How to Start and Maintain a Routine

Shandra Martinez

| 5 min read

Many of us psych ourselves up to start new routines several times during the year. It might be a new weight loss plan, a promise to exercise more, cut way back on our screen time, or even start a new meditation and journaling habit. We even put start dates on some of these: New Year’s Day, the official beginning of summer, or a pre-holiday week. But for many of us, these goals eventually fall apart for lots of different reasons. It’s time to give your new habits a fresh beginning. Here’s how you can start and maintain a routine.
Ann Marie Wakula, a certified personal trainer and macro nutrition coach, says there are lots of reasons why people struggle to follow new routines. It can be a lack of motivation. Some people can feel overwhelmed by the size of the goal. Still others can’t be flexible in achieving a new routine and stop trying if they can’t maintain a rigid schedule.
One of the biggest roadblocks is wanting to change everything all at once, she said. These big-picture people start off with a big list of new routines. They might include wanting to top 10,000 steps a day, work out at least five times a week, and drink more water daily.
“So we're all thinking of that big picture and that sets you up for failure because it's really overwhelming,” Wakula said. “It's like, ‘Oh, gosh, now where do I start?’ And then you become numb and you don't start at all, or you have a lot of negative self-talk when you don't actually live up to your own expectations.”

Find your motivation by finding your “Why”

Wakula recommends starting small, with one new routine you want to create. Then before you begin, figure out your “why.” This means you need to understand what is motivating you to make the change. If your new routine is exercise, are you trying to drop a pants size or look better for a specific event? Are you trying to make sure you live longer or improve a chronic health issue? Once you identify what’s motivating you, then it’s easier to select the kind of routine you should start first and make that your priority.

Pencil yourself in

Once you decide what your most important new routine should be, take a look at your week. How will you narrow it down to specific times? Where does it fit on your calendar? If it’s exercising five days a week, pick those days and make a note of it on a paper calendar or on your mobile phone or laptop calendar. Pencil yourself in with a specific time if you can.
“So we take the big picture and we narrow it down to: What can I do this week?” she said. “Setting very small realistic goals on that calendar and getting it on there, so you've got an appointment with yourself. It’s very, very important.”

Create a reward zone

This is where the flexibility comes in. Build in some rewards to any new routine to make sure you’re purposefully cutting yourself some slack. If your new routine is to have a healthy dessert each night instead of a bowl of ice cream, then pick different fruits to sample Monday through Friday and treat yourself to an ice cream cone on Saturday. Wakula said she follows the 80/20 rule. She tries to make sure 80% of her choices are good and clean, and the other 20% is for fun.
She said chocolate is her reward zone. “I have to have a piece of chocolate every day. So after lunch, I have my chocolate and I'm happy. If I don't do that for myself, I'm probably going to have a lot of cake on Saturday or a lot of chocolate on Saturday because I deprive myself through the whole week."

Assess and readjust if needed

Just like you mapped out your routine for the week, do a week-ending review of how much you accomplished. And if you fell off track, give yourself a little grace before you hop back into your routine the next week. Also, don’t be afraid to readjust. If you’re not hitting your marks on the new routine, are you asking too much of yourself? You may need to adjust your goals so they are more attainable. Once you reach them at a slightly lower level, you can always raise the bar for your next routine.
“I think the biggest thing for that is reminding yourself where you've come from, where you started and where you are now, and then just start speaking to yourself in a more positive and encouraging tone,” she said. “So when you reassess … what did you do great last week, and what can you improve on? And then we get right back on. That's just picking yourself up and getting started again.”
Listen to the podcast, How to Start and Maintain a New Routine, to hear the entire conversation, with Ann Marie Wakula, a certified personal trainer and macro nutrition coach.
A Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To hear more episodes on your smartphone or tablet, subscribe on Apple Podcast or Spotify or your favorite podcast app.
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MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association