How to Create Adaptable Routines For Great Mental Health

Jordan Brown

We're going through a strange time.

Coronavirus, officially know as COVID-19, is front and center. It's all anyone is talking about.

And it has had a huge impact on routines the world over.

From work routines to family routines, I can't remember an event in my lifetime, other than 9/11 possibly, that has affected people's routines in this way.

In this issue, we're going to focus on what to do when your routines are disrupted.

Why Have a Routine in the First Place?

First, why do we have routines? We have them because they free up mental space.

By turning activities into repeatable processes, we don't need to worry so much about what we're going to do next.

You likely have a morning routine. You probably have a bedtime routine. If you don't, seriously consider creating some. They turn frantic times into reliability and poise.

But what happens when routines break down. What do you do then?

How to Create Adaptable Routines

When I first started creating routines, I thought I had to follow them with COMPLETE FIDELITY. Any deviation from the routine meant I did it wrong and that the routine was a failure. This was my anxiety talking, though.

What I've learned over the years is that the best routines are adaptable. They build in room for flexibility. Because, if you think about it, life doesn't always stay the same. There are unexpected events like the coronavirus outbreak, but there are also minor events that pop up from time to time.

Maybe your child got sick and you had to pick them up from school. Maybe your work hours changed just a tad. Even small life changes can have big consequences if they're not handled well.

That's where adaptable routines come in...

Adaptable routines are routines that, well, allow you to adapt to whatever happens. (Yes, I know I just used the same word in the definition. I'm sorry.)

Here is how I go about creating an adaptable routine

  1. I define what the core routine is. What is it exactly that I'm creating a routine for? This seems obvious, but I've found that sometimes my routines blend together, and I actually have multiple routines at once. What I need is to be completely clear about is what I'm trying to optimize. Is this a breakfast routine, or is this a calming-down routine? Is this a work routine, or is this a post-work wrap-up to help me prepare for the next day? The more specific you can get with the routine, the better.
  2. What's the minimum I can do to still call this a routine? For instance, if you have a workout routine, you might ideally want to get to the gym and spend 30 minutes there. But what happens if you can't? What is the minimal amount of gym-routine activities you can do to still call it a gym routine? 50 push-ups? Walking around for 5 minutes? Think about it. Don't let your routines blow up simply because the world does.
  3. Evaluation is key. Do you have evaluation built into your routines? This is where you really fine-tune the adaptability. Lots of  people don't think evaluation is actually a core part of important activities--but it absolutely is. You always need to be evaluating what you're doing. Routines are living processes. They should get better and become more resilient with time. Whether you evaluate every day or once a week, it doesn't matter. Just set aside some intentional thinking time to review your routines.

I hope this has helped you think about routines and how to adapt them when the world goes through strange time.

These principles sure have helped me over the years.

Remember, a routine doesn't need to be perfect to work for you. It needs to be adaptable.