one thing. It might sound oversimplified, but that’s what you want when you’re starting to build out a fitness routine.

The average person will be very gung-ho about starting a fitness routine. That energy is great but can cause people to jump into things too quickly or cloud their own sensibilities of what’s going to work best for them. Someone might want to step up their physical activity and because they see a lot of people out running think, “I’ll start running too.” But what if they hate running? They’re not going to get a lot of enjoyment out of that activity and they’re not going to stick to it.

So, think about what you already like doing. Maybe you love swimming, but because of cold winters, you mostly do it in the summer. Get some goggles and a swim cap and check out facilities near you with an indoor pool, like a community centre, a gym, or a YMCA. Most places will let you do a drop-in to see how you like it. The same goes for biking. If you enjoy a leisurely bike ride, and you’re close enough to work to do it, try switching a few of your daily commutes to cycling.

Once you’ve found something you enjoy, take it slow. Even if that’s just walking to start. Walk for 10 minutes a day for two weeks to get your body used to moving, and gradually start to build on that physical foundation. Consistency is going to be key in building a physical routine, whether that’s starting something new or building on something you already do.

Alex Auerbach

Our brains are always actively trying to predict what’s next for us, trying to match our internal state to our external reality. Routines create a real sense of predictability. They allow us to know exactly what’s coming next. Our body is then not only prepared, but can respond with a high level of fidelity.

Basically, our brains want us to have routines.

The three most important practices I could recommend for anyone who wants to improve their mental health through routines are:

  • regular sleep,
  • social support, as in doing stuff with friends and family,
  • and mindfulness meditation.

You can and should try different things. See what you respond best to, what makes you mentally feel the best. Try journaling, try meditation, try regularly calling a friend or a loved one. There's a lot you can do that supports your mental health. Making it a regular practice is what’s important.

And it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. We know that spending 15 minutes per day on an intentional routine of mental hygiene is enough:

  • to decrease overall feelings of isolation,
  • and increase our feelings of self-worth, gratitude, and to reduce the risk of depression.

Jen Sygo

"You put on shoes when you leave the house, you grab your car keys when you’re going to drive somewhere. A nutrition routine is the same."

Routines are the backbone of building habits. The things that we’re going to do on a regular basis that become automatic. Think of brushing your teeth. You might forget to brush your teeth every so often, but it’s pretty hard to do. And if you do forget, you feel out of step. Likewise, you put on shoes when you leave the house, you grab your car keys when you’re going to drive somewhere.

A nutrition routine is the same. Think of them as the key to getting your body going, or the necessary finishing touches to a put-together, healthier you.

Look at your average day-to-day and how you plan for it. If you already plan ahead with lunches, or snacks to have on hand because you know you’ll be out all day and might crash at some point, that’s great. If you don’t, then look at the things you do. Ask how you’ll support yourself with the essentials. Think again of the car keys. It’s a good way to start.

Once you start to incorporate these small adjustments, notice: Hey, I’m saving money, or I have energy and can stay focused where I’d normally have a mid-day crash. You’ll want to lean into those nutritional habits because they make you feel good. You’ll start looking at other ways you can change your approach to nutrition.

One of the simplest tips I give people is to make a dinner plan at the start of the week. Sit down by yourself or with your family and think about your schedule for the week. When will you be home, when will you be out? Maybe you’ll make a big meal Monday, have leftovers on Tuesday, and decide to order takeout on Wednesday after a hectic day. Having that plan informs what you buy at the grocery store and saves you money by wasting less food. And on top of that, you don't have to go home and open the freezer nine times hoping that on the 10th try, that chicken has thawed itself.

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