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Returning to Old Routines in the New Year

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

It’s the new year. The holidays – where we slept more, slept less, drank more, drank less water, celebrated, and let go of habits – are over. There’s a new year to look forward to and a lot of us have written resolutions. We’ve imagined a new version of ourselves.

But what about the routines we created last year that were beginning to help us? How do we return to the routines that we’ve already created? While it feels good to create new habits, the most challenging thing can be knowing how to return to those routines we’ve already established.

Here are some guidelines to help us return to and remain with our routines in 2023.

Know What You Want

“You would be much happier if you removed the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary. ‘Should’ is denial. You’re saying your expectations deserve to override reality.” – Albert Ellis

The word “should” has been canceled. Many people refer to it as the most poisonous word in the English language because it moves your mindset from an internal, self-reflective state to an external, comparative state. Benchmarks set by other people start to run your life rather than your desires. Reevaluating what you really want gives you the diligence to stick to your routines because you know the end goal is your own deepest wish.

Upon entering the new year, it’s a good idea to take stock of your routines. Returning to a routine because you feel like you “should” will only result in burnout and will remove you from your personal values.

Pick one routine at a time to evaluate. If there are a lot of routines for you to reconsider, take the simplest one, the one that draws you or is of highest priority for you. See how it makes you feel, see if it’s still relevant to you. Consider the information about the routine you know from the year before to determine how well this routine has been working for you and whether it can stay the same or needs to change.

Systematically and meditatively working through your routines will help you reach a sense of positivity that the ones you’re keeping really matter to you. No “should” allowed!

Be Compassionate

We are creatures of comfort. We become comfortable with what’s known.

After the holidays, where it’s customary to relax on our routines, we quickly become accustomed to that new-found holiday “normal.” Once we’ve become used to this new reality, it is natural for us to dread going back to what used to be routine.

Dawna Ballard, a Communications professor at the University of Texas at Austin, sheds light on why it’s so hard for us to return to routine after a break. She explains that there are two different forms of happiness – hedonic and eudemonic. Hedonic happiness comes from doing what we want when we want and it is a short-lived burst of happiness. Eudemonic happiness is a farther-reaching vision of happiness where we are willing to tie ourselves to routines to achieve a larger goal.

Keep in mind that hesitancy to return to routine doesn’t mean you hate your routines or your life – it is a shift of perspective from spontaneous action that feels good in the moment to planned action which brings delayed gratification.

In transitioning from this spontaneous sense of happiness to our routine-setting, it’s essential for us to practice self-compassion. We do this when we offer ourselves kindness in moments of failure and allow ourselves to feel every emotion rather than suppressing feelings. Without this practice of compassion, we are easily pulled into feelings of guilt and shame which redirect our decision-making and distract us from our goals.

Be compassionate with yourself in this transition time. Remember that you are going through a psychological transition, pulling yourself away from a natural desire to remain comfortable. Build in moments of grace to offer yourself in this transition – take a 30-minute nap, pause to take a few deep breaths after accomplishing a task, tell yourself, “I’m proud of you.” Self-compassion is a wonderful practice that will keep you from giving up when your routines feel difficult.

Go Slow

Re-entry syndrome, or reverse culture shock, is the experience of fear when reentering society or returning home from a long voyage. It was first noticed in soldiers and Arctic explorers in the 60s – they experienced psychological distress, anxiety, and depression in their readjustment to home.

Our COVID-19 experience put all of us collectively through re-entry syndrome as we emerged again into the world and readjusted to “normal.” Our return to our own private worlds after the holidays is a microcosm of this experience.

The same stress we feel when entering a foreign country is a similar stress we feel to reentry into the new year. The language is different, the cultural practices are different, we don’t fit in. The activities we began to associate our identity with during the holidays through family, parties, and spontaneous action are now gone. We do not feel like ourselves.

Exposure therapy is one of the proven effective treatments used in re-entry syndrome. Exposing yourself to the anxiety-inducing activity a little bit at a time reconditions your mental and emotional state to disassociate re-entry from a feeling of fear.

Entrepreneur and lifestyle guide, Tim Ferriss, created a form of exposure therapy to help us face our fears so we can take action. His fear-setting exercise guides us through close examination of our fears, consideration of the benefits of action, and consideration of the consequences of inaction.

As you return to your routines, this exercise can help expose you slowly and thoroughly to your own fears about reentering your routines. Take an hour this week to complete this exercise. Sit down with your routines and examine what is keeping you from re-entering. Slowing down in this way keeps you from entering a state of shame or paralysis when you have difficulty reestablishing your normal life.

Be Routine-Minded, Not Schedule-Minded

We often think of routine and scheduling as going hand-in-hand. While it is important to set tangible benchmarks and schedule out our actions, being in a routine-mindset versus a scheduling-mindset is what content marketer, Joyce Tsang, recommends to help us appreciate our goals.

When you’re in a schedule-mindset, the action takes precedence rather than the reason for the action. If your goal is “Wake up at 9 am” and you achieve it, your sense of satisfaction ends there. But with a routine-mindset, there is an incentive following the act of waking up. For example, if your goal is “Wake up at 9 am so I can meditate” or “Wake up at 9 am so I can sit outside with my coffee for 20 minutes,” there is a reason for the action.

In a schedule-mindset, you are ruled by the clock. In a routine-mindset, you are guided by appreciation. You may schedule to do your work at 1 pm because you like the way the sun shines through the window at that time. You may schedule a meal because you can eat it with a loved one. Routine-mindset lets you appreciate the qualities and the joys amidst the repetition.

Try setting intentions with a routine-mindset so you can actively appreciate the gift you receive from completing an action.

Take a Reset Day

Airplanes are constantly getting off course during their flight. The only way they finally reach their destination is to consistently be course correcting.

Life happens. Though we set our routines, there will always be organic life events that come in to disrupt those plans. And exhaustion happens. We are all balancing so many areas of life that it’s easy to feel like we’re just hanging on for today, losing sight of long-term goals.

It’s important to account for these unplanned moments, accept them, and build in time to realign yourself once again with intention.

A reset day is a weekday you take off to reflect on routines and course correct where needed. Maybe a life event has come up that regularly interferes with a routine you’ve set. Perhaps you’ve gotten so busy that your intentions have fallen to the bottom of the priority list. Your reset day allows you space to look at your life, take it for what it is, and determine how to work within your reality while still reaching your destination.

Follow this 8-step plan when establishing your reset day. The authors recommend taking a vacation day from work for your reset day as opposed to doing it on the weekend – do whatever works best for you. You can take a reset day quarterly, bi-annually, weekly, or monthly. It may be helpful to journal throughout the week and use these entries as a record-keeper to look back on and see where course corrections are needed.

Taking time to realign will help protect against overwhelm. You don’t need to give up routines because life happens. You simply need to be like an airplane and reset your course.

Ask for Help

Asking for help is something many of us dread. Whether it’s in our personal lives or in the workplace or on the street, many of us believe people will be unwilling to help and will see us as incompetent.

But a study conducted by psychologists at Columbia University in New York City reveals people are happier to help than any of us thought. Participants were asked to approach strangers in NYC to request use of a phone, directions, and money. In nearly all cases, it took only 2-3 people asked to receive help.

Another study by a Harvard-Wheaton team revealed people perceive you as more competent if you are willing to ask for help. It reveals a sense of confidence and your willingness to take risks.

You do not need to pursue routine-setting alone. Burnout is real. You cannot operate effectively if you are trying to maintain and take care of every facet of your life. In asking for help, you are opting for good strategy over temporary discomfort.

Ask for help in this transition time. Maybe you ask a friend to help keep you accountable to your goal of writing every day. Or maybe you ask your roommate or partner to do dishes a few nights a week so you have time to meditate. Social media can be a great way to be open about your goals and receive encouragement – by revealing what it is you’re working toward, others will be encouraged to support you and also challenge themselves. Ultimately, discovering areas in your life where you can let go and receive help will free up your time, relieve stress, and create connection with others.

Returning to routine is not easy. Be gentle with yourself in these early months of the year – give yourself space to fail and start again. Experiment. Have fun! This is a journey, not a win/lose competition. And remember that you are not alone. The world and all of us here at NJIN are cheering you on!



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