Is The Quarantine Destroying Your Daily Routine and Motivation?
Are you struggling to keep up with your daily routine now that there is no “work schedule” or because the kids are home from school? The world has changed dramatically over the past few weeks and forced changes on us that we may or may not have wanted.
To understand why we are not able to stick with many of our routines in a time like this, we must understand human psychology first. There are generally two forces that push us towards sticking with/finishing a task: motivation or discipline.
Motivation is the trickier one to rely on and routines built on motivation alone often fail. The reason is that motivation is purely emotional. We may get a spark to do something but to keep up with that task involves the second force – discipline. Motivation ultimately relies on a brain chemical called dopamine – we release dopamine when we expect some sort of reward. The problem with relying on dopamine for a routine is that many of your goals are long-term (weight-loss, building muscle, fixing health issues) and don’t come with an immediate reward.
Here’s a few examples – we may be motivated to lose weight so we begin to clean up our diet and start working out. We keep up with it for a few days but then comes an office party where we indulge in a bunch of treats. The reward (dopamine) we get from the treats surpasses the slow weight loss goal which we have not seen any progress with yet. This throws us off as we feel guilty and fall off completely. You may also set a New Year’s Resolution to start going to the gym and get a gym pass. You go for a few weeks but find that there are more fun (more dopamine releasing) things to do like watch Netflix or go out with friends. The emotional motivation subsides and the goal is abandoned. All gym’s actually rely on this when they sell memberships – they will purposely oversell memberships at the beginning of the year knowing that the majority of people will stop showing up very quickly. Gyms are a business and they win by understanding and exploiting basic human psychology.
Now let’s discuss the force of discipline. Discipline comes from repeatedly doing the hard things. As we work our way through these tasks, discipline builds like a muscle and what was once difficult is now a part of your daily routine. Discipline can initially rely on motivation and also on will power but the key is training the body to not expect an easy answer all of the time.
This is why so many high performers and successful individuals in every category of life start their day with a morning routine. Generally, our motivation chemical dopamine is highest in the morning. This is why you want to do the hardest things first and set up a dopamine wave first thing in the morning. If you push things off for later in the day, 99% of the time we won’t get to it. Imagine coming home from a 12 hour day at work and then having to prepare your dinner – chances are you are going to grab some take-out instead. Dopamine is lowest as the day goes on.
To set up this dopamine wave and get back to your routine, here are some tips:
- Have a morning routine consisting of discipline building behaviors – a cold shower is perfect as it is uncomfortable. Once you overcome an obstacle this big in the morning, other tough tasks seem easy in comparison. Other examples are a morning workout or meditation.
- Make your bed in the morning – psychology has found that starting your day with a small win like making your bed can start this dopamine wave. This also helps at the end of the day – no matter how difficult your day was, at least your bed is made and organized when you come home.
- Plan your day the night before – one of the things that depletes our dopamine and prevents us from building discipline is decision fatigue. The more decisions we have to make, the more we deplete our dopamine. This includes knowing what clothes you are wearing the next day, what you are having for breakfast and your other meals, and what your goals are for the day. I like to use a planner that I fill out the night before which outlines my tasks. My favorite is The Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change (https://amzn.to/2Uzrr7j).
- Keep your work space clean – if you are working from home, dedicate that area of your home to productivity and keep it clean. It sounds simple but having unnecessary clutter can derail workflow big time. A cluttered space is a reflection of a cluttered mind. Keep your space Feng Shui’d and easy on the eyes. This applies to your kitchen as well – it is very tough to want to cook when the countertops are full of junk and you can’t find what you’re looking for in the fridge.
- Employ quick techniques to build discipline:
- The 5 minute rule: if something takes less than 5 minutes to do, do it right away (don’t put it off). This could be sending that email or washing your dish after you finish eating.
- The 10 second pause: if you are really not feeling like doing a necessary task, close your eyes for 10 seconds and focus on turning off the “monkey brain” – the part of your brain looking for an easy way out or an excuse and then do the task.
- Set up a reward system: treat yourself to a walk or a song after you finish a block of work. Studies have suggested that the brain needs a quick break after 52-60 minutes of consistent work. Just remember to keep this short and stay focused.
- Minimize distractions: this applies to not only your space but also your computer/phone/devices – keep your browsers with as few tabs as possible and avoid getting side-tracked. Social media is designed to keep you hooked and side-track your attention. If you struggle with avoiding phone time or surfing the net, put your device in airplane mode while you work or leave your phone outside your office.
Life is won with a series of decisions that build on each other. If you have found yourself in a life-long battle with discipline or this quarantine period is making it hard to work, build these everyday habits.
A friend recently shared a meme that said “the button on my jeans is socially distancing” – it gave me a good laugh but this is becoming reality for many. Now is a time to focus on getting all those things done that you may have been putting off but it involves being the best version of yourself. Commit to daily self improvement and crush your goals!
More about the Author: Dr. Ricky Brar
Dr. Brar understands how crippling poor health can be and the physical, mental, emotional, and financial burden of feeling unwell. His passion is to empower and guide as many patients as possible to get back their health and live the life they were meant to live.
Dr. Brar has worked with hundreds of patients, delivered many powerful talks, wrote a best-selling book, and has also mentored hundreds of practitioners in clinical protocols and outcomes.
In his spare time, Dr. Brar enjoys being outdoors in nature, playing hockey, and furthering his (average) guitar playing skills. He also loves to advance his own well-being by spending time researching the latest news in functional medicine, fitness, mindset, and nutrition.
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