Stop me if this sounds familiar: You get a good routine going. You’re waking up early, meditating, exercising, eating clean, and working steadily toward your goals. Then, one day, something happens and suddenly, all of those routines fall apart—maybe just a little, or maybe they completely disintegrate.
Maybe your schedule changed, you’re going through a busy period, you’re in a mental health slump, or you just aren’t feeling it. Whatever happened, you’ve fallen out of your routines.
This happened to me recently. Sometime in mid-August, I completely fell out of my routines. I barely went to the gym for a few weeks, I started staying up late and waking up late, I ate way more junk and way fewer vegetables, I struggled to stick to my skincare routine, and my morning routine went out the window.
I can’t nail down an exact date or reason that this happened, but I can point a finger at a few changes in my life that happened around that time that likely compounded to cause this.
All of this lead to me having a weird month. In some ways, it was a good month. In others, it was kinda crap—like having a ton of headaches from eating unhealthy food. Throughout that month, I made some feeble attempts to go back to my old routines, but they never lasted for more than a day or two.
Now, over a month later, I’m finally getting into some new routines that are working for me and pushing me toward my goals once again. It feels good to be back on the ball, rather than feeling like I’m always running a little bit behind.
Throughout the last month, I’ve noticed that some attempts to stick to a routine succeed while others fail. Looking back, I can see which ideas worked and helped me get back on my game, and those are the things that I want to share with you today.
One of the reasons why I fell off so many of my routines is that I picked up a little side hustle that often has me working later in the evening. Despite this, I kept trying to stick to my old routines that had me going to bed at 9:30 and waking up at 5:30.
But when I’m working until almost 9:30, this isn’t feasible. I wasn't giving myself time to wind down and complete my evening routine. I tried to fight against advice that I’ve given before.
Trying to fight change and still go to sleep at a time that no longer worked for me prevented me from instead creating a new schedule and routine that would work better for me now.
Life changes. Our schedules change. Sometimes it’s out of our control. This isn’t the first time that trying to shoehorn an old routine into a new schedule has failed me.
When something in your life changes, it can be tempting to try to cling to old habits. We like the safety of our old routines. We want them to continue to work for us because they have worked in the past. But fighting this kind of change doesn’t work.
Rather than pushing back against change and trying to stick to habits that are no longer working, create new routines. Take the changes that have occurred and use them as the foundation for your new habits.
Build habits that fit seamlessly into your life as it looks now. If you want to stick to a habit, it has to be convenient. By choosing habits that don’t create tension within your life, you’ll be able to stick to them and see success, rather than fighting and failing to cling to old habits that are no longer the right fit.
Sometimes we fall off of our routines because they’re no longer taking us in the direction that we want to go. We start resisting them and struggling to do things that used to be easy, and it may seem like there’s no reason for it. However, this often means that your actions are out of alignment with the things that you really want to achieve.
When you’re struggling to stick to old routines, take it as a sign to reevaluate. What were you previously working toward? What was your Why? Do those things still resonate with you, or is there something that you now want more?
There’s no shame in pivoting or even choosing a new direction entirely. In fact, many of our goals require a series of redirections over time. Other times, it’s necessary to put aside one goal for a while so that we have the time and energy to focus on something else for a bit.
When we first set a goal, we have no way of knowing how things will play out. We don’t know what bumps and setbacks that we’ll face; we don’t know what we will learn that will influence our goals; we don’t know what choices will be made for us that push us in a different direction than we intended.
If you ask a successful person—whatever you define that to mean—if their journey looked the way they thought it would, they’ll almost definitely say “No.” You may reach your goal, but there are thousands of paths that will take you there, and there’s no way for you to know what yours will look like.
There will always be reasons to redirect, shift our goals, or take a different path to the same destination. If you’re struggling to continue working toward something you thought you wanted, take some time to sit with that and reevaluate where you’d like to go.
I do want to leave you with a word of warning: don’t jump ship too easily. Yes, it is fine to pivot or even completely abandon a goal or undertaking sometimes. But some people have a chronic habit of quitting as soon as their excitement starts to fade.
If you can’t remember the last time you finished what you started or your focus never lasts more than a few months, you may want to try finding a way to push through the uncomfortable phase. Letting go of a goal that no longer serves you is encouraged; quitting every time you start to get bored is not.
Build From the Ground Up
I often find that falling off of my routines is a sign that it’s time to overhaul them entirely. If that old routine still worked for me, I’d still be doing it. But since I’ve fallen off, there’s a good chance that it’s time for a new routine.
It can be tempting to modify an old routine to make it work for a new time, and occasionally this does work. It doesn’t hurt to give it a try, but if you find yourself struggling to stick to the modified routine, start over.
Give yourself a clean slate. As I recommended in the previous step, reevaluate. Spend some time setting goals and considering your priorities. What do you really want to spend time on over the next few months?
If we’re being honest, the new routines that you’re building now won’t last forever either. They’ll serve their purpose in this moment and be replaced with new ones in a few months or years when your life changes again. This is the cycle of routines, and embracing it works better than fighting it.
Consider what you’d like to focus on in this cycle. Are you focused on fitness? Self-care? Working hard and getting ahead?
Build new routines from the ground up that revolve around your goals in this moment. Look into the routines that other people have built for inspiration. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box or try something new.
As I mentioned earlier, in my own life, I’ve been staying up later because of a new commitment. I started out trying to keep the same nighttime and morning routines, and when that didn’t work, I all but gave up on my routines. I’d fit in bits and pieces here and there, but it was a struggle to reach any semblance of consistency.
As soon as I stopped trying to cling to those old routines and instead built new ones that fit into my life as it is now, they stuck.
I’ve had to embrace a shift in my priorities. My new schedule means I have a little less time in the morning to devote to things like reading, and that’s okay. The new season of my life may be one that focuses less on leisure and more on getting things done.
Admittedly, I’m still tweaking my new routines. They’re much shorter and simpler than what I’m used to, but that’s okay. The kinks will iron themselves out, and by building a new routine from scratch, I’ve given myself the freedom to find new habits that serve me right now.
Switch Up Your Systems
Whether you realize it or not, your life is full of systems that help you live the life you’re living. These range from the way that you schedule your chores (or don’t) to the apps that you use to keep organized. Your systems may be intentional and regimented, or they may be a little all over the place.
Often, we don’t even notice the systems we have in place. They exist largely behind the scenes or have become so ingrained in our lives that we don’t realize that we’re using them each day.
Start to examine your systems. What structures are behind your habits?
I realize this may be a little confusing because we don’t even notice the systems we have in place, so I’ll give a few specific questions to think about:
How and where do you store your food? Could you modify that to encourage the eating habits that you’d like to have? Would grocery shopping at a different time or place make a difference?
How do you organize and manage your to-do list? Is that working for you, or has there been a shift in your life that would make a new system more efficient? For example, I recently switched from Habitica to Todoist because it better fits my needs.
Which chores do you struggle to do on a regular basis? Is there anything you could do to make those chores less annoying or more appealing? Would implementing a schedule help?
What time of day do you work out? Do you feel energized then? Or do you struggle to get to the gym? Could you move your workout to a different time or place to make it this easier?
One major change that I’ve decided to make to my systems is theming my weeks, rather than my days.
What I mean by this is that rather than focusing on writing two days a week, YouTube videos two days per week, and social media one day per week, I’ll be focusing on each for a week at a time.
For many of us, it seems natural to focus on one or two major things each day, and for many people, that may work. But for me, I’ve found that lately, that system isn’t working. I always feel like I’m struggling to catch up on my work and I never truly get focused on one thing before I have to move to the next.
Additionally, it can be difficult for me to determine how long things will take. Sometimes I can write a blog post in two hours. Other times, if I’m writing a longer post, it takes four or five hours. By spending one week each month dedicated to writing all of my posts for the following month, the longer writing time becomes less of an issue.
This idea was largely inspired by Kalyn Nicholson, who often themes her months. Some months are self-care focused, others are work-heavy. In the long run, this leads to balance, and this strategy for reaching balance may be more feasible than trying to fit everything all into one day.
At the moment, my plan for the themed weeks is one writing week, one YouTube week, one week for other miscellaneous work goals, and one self-care focused week. Then the cycle repeats.
Depending on the speed at which your life moves and how many different balls you have in the air, you could consider theming your weeks, months, or seasons, rather than days.
As I said earlier in this post, it’s okay to focus on one goal at a time. You may have several different goals that you’re working toward, and it may not be feasible to work on all of them every day.
By lengthening the time period in which you think, you can create a new system that serves you better. It’s okay to work in cycles, just make sure that you come back to the beginning of the cycle once you finish.
Try Something New and Exciting
At its core, this post is largely just, “out with the old, in with the new.” Rather than trying to revive a dying routine, your best bet for sticking to a routine is to create a new one that suits your life better than the old one did.
A great way to make the new routine appealing is to include something that makes you excited.
If you’re struggling to get to the gym, research a new workout routine that makes you feel excited about your goals. Get rid of those burpees that you hate and choose something that sounds fun. While you’re at it, treat yourself to some new leggings. (I know buying stuff isn’t the best solution, but I’m always amped to work out when I get new gear.)
Created a morning routine that’s unlike any you’ve had before. I always advocate for starting your day with something that you love. If that thing has been coffee or relaxing me-time, try instead taking a morning spin class, swapping your coffee for matcha, or watching the next video in your Skillshare class.
If you’re no longer finding joy in eating your usual healthy food, explore a new cuisine. Learn to cook Japanese or Ethiopian food, or see if you can make one of your long-time favorite restaurant foods from scratch.
Variety is the spice of life. Keeping the exact same routines all of the time not only won’t serve you, but it gets boring. Use the new routine you’re creating as an excuse to try something new and exciting.