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Mind

Heart

Building a Routine That Matters



I am in a daily battle with depression.

I’m really careful with the language I use when I talk about depression. I never say “I struggle with depression” or “I suffer from depression.” Words hold power and I don’t ever want to give off the impression that I am in a fight that I cannot win. I say things like “I handle depression” or “I battle with depression.”

You must be prepared to go into a battle. You don’t show up without ammo, a strategy, and an army behind you. This is how I battle that daily depression: with strategy, purpose, and an army behind. 

The biggest weapon I have when it comes to fighting depression: a routine. 

Routines add a rhythm to the day. Routines are something stable to look forward to. Routines ensure that you are pushing toward something -- a goal, an aspiration, a better version of yourself. For someone who faces depression and the possibility of being derailed by emotions throughout a day, establishing a solid, unshakeable routine has been a game-changer for me.

First things first, track your current routine.

Before setting out to revamp your entire life in one day, take a few days to track what your current routine looks like. A routine is anything you’re doing on a near-daily basis. Yes, this means negative things you’re doing: sleeping too much, waking up late, watching Netflix, spending time on your phone. Even the things you wish you could change right now are a part of a routine that is happening daily for you. Good or bad habits -- there likely are things you’re doing that you wish you could a) stop or b) do more often.

Map your ideal day.

What would your perfect routine look like? Would you be up early? Would you have time to read for pleasure? Map out your most ideal days and place stars next to everything that is not already a part of your daily routine. It’s important to know what you’re going after, what you’re striving for.

Vital parts of your best daily routine might look like:

-- Drinking water

-- Waking up before the sun

-- Unplugging at 9 p.m.

-- Going for an evening walk

-- Making a smoothie

You wouldn’t think you’d need to schedule all these things out, but it’s very hard to make a pattern or build a habit when you don’t put these sorts of things on the calendar. Routines don’t show up without hard work.

Set a goal and make the goal attainable.

Let’s say the goal is to build up to a workout regimen that happens five days a week for 45 minutes each time. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hurl yourself into that kind of routine if you’re not used to working out so consistently. So set this big goal as your six-month goal. Tell yourself, “I would like to be working out five days a week within the next six months.”

Take that big goal and chop it up in six smaller monthly goals. Potential ideas:

-- Workout two days this week

-- Workout 10 days this month

-- Take a walk for 20 minutes each day

If a goal is attainable you will experience the taste of victory. Once you get a taste of that victory you’re going to want more of it.

BUILDING A ROUTINE TAKES TIME AND PATIENCE. CELEBRATE THE GOOD, OFTEN AND ALWAYS. YOU'VE GOT THIS.

Why am I failing with every goal I set?

I went through a phase where I was failing every goal I set for myself. It led to a lot of defeat and negative self-talk. I kept thinking, “I am never going to be happy with myself. I am always going to be stuck in this place.”

I think the reason I was failing at my goals is that I was going too fast with them. I was setting really big goals without any form of habits to back them up. My recent goal was to kick grains out of my diet completely. A friend commented the other week that I’ve been killing the goal, executing it so effortlessly.

It looks like zero effort but the truth was I’d set a series of smaller goals before tackling this big goal. I learned how to cook grain free. I stocked up my pantry with the essentials. I tackled 2 Whole30s. By the time I was ready to kick grains out for good, I’d already set a bunch of smaller goals to get me to that starting line. I’d trained. I was ready.

Every day, every week, every month.

There are going to be things you do every day, every week, and every month. For instance: I dedicate one day out of the month to go through my finances, make my donations, and do my budget sheets. I mark off two hours every Sunday to plan my week out. These are things that don’t happen every day but they deserve space in the calendar. Truthfully, they won’t happen at all unless I make that space in my calendar.

Here’s an example of what I commit to doing every day:

-- Read my bible + pray

-- Workout (6 days a week)

-- Take medication

-- Drink water

-- Encourage someone

-- Say “I love you” to Lane

Apart from saying “I love you” and encouraging someone, I really have to schedule the rest of the stuff out. It has to have a place in my day or else I will put it off, forget about it, or find better to do.

And here’s the truth: There are days when I don’t “feel” like it. I want to skip the workout. I want to sleep in. I want to just scroll through my phone instead of making a meal for myself. But I am learning to do it anyway. When I don’t feel like it. When I would rather be doing something else. When I want to complain. I have yet to say the words, “Bummer, that workout was awful” or “Man, I am so mad I made a healthy meal for myself.” Is it always perfect? Nope. But I am working towards a better version of myself and so I must be willing to say “no” to the things that want to keep me stagnant.

How do you build a routine when your work schedule fluctuates?

This is why I think mapping your week out before it begins is essential. Just because you do something at 10 a.m. one day and 1 p.m. another day does not mean it isn’t part of the routine. On days where I am traveling, it might not be 9 p.m. until I get into the gym but I make a daily promise to myself: I will get my workout in. I will read my Bible. I will take my medicine. I rarely give myself excuses or free passes. I know these essential parts of my day make for the happiest, strongest, and kindest version of me.

If you have a schedule that fluctuates, plan your week out whenever you get that work schedule. See the week in front of you. Mapping my week out on a Sunday is an immovable commitment I make to myself and it guarantees that I never walk into a week blindsided by what is to come or how I am going to get it all done.

Do you think it's better to go 100% in on day 1 or gradually build up to a big routine change?

I have a few thoughts on this. I am a pretty big “go 100%” advocate BUT I think you can only afford to do it well ONE AREA AT A TIME. When I went for the 5 a.m. hours, I committed wholeheartedly and daily. Yes, I still failed. But I didn’t give myself the wiggle room of two out of five days of one day a week. I exerted my best energy into waking up that early.

I absolutely would have failed if I tried to tackle 5 a.m. hours, five days in the gym, and clean eating all in one month. It would have been a recipe for failure.

Pick one thing you want to go hard in the paint with and then give yourself grace in the other areas. Set smaller goals in the other areas. Willpower is a limited resource so don’t be surprised if it runs out on you.

But what if I fail?

Here’s the thing: You will fail. You won’t eat all the kale. You will go for the donut instead. You’ll get to the gym and only have the energy to sit. You will miss a workout routine. You will forget your sneakers. You will mess up the recipe. You will sleep in. You are going to fail and the world is not going to fall apart. You will mess it all up and that’s perfectly okay … building a routine isn’t about being perfect 100% of the time. It’s about building toward something better. It’s about going after what truly matters most to you. Figure that stuff out. Set the small goals. Rejoice over the small victories. Start over new each day.

Building a routine takes time and patience. Celebrate the good, often and always. You've got this.

What's one thing you want to go 100% in on this month that will make your days, weeks, and months better for the future? 



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Hannah Brencher is a writer, TED speaker, and online educator with a heart for building leaders. She is the author of "Come Matter Here" and "If You Find This Letter." Named as one of the White House’s “Women Working to Do Good” and a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, Hannah founded The World Needs More Love Letters in 2011. The global community has grown to over 20,000 individuals across six continents, fifty-three countries, all fifty states, and is established on over sixty-three college campuses.


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