How to Stick to Your Daily Routine

Learn How to Make Your Daily Routine Stick

A young woman brushing her teeth
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We all know creating and planning a personalized daily routine is one thing--for me, that's the fun part--sticking to it is another story. For advice, I turned again to motivational science expert Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson and she was kind enough to answer my questions. (Here you can find Dr. Halvorson's book Succeed, which has seriously changed my professional life.)

How specific should people be when establishing routines? Is "6 am: wake up, 6:02: brush teeth" too restrictive? Being specific is important because when our plans are vague they tend to not ever get acted on.

"Wake up earlier" is a terrible plan, because what exactly does earlier mean? How much earlier is good enough? Waking up at 6:00 a.m. is a better plan because you know what you are aiming for.

That said, timing your tooth brushing is probably a bit much. It's enough to say "wake up at 6, then brush teeth, then eat breakfast..." to plan out the order you'll do things in. This helps you create the routine. Specific times should be used when they are necessary (e.g., catch 7:15 bus), but otherwise, you don't have to go that far.

Should you log daily progress? Monitoring your progress is important because you need to have a pretty good idea how well you're doing with respect to your goals in order to stay motivated and to know when you need to try a new approach because the one you are using isn't working. For a lot of people, a calendar or journal is a natural way to keep track of goals.

What if your routine includes something you really don't want to do, like jogging. What's the best way to motivate yourself? There are lots of approaches to take, but one effective strategy is to re-frame the activity in terms of the "bigger picture" goal it is serving.

So if you are jogging, you are probably doing it to "stay healthy" or "lose weight." Thinking in terms of the reasons why you are doing something unpleasant can give you a real motivational boost.

How long does it take to establish a new habit? I've heard estimates from 30 to 90 days. Unfortunately, all those estimates are basically nonsense.

There really is no way to know exactly how long a new habit will take to develop - it depends on the individual's personality, how complicated or difficult the new behaviors are, what kind of distractions or temptations are in the way, etc. But the good news is, if you keep it up, any behavior can eventually become a habit. And it will absolutely get easier over time.

Do you recommend checklists for routines? Checklists are great, as are "if-then" plans ("If I am in situation X, then I will do action Y.") We are all pretty busy juggling lots of goals, and it's easy to forget to do the things you set out to do, even with the best intentions. Both checklists and if-then plans make remembering everything a lot easier.