The moment Kelly Melistas steps inside her house, she drops her keys into a bowl. It’s a simple routine, but one with a payoff for Melistas, a HAP-contracted clinical psychologist and mom to 3-year-old twins.
Routines are simply actions you do regularly, often without thinking – such as brushing your teeth before bed. “Everyone has routines,” Melistas says, “whether or not they call them that.” Routines can boost your health and lead to other positive changes. Melistas encourages her clients at Henry Ford Health Center-Columbus
in Novi to use routines to improve areas of their lives that aren’t working as well as they’d like.
“Life is so unexpected anyway,” she says. “This is about minimizing the unexpected events that could arise and cause anxiety and stress.”
You can’t control whether traffic makes you late for work, she says. But if your evening routine includes getting your clothes ready for the next day, you’ll feel less frazzled in the traffic. And you won’t be as late as you would if, at the last minute, you discover you don’t have anything to wear.
Melistas is a stickler about consistently doing a routine because once you put in the work to establish it, you don’t want to backtrack. Routines work well because your actions become automatic rather than relying on willpower alone.
When it comes to willpower, “you have a finite amount of it,” says Dr. Holly Wyatt, a University of Colorado weight loss expert, co-author of “State of Slim” and medical director for the ABC-TV show “Extreme Weight Loss.”
You tap your willpower throughout the day: biting your tongue with a coworker, trying to correct a billing error or remaining patient with your kids. It’s no wonder that so many people find it difficult to maintain healthy habits, Wyatt says.
If your daily 4 p.m. trek to the vending machines is showing up around your midsection, try to figure out why that behavior has become routine, Wyatt says. If it’s because you’re hungry, pack a healthy snack that’s also “a little indulgent,” she says. On the other hand, maybe you’re just craving a mental break. If so, take a short walk at the same time each afternoon.
One of Wyatt’s clients was able to stop after-work eating binges by entering her house through the back door instead of the front, which led directly to the kitchen. That might sound strange, but Wyatt and Melistas agree that successful routines are individualized and address struggles in ways that work for you.
Say, for instance, that you’d like to eat more veggies. Ask yourself why you’re not eating them more now. Maybe you’re too tired to prep them at the end of the day. If so, consider whether you could prep your veggies in the morning while the coffee is brewing. On the other hand, if you want to expand your options beyond baby carrots, try a new vegetarian recipe each week.
Those who wrestle with squeezing exercise into their days often find success by getting up earlier and tackling it first thing.
“You may have to force yourself to do it at first,” Wyatt says. “That little bit of effort can have a huge impact, and I think it’s well-spent.”
Wyatt encourages everyone to adopt a morning routine. It can be as simple as writing down one thing you’re grateful for as you sip your coffee. “That sets your intention for the day,” she says.
Routines can be powerful, but they also should be flexible, both experts agree. You may need to make adjustments, and don’t despair when you slip up.
“That’s life,” Melistas says. “The idea is to just pick up where you left off.”