Getting Back Into Routines

By Joe Mark, LMHC, NCC

Summertime always brings fond memories of growing up in Florida, enjoying summer vacation, working part-time as a lifeguard at the high school pool, if you call that work, or just hanging out with friends as we listened to that new group from England, the Beatles, on our transistor radios. "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…" We had the freedom to come and go as we pleased, stay up a little later at night and then sleep in the next morning. This is not to say we didn't have our chores and responsibilities. For me those were mowing the lawn, washing jalousie windows, and of course doing dishes and laundry. My mother raised very good husbands in my brother and me!

Life was so much simpler then and stress was not even in my vocabulary. With no AC and only a black and white TV, I will resist calling them the "good ole' days", but they were happy times. Of course once it got closer to thetime to return to school though, we started to naturally get back to more structure. And grumble and complain as we did, I must admit now that there was a subtle sense of calm and safety as we returned to the schedule and routine of school, as well as the expectations of getting on with our lives and our futures. With all of this came a sense of purpose that I couldn't quite understand or explain at the time.

It is now very apparent to me that purpose, structure, and especially a routine are the basis for a meaningful and enjoyable life. Without these three elements we can easily drift, or more likely, rush from one demand to another as things pile up around us as adults. Then no matter how hard we try to get caught up and stay organized, all we seem to be able to do is hold on. And there doesn't seem to be any more lazy days of summer for us. This is why returning to a structured and consistent routine can help us get back on track. So where do we start in trying to get back into a healthy routine?

Keeping it simple is not only the easiest way to get on track, but is also the most effective process. So let's break this down into three basic steps:

  1. First, even though it may seem counter-intuitive, there is value in initially slowing down, so we can see clearer while we try to make some simple plans. Start with a plan that includes the basic necessities such as a healthy diet and regular meals, adequate exercise, and regular sleep habits. And I use the word "habits" because that is exactly what these things must become, so they can be part of a routine. Don't overdo it. Start slowly and maybe just work on one of these elements at a time until it becomes more like a habit than a chore.
  2. Next, focus on the concepts of simplicity and balance. One thing at a time, and then move on to the next. Consider making your bed right when you get up, and then enjoy a good breakfast as you plan your day. Plan your day as you sit calmly. Planning is a very essential need, almost like preparing for a trip with a road map in front of you. There are some priorities that are established for us, but we may also have some say in what they will be, or what we would like our priorities to be. Take time to think about that.
  3. Finally, I believe that there is great value in knowing ourselves and having a sense of where we are going with our lives. Who am I? Where am I going? And ultimately, how do I get there? All of these larger life questions are best answered when we have a routine and structure in our lives. Working on these questions will help us to simplify naturally as we focus on things that have more meaning in our lives. A passion for something greater may grow out of this effort.

We can usually divide our activities into two categories, the things we need to do, and the things we like to do. Both of them are equally important and both should get equal attention. As you determine how your own activities fall into these categories, remember that there may be days when we could benefit from doing a little more of what we enjoy doing. Always remember to take it slow as you practice any new habit, and let relaxation time be part of your new routine.