Back to School… and Routines 8.22.22

The change that summer brings with schedules, kids’ camps, vacations, etc., can make for fun memories, but if you’re anything like me, it can also create disruption that makes it hard to maintain a rhythm or routine. I don’t find it to be easier or harder, but rather different. Usually by the time “back to school” rolls around, I am ready to get back into a consistent routine, even if it does mean the schedule will be tighter and more demanding.

Here is how I choose to see this as an opportunity… it goes with the saying, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Why is that? Because people who tend to carry a lot of responsibilities tend to have learned how to prioritize and delegate. Those who have more time and less responsibility, don’t have to master those skills because there is room for error.

I choose to see the Back to School time in a similar way. If you are a parent, student, teacher or admin staff, etc., the added consistency of schedule that school and extracurriculars provide force us to prioritize, delegate, and if we’re really good- learn to say no so we don’t overcommit and in turn unintentionally take away the time we need for ourselves to recharge so we are at our best, for everyone’s highest good! (I’m still working on that one!)

So yes, B2S is stressful. But it’s also a fresh opportunity! It’s time to take a look at our calendar and compare it with our priorities and values. To stop bad habits and start new good ones. And if you need help getting into the consistency of a new, healthy routine- again I strongly recommend James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits! In the meantime, here is the simple steps he breaks down to establishing good habits (do the opposite to break bad ones.) I’ll use starting or re-starting an exercise routine as an example, but it can really be done for any new habit, personal or professional.

  1. Make it obvious– this is the “cue” to trigger your positive habit. In this example, this may mean laying your workout clothes next to your bed so it’s the first thing that you see. Another example may be setting the background on your phone to have a picture of your health goal or some other present reminder that is front and center for you to be that present “cue” when you see it. You can also “habit stack,” so that one habit triggers another good habit and creates a routine that is easily duplicatable.
  2. Make it attractive– this is the motivating factor, make it something that you actually want to do, not something you think you “should” do! In our exercise example, don’t start with running if you don’t enjoy running. Start with the type of exercise or activity that you enjoy- for me that may be playing volleyball with my kids or taking the dog and family for a walk.
  3. Make it easy– this is the response. Don’t make it complicated or a promise you won’t keep for yourself. Remove friction to keep it simple so you will move from intention to action. For example, when beginning an exercise routine, don’t set a goal of 60min every day if you know that isn’t realistic. Creating the habit (the quantity) at first when establishing a habit is more important than the quality of the habit. So for example, it is better to committing to exercise 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day than 45 or 60 minutes if that isn’t realistic in the beginning. As you establish the habit and routine, over time, you will find the reward and results of your habit will likely create the motivation (attraction) to adding time and thus improving the quality of your habit.
  4. Make it satisfying – this is the reward. Find a way to reward yourself, have an accountability partner, etc., to give yourself recognition for the accomplishment. If you enjoy what you’re doing, the habit should be more satisfying. But also, slowing down to acknowledge it and give yourself some sort of reward may also help you stick with it and continue the cycle.

Habit stacking may also help your cue and reward; for example, maybe you create a new habit that you don’t check your phone until after your workout. If you have a bad habit of waking up and hopping on your phone (like I currently do,) this will both help you break that bad habit, be motivated for your new desired habit of exercising daily, AND will provide a reward at the end with that phone check after that new behavior has been accomplished. Win win!

If you’re competitive like me, you can also gamify your habits and goals, and I also recommend some sort of accountability partner or tracker- it could be a daily check in via text or an app like Habit Share, or your own digital or printed checklist/tracker, etc. I might say something like after x days or weeks of consistency, I will reward myself with new cross-trainer shoes, for example.

If you are a parent or remember the potty training stage as a kid, think of it just like that process in that it’s not one size fits all. One kid may succeed with a rewards chart for a toy after multiple successes, while another may need a sticker or M&M every time, while another may need fear of loss to be truly motivated (I may or may not have told my youngest that there were no diapers at Disney World :)) Point is, the same tactic doesn’t work for everyone. You may have to try some different cues, motivators and rewards to find what works for you. Expect that to be part of the process and give yourself some grace. Because remember, success here looks like consistency, not perfection. So focus on refining your process and identifying your progress, guided by these four steps, and you’ll be more likely to succeed in your new desired routine!