Why routines matter

The pros and cons, and how to tell if yours is working for you.
Published September 15, 2019

We all have routines in some form or another, whether that means waking up at 6 a.m. to work out, writing every day for an hour or winding down at night with a book and a cup of tea. But are routines actually good for us?

“For most of us, injecting routine into our days allows us to schedule in the time to do what we really want to do,” says Benjamin Spall, co-author of My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.

After interviewing nearly 400 people about their morning routines, Spall says he’s found that “routines are extremely good at keeping us on track, productive and, most surprisingly, creative.”

He adds that “having a morning routine before heading to work, for example, is all you need to, over time, write a novel, learn how to code or get a good workout in.”

Personal trainer Rachel MacPherson, who also writes for Radical Strength, looks at routines from a health and fitness perspective and says it is the routines and habits that we commit to that will give way to the results we seek the most. 

“Even though it may feel exciting to constantly seek the new and exciting, routines are what will bring us the most satisfaction in the long run,” she says. “We can get motivated easily by shiny new diets and exercise routines, [but] that motivation wanes as soon as the newness wears off.”

Pros & Cons

She adds, “Research in the area of human behaviour has shown that habits will help us perform the routines we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle when our own motivation wanes.” 

One of the pros of routines that Spall sees, referring specifically to morning routines, is the fact that they set the stage for the rest of the day. “That doesn’t mean you have to get up early,” he says, “it does mean you should use your morning to do what’s most important to you.”

Sometimes routines get boring, MacPherson says, “or, rather, we feel they are boring because they are not stimulating us enough.”

She says this is easily adjustable by making sure we add in fun, exciting activities to our already established routines, such as signing up for a charity run or a new fitness class or swapping our regular workouts for some circuit training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – or even just incorporating a new piece of equipment, like a kettlebell or a sandbag.

One of the downsides of routines, Spall says, is that we can become too rigid with them and stick to them no matter what, regardless of our current circumstances. “To avoid this,” he advises, “remember that your routine works for you, not the other way around.”

How to evaluate your routine

It’s important to check in every now and then to determine whether our routines are helping, hindering or perhaps even harming us.

Spall recommends experimenting with your routine to figure out what works for you.

“Choose something new (or long-forgotten) that you want to try (such as morning meditation or going on an early run) and add this into your routine. Make sure you start small; keeping your routine short and easy to accomplish, especially in the beginning, will greatly increase the chances of you sticking to it,” he says. “If, after a few weeks, you’re not enjoying the new part of your routine, cut it out and try something else.”

MacPherson points out it’s important to make sure the routine you have chosen is healthy and sustainable. 

“You shouldn’t feel like your health goals get in the way of your other important commitments such as work and family. Incorporate exercise and fitness into your life in enjoyable and even sociable ways by involving family and friends, or use it as alone time to de-stress and rejuvenate yourself.”

If you notice you’re feeling symptoms of being overwhelmed in general or of overtraining during your workouts, MacPherson advises taking a step back and evaluating whether your routine is doing more harm than good.

“Always aim to maintain balance and enjoy your activities,” she says. “Striving for health should be enjoyable!”