“Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us” – Sean Covey
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” – Will Durant
RUT VS ROUTINE RESEARCH
What is a rut? What is a routine?
A rut is a fixed practice, a monotonous routine, a habit, or ‘an uninspired routine or pattern of behaviour that one continues unthinkingly or because change is difficult … a narrow or predictable way of life, set of attitudes, dreary or undeviating routine,’ says The Free Dictionary. A rut is seen as a negative state of mind or being.
A routine is the usual, easy, or fixed way of doing things, a habit, a series of things repeated, or activities done as a normal part of a job or daily life. A routine can be seen as either a negative or a positive state of mind or being.
A rut can be boring, repetitive, mundane, unmotivating, and a drudge – it can lead to headaches, listlessness, slow-thinking.
A routine, such as a morning routine, an exercise routine, a social routine, a work routine, an email-answering routine etc., is a schedule of activities – or a way of doing the activities in order (a ‘game plan’), sometimes with milestones (and self-rewards). A routine of repetitive, effective, efficient, pre-determined tasks removes stress, and leads to control and security – and often saves time.
A routine can turn into a rut.
American journalist Charles Duhigg, author of the 2013 book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, says ‘When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So, unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically. However, simply understanding how habits work – learning the structure of the habit loop – makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears.’
In October 2022, the journal Psychology Today, listed five ways to get out of a rut:
- Assess the situation or problem – ‘why won’t the car start?’: are you stuck in an uninspired rut or are you experiencing symptoms of trauma, exhaustion, illness, or other physical experience?
- Do something – ‘push until the wheels are in motion’: do something physical step-by-step with a small target in mind (not an unrealistic, grand target – e.g. deal with the ‘present’ self and not the ‘ideal’ self). For example, get out of bed, get a glass of water, have a shower. Physical activity positively influences multiple aspects of mood.
- Make plans – ‘turn the steering wheel and set the course’: action is good, but a plan of action that is implemented is better. However, don’t put pressure on yourself to go from almost zero to 100 kilometres/mile per hour in minutes. What are some things you can do (work towards) and achieve, that are going to make you feel good about yourself today, tomorrow, and beyond?
- Build momentum – ‘move up the gears and apply some gas’: success relies heavily on psychological momentum – i.e. once you are moving, find ways to keep moving. Value each cog in the activity.
- Self care – ‘practice good maintenance’: energy needs to be managed by mixing up the activities and adding in ways to challenge yourself, while carefully monitoring how the approach is working for you.
Some people thrive on healthy routines. A healthy routine is one in which you feel satisfied and happy doing the tasks and accomplishing them. You have intentions and you can see them materialise. Many ‘successful’ people have routines – i.e. entrepreneur Steve Jobs, feminist journalist Gloria Steinhem, and author Maya Angelou – says Mason Currey in his 2013 book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work – visualised with graphics by RJ Andrews on the Info We Trust website.
Sporting teams and groups commonly have a routine – for practice sessions and particularly for game day. This is a bonding routine where everyone has a role, and specific activities according to their role – where everyone else knows, with certainty, what the roles and responsibilities are. Families have routines; school and study groups have routines. Often, if routines are broken, individual members will feel out-of-sync and stressed. Group routines help to moderate impulsiveness, especially for children, says a study published in August 2020 in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology conducted by researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia, America.
A healthy routine can build resilience to the extenuating circumstances that occur throughout life. It builds expectations, eliminates uncertainly, and helps others to contribute to the expected norms of the people around them. A study published in the May 2018 The Lancet Psychiatry by researchers at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, found that people who have a daytime routine also have better sleeping cycles and reduced emotional challenges.
Mental Health America says that people with more daily routines have lower levels of distress when facing problems with their health and with negative life events. MHA also adds that it takes an average of 66 days for a behaviour to become automatic – a habit – but for some, it can take as long as 8.5 months. Mental Health America suggests the following:
- Create the routine that is right for you – not every day is the same, not everyone has the same schedule, etc.
- Start small – select one small thing a week to work on – i.e. adding something new and positive to the routine of activities, or cutting out a bad habit. Small changes add up gradually to big changes.
- Add to your existing habits – i.e. if an existing habit is drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, add reading a book while drinking the coffee – whatever works for you.
- Make swaps – swap an afternoon snack for a walk around the block, or swap a smoking break for a hot tea break.
- Plan ahead – busy days can be less stressful if some preparation time can be planned ahead, such as prepping meals the night before, or laying out your work clothes the night before, or doing all shopping on one day of the week, etc.
- Make time for enjoyable activities – even if it is for a short amount of time, try to schedule in time to do a crossword, time to talk to your niece, time in the garden etc.
- Reward yourself for small victories – set goals and celebrate their accomplishments.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or an activity in your routine – either add it to the rest of the week, or forget it and get back on track the following day or week.
A routine is generally personal, although group members and teams often have the same routine too – where a coach or official sets the routine, for example. Anyone can establish their own routine – often unconsciously – where tasks are undertaken at a specific time of day or day of the week or whatever. Some routines are written down, but most are not.
In October 2022, Psychology Today listed ways to incorporate routines in your daily life:
- Personal level: establish time for activities on a daily basis, such as X minutes for exercise, X minutes to watch news videos, X minutes for journaling etc. divided by the time of day (morning, afternoon, and evening). Set regular sleep and wake-up patterns, eating schedules, etc.
- Relationship level: establish activities or ‘small things’ to do to connect with others – romantic partners, family members, friends – on a social level, in person, or through communication platforms.
- Career/work level: establish activities for your own professional development, such as reading work-related articles, or connect to colleagues once a week, for example.
Balance routine activities where possible – e.g. personal, relationship/friendships, career, community, health, spiritual, and times for introspection and planning ahead, etc.
Activities within the routines can be regularly prioritised, updated, and changed – they are all specific to your own needs, while adjusting and accommodating the needs of others (work, study, friendships) at a manageable level. Some people use timers to help keep to their schedule – i.e. set a timer to play with the dog for 10 minutes; set a timer to undertake housework, and so on – this helps to set boundaries.
Some routines are short term – for example, a holiday routine for a week. Some people keep a core routine, and add or subtract activities within the core routine – i.e. creating flexibility within the routine.
Habit, routine, rut – same old, same old. As Albert Einstein said, ‘If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.’ A routine can become unhealthy if it limits, prevents, or stops development and growth.
Everyone goes through times when the routine breaks down, due to controlled events (taking a break, going on holiday, etc.) or uncontrolled events (a disaster, trauma, loss of a job, etc.). Getting back on track can be difficult and stressful.
Routines – in all their forms – do not necessarily address core issues.
“The routine helped the healing process. It gave me structure. It eliminated any sense of surprise which, at that point, I really didn’t want anymore surprises in my life. Routine gave me the foundation for creating a healthier life.” – Sharon E Rainey, Making a Pearl from the Grit of Life
“Routine gave you structure. Structure gave you perspective. And perspective gave you a horizon.” – Peter James, Dead Simple
“Incorporate order and structure into your life by creating daily routines. This is the only real way to fully liberate yourself, and to gain more mental energy to address what really matters.” – Taylor C. Roldan, Zen: The Ultimate Zen Beginner’s Guide: Simple and Effective Zen Concepts For Living a Happier and More Peaceful Life
“The human spirit lives on creativity and dies in conformity and routine.” – Vilayat Inayat Khan
“I find that even small changes sometimes jog you out of a mental rut.” – Tom Perrotta
“To succeed, find the right rut and stay with it.” – Mason Cooley
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