Take a look at your calendar. What do you see? Meetings. Appointments. Birthdays. All important things, yes?
So where are your healthy habits? Do you schedule them with bright colors and 15-minute reminder alarms? Why not?
The more often we repeat an action, the more likely we are to create a lasting habit. In the absence of a daily reminder, we have to remember and decide to execute the action on our own. But as the day goes on we experience decision fatigue; our self-control and willpower diminish. The more decisions we make throughout our day the more likely we are to take the easy way out later in the evening:
- watching TV rather than exercising
- piling everything up in the corner rather than spending 15 minutes sorting and purging
- ordering take out rather than cooking at home (which leads to)
- buying fast food for lunch tomorrow rather than packing a healthy meal tonight
A great way to build healthy habits is scheduling them into your day.
Scheduling your healthy habit eliminates the need for daily decision making. Instead, you decide once what you will do and when you will do it. You add it to your calendar as a recurring appointment. And voila! No more decisions to be made. When the schedule says it is time, you get it done.
Here are some ways to schedule healthy habits into your daily routine:
First thing in the morning
Immediately after waking (and maybe a stop by the bathroom) I will_____.
Some ideas – write in my gratitude journal, take a walk, meditate, practice yoga, make a healthy breakfast.
I don’t recommend looking at your phone or computer or even a written schedule first thing in the morning, so remind yourself of what you will do every morning with a post-it note on your bathroom door or mirror.
When you arrive and before you do anything else
As soon as I walk in the door I will _____.
Some ideas for arriving at the office in the morning: fill up my water bottle, make a cup of tea, review my schedule, check messages.
Some ideas for coming home in the evening: kiss my spouse, hang up my coat, put away my shoes, change clothes and take the dog for a walk.
Post-it notes work great for this habit, too.
After that then this
We all have tasks that happen naturally throughout the day – going to the bathroom, meetings, dropping kids off/picking kids up at school, eating. An effective habit development strategy is to end that task with a healthy habit.
My personal example: I teach or take a yoga class every weekday morning. The schedule is different each day but the action is the same. When I return home, whether that is at 9:30am or 1:00pm, I take my dogs for a short walk and then tackle the three things that bug me most – dirty dishes, unmade bed, and messy couch.
You could pair going to the bathroom with refilling your water cup, leaving an afternoon meeting with eating a piece of fruit, or dropping your kids off at school with a short walk around the block. We’ll explore this strategy more when we get to habit stacking or pairing.
Make your habit a meeting and put it on the calendar
A good example is healthy eating. While this is a daily task it takes weekly planning and shopping. Back up your habit of menu planning and grocery shopping with a meeting, or two, on your calendar for the same time every week. You can even schedule a time for food prep to make getting healthy meals on the table during the week quicker and easier. This strategy also works well for exercise. Plan your workouts and add a reminder alarm. Treat these meetings like you would a meeting with your boss and don’t skip them.
This strategy also helps us make time for things that are important to us. How we schedule our days is how we live our lives. If we want to spend more time with family, then we need to book time for family game nights, camping trips, and extended family dinners. Maybe you want to volunteer but never seem to have the time. If you build that time into your schedule then you make it unavailable to other things. Scheduling helps you say no to other less important things – “sorry, I’m not available at that time.”
Schedule in down time
Leisure should not be something you get to do only when everything else is done, because let’s face it, there will always be more to do. Plan ahead and add some treats into your schedule. My personal favorites are date night every Tuesday and a pedicure every third Wednesday. I can demand more of myself in the present moment having these things to look forward to in the near future.
What’s the bottom line?
Developing healthy habits takes time and repetition. The more fixed you make your healthy habits – happening at the same time every time whether daily, weekly, or monthly – the more likely they are to stick and become automatic. The strategy of scheduling is a powerful way to eliminate daily decision making. You simply have to consult your schedule and do what is next. You don’t have to rely on sheer will to power through. Scheduling also helps you prioritize what is important to you. How you spend your time is how you spend your life, so spend it wisely.
One more thing...
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Thank you to Gretchen Rubin for inspiring me to live Better than Before.