12 Tips for Making a Routine You’ll Actually Stick ToStep one: Do it for you...not your social media.
Up until about two years ago, my life was a hot mess. To be clear, nothing horribly devastating was happening, but I was floundering. I didn’t have much clarity on what I wanted in my career, my personal life, or my future in general, so—as one can imagine—my day-to-day life looked pretty chaotic. I had no idea how to maintain a daily routine or healthy habits. While I was dodging emotional trainwreck after trainwreck and feeling so scatterbrained, I was missing out on some pretty big opportunities to turn my life around—though I didn’t know it at the time.
Partially because of who I am as a person, I never had much luck finding calm or consistency in my life. Setting routines and sticking to them was a completely foreign concept to me, and it never really occurred to me they could drastically improve my mental health until the pandemic gave me some time and space to see something had to change. Turns out, it all came down to my rituals and routines…or lack thereof.
Once I recognized my need for structure, I started focusing on what a routine could do, like give me some stability and a sense of safety and security. Routines can mean the difference between feeling totally frazzled, frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry and having a sense of empowerment, confidence, and control over your life, says licensed therapist Sachiko Tate, LMSW.
Everyone’s ideal routine looks different, but mine honestly took the shape of something out of a TikTok GRWM or 5 a.m. club tutorial—except my day starts at a more manageable 9 a.m. and doesn’t involve doing every single task every day. It started by promising myself that I would wake up early for morning workouts, start prepping food for myself each week, walk my dog more, and keep my apartment clean—all with the goal of having more energy, feeling more productive at home and with work, and improving my mental health. Believe it or not, all of that quickly happened once I committed to keeping myself going.
But creating regular habits that make you feel better can be tricky. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. To help get your new routines up and running, check out these therapist-backed tips for setting healthy and helpful routines that you can actually stick to.
1. Do it for you.
Committing to a routine just so you can post about it or brag to your coworkers is a pretty surefire way to hate it. If the core focus of your daily routine is pleasing or impressing others, you might find less satisfaction in creating one. After all, the goal of self-care is to care for yourself. No matter what routines you choose or how they might fit into your world, make sure that you’re the one who’s fulfilled by them.
2. Set intentions you can crush.
The most important part of creating a routine is identifying the goals you want to work toward. Once you know that, it’ll be easier to pinpoint the habits that’ll get you there. And it’s never a bad thing to make those goals very realistic. Because if you feel like the outcome of your new habits is doable, you’ll be more motivated to keep going, says psychotherapist Samantha Zhu, LMHC.
Another way to set the bar lower on this whole fresh routine thing (in a good way!) is by giving yourself a chill timeline to achieve your goals. Having ample time to adjust to new habits can help you begin and maintain an effective routine, says licensed psychologist David Tzall, PsyD. Say your goal is to develop an online presence across multiple social platforms so you can get your dream social media job. If you currently stink at posting regularly, don’t set out to hard-launch your new vibe within a month. Instead, focus your routine on posting more consistently to IG and build your content creation cadence from there. Then, you can progress to developing a routine that helps you post regularly on all platforms.
3. Create a feelings goal.
While goal-setting can look like listing out tangible achievements, like “I want to read the whole Dune series by the end of summer,” you can and should think about your emotional goals too, aka what feelings you hope to have more of by following this routine, Tate says. If you want to read more books because you feel like you should be reading more, then please see yourself back to step one. But if you want to get your Dune series on as a way to quiet your mind and feel more peaceful before bed, keeping that feeling goal in mind can help you stick with it when a Netflix binge is calling to you.
4. Write down your goals and how you’re going to reach them.
Routines serve as a roadmap for getting to your goals (what you want to do or feel), but if you don’t write down your goals and the routine you’ll use to accomplish it, you risk not following through. Zhu’s recommendation? Use a simple checklist or get creative with a calendar or another visual tool (like a bullet journal or habit tracker) to keep track of your habits. If you’re anything like me, you might need to make lists on lists and write things down several times in order to make them “stick” in your mind. While it may seem a bit excessive, writing my routine—from mundane daily tasks like washing my face and checking the mail to my weekly gas station fill-up on Sunday afternoons—has been instrumental in keeping my routines solid and consistent.
As for the emotional and tangible goals you’re working toward, keeping a journal to get honest about how it’s going can help you see how you’re progressing and if you’ve noticed an improvement.
5. Make the most of your free time.
One helpful way to create consistent, effective routines without going to bed before your fave primetime show airs or waking up at the crack of dawn is to fit new habits into open slots in your schedule, says licensed psychologist Jaci Lopez Witmer, PsyD.
If you’ve been wanting to spend more time with your friend down the street but can’t bring yourself to go out on a Friday night, see if you can squeeze in recurring walks with them on Sunday evenings after grocery shopping and before your weekly Sunday scaries pampering routine. Whatever your ideal situation might be, see where those new tasks fit most seamlessly into your schedule.
6. Focus on consistency.
This might shock you, but the actual tasks and timing associated with your new routine aren’t as big of a deal as the fact that you’re making goals and sticking with them, says Dr. Tzall. “Consistency is most important.”
So even if your ~rituals~ entail flossing your teeth before bed and having a glass of water at noon every day, repeatedly returning to those (even if you miss a few days) can come with a sense of accomplishment, an elevated mood, confidence, and motivation. Keeping that in mind can also take the pressure off of feeling like you need to execute a complicated routine perfectly every single day, Tate explains.
Of course, staying consistent looks different for every person, Tate adds. So if planning out every hour of your day works for you long-term, cool! But if you need more flexibility and just want to commit to a 15-minute mental health walk once a week, that works too.
7. Lean on your people.
If you’re just starting out with a new groove or are struggling to build consistency, consider tapping your community for help. “Telling another [person about] your routine or taking a person along can make you more accountable and give you motivation,” Dr. Tzall says. Just like you get up and go to work because someone expects you to be there (and your livelihood probably depends on it), having someone remind you why you started this new routine can make a huge difference. “Social influence can be a strong motivator,” he adds.
8. Don’t forget to be your own cheerleader.
Discipline does not mean punishing yourself when you slip up. It’s about showing up for yourself even when you don’t feel like it and your goal feels so far away, says Tate.. Rooting for myself on days when I wasn’t really feeling like it has been the best tool to keep me consistent. After all, I’ve made promises to take care of myself, and using compassionate discipline helps me keep them.
So if you’re feeling discouraged about your progress, return to your journal or just think of how you wanted to feel by committing to these habits when you started. Revisiting your initial goals can encourage you to get back on track.
9. Keep it balanced.
When I first started focusing on my at-home cooking routine, for example, I would often avoid going out to eat or grabbing happy hour with friends because my goals left no room for flexibility. So rather than enjoying social time and a yummy meal I didn’t have to make, I forced myself to endure some major FOMO—not great for creating positive feelings around my routine and helping my mental health.
When you’re laser-focused on your routine like I was, you might also have a hard time being flexible with your time and energy. In order to take care of our mental well-being, you have to find a balance between structure and spontaneity with your time. “We need to have a little bit of both,” says licensed clinical social worker Julia López, PhD, MPH, LCSW. So even if you’re running with your pup three times a week or meditating for 20 minutes every morning, don’t forget to make a point to do unstructured chilling that has nothing to do with your goals or routine.
A routine should bring you a sense of calm, peace, and stability, so if it’s making you feel even more stressed or out of control, think about whether your plan is too strict or it’s just not exciting you anymore or if it’s really necessary to reach your goals, Tate suggests.
10. Embrace a different type of reward.
One of the most feel-good motivators for sticking with a routine is rewarding yourself when you follow through. I personally love to stop into my fave coffee spot once or twice a week or buy myself a new shirt after a few weeks of crushing my goals.
But while it’s important to celebrate your progress, the external stuff is only helpful to a certain degree, Tate explains. The reward that sparks the most motivation (I’m sorry to report) is making progress toward your emotional and tangible goals. Yeah, it’s annoying news, but it is the truth. If you’ve been consistent with your routine, you’ll probably notice that you’re inching closer to those goals, whether it’s feeling calmer before bedtime or having more structure throughout your workday.
11. Be gentle with yourself.
When you deviate from your routine and struggle to tap into your discipline, have a little empathy for yourself. “We can often feel like failing to follow our routine equates to [personal] failure,” says Zhu. And if you consider yourself a big loser for missing a day or even a week, then you might just give up altogether, derailing your routine before you even get the consistency machine in motion. It’s completely fine to take a break, whether you meant to or not. If you feel like this routine is making a positive impact on your life, the important thing is to get after it again.
12. Adjust as needed.
When I first went 0-100 on my current wellness routines (which, as we’ve established, you should probably not do), I had all the energy in the world. I felt super accomplished and proud that I was cooking more at home, squeezing in exercise, and walking my dog more regularly. But after a few weeks of sticking to those things, I realized that expecting intense perfection from myself week after week was only going to last for so long. I already had less and less energy and mental capacity to be a good friend and family member, and, like I said, my social life was slipping away. I really needed to adjust and remember those feelings I was hoping to achieve by creating a routine in the first place.
“If sticking with a routine is not effective or is too stressful, then you need to give yourself permission to say, ‘Let me try something else.’ Giving yourself grace to step back and evaluate how it is working for you is healthy for your mental well-being,” Dr. Tzall says. As exciting and invigorating as it can feel to consistently stick to your routines, making space for adjustments can keep you from burning out.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.