Mental Health Grows When we Have a Routine

It was my routine that I had built up over the years that got me through the dark morning. Do you have a routine?

Ever had one of those mornings where you just don’t want to face the day. You’re sort of glued to the bed. It’s a safe, warm and secure place, and you just want to go back to sleep if possible because well it’s better than listening to the depressing or anxious thoughts trawling through your mind. The black dog of depression is cuddled up beside you and you don’t want to face the day. It’s a routine that can so easily become a rut.

Yet you know that you have things to do and so you begin your day and enter into the routine of climbing out of bed, and with one foot after another, you step yourself through your routine.

I have struggled in writing this post because I was swept along in the idea of creating a routine of Spiritual exercises such as Bible reading. But I think it’s more valuable to recognise the importance of just having a routine and inviting God into helping you create it.

It’s the idea that having a routine is like a having a track that once you are in it everything else flows and follows one after another.

Take for example the last half hour of writing this post.

  • Alarm goes off at 5 am
  • Get up turn off alarm
  • go to the toilet
  • get dressed
  • make coffee
  • while jug is boiling pray and ponder over what I am going to write
  • go to the computer
  • turn it on (always helps)
  • review what I have already written
  • 5:10 begin to write

Now that is my routine I follow every Wednesday morning. I have done this exact routine for probably over a year. My brain knows this route well, it has become accustomed to it.

To put it in more technical terms we call this Muscle memory.

Wikipedia defines muscle memory this way.

Muscle memory has been used synonymously with motor learning, which is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.

When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.

This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.

Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard, typing in a PIN, playing a musical instrument,[1] martial arts or even dancing. Wikipedia 

The big benefit for you.

That routine or muscled up memory can carry you through some of the toughest days.

I have noticed that having a routine will keep me going through the early fog of negativity into a day where at the end I am truly thankful that I participated in it.

It’s 5.42 AM now and I have written some of my best content (well I think so) all because my routine carried me through.

7 Guidelines for Creating a Good Routine.

    1. Pay attention to the routines you already keep.
      Are they serving you well or are they slave masters taking where you realise you don’t want to be.
    2. Be proactive about creating new routines.
      Your life is your responsibility, take control and make the changes needed.
    3. Start small.
      Do you know how small a brain neurone is? It can vary from between 4 microns (.004 mm) to 100 microns (.1 mm) and each time those neurones fire together they wire together and get stronger and stronger.
      Watch this fascinating video from Dr. Robert Winston. ( Starting at the 5-minute mark through to 8 min)
    4. Visualise your brain cells.
      Imagine those little sparky neurones firing together and then growing stronger and tighter every time you carry out the routine.
    5. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezey.
      Make the routine so easily achievable by you that even in your darkest of days you can carry it out.
    6. Take personal ownership.
      Own the routine yourself rather than building up a resentment of having to do it because others want you to do this. You don’t want to have a sergeant major drilling a routine into you. Do this because you want to do it.
    7. Don’t compare yourself to others.
      Comparison will either add frustration to your efforts or puff you up in self-righteous pride. Stay on your journey and leave others up to their own.

Want a Biblical example?

Daniel is one of my heroes that kept a routine. It may have got him into a den of hungry lions, but it also established a depth of faith and belief that enabled him to pray that their mouths would be closed.

When Daniel learned that the decree had been signed and posted, he continued to pray just as he had always done. His house had windows in the upstairs that opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he knelt there in prayer, thanking and praising his God. Daniel 6:10 (The Message)

Routines work by building strong neural pathways in the brain. Neurones that fire together wire together. The routine makes the pathway stronger and stronger.

Small steps done every day will carry you a very long way.

Quotes to Consider

  • When I visited Mother Teresa of Calcutta a few tears ago and asked her how to live out my life as a priest, she simply said: ‘Spend one hour a day in adoration of our Lord and never do anything wrong, and you will be alright’. She might have said something else to a married person with young children and something else again to someone living in a large community. Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart.
  • The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine. Mike Murdock
  • We rob ourselves of immeasurable joy when we compare what we do know about ourselves with what we don’t know about someone else. Rob Bell

Questions to answer

  1. What routines do you keep? Try and define them down to the very small little steps you take.
  2. When struggle comes to your Mental Health, what routines do you have that are like anchors you cling on to that you know will get through?
  3. What are the routines that others keep? Particularly those who have struggled with the same sort of issues you face. Don’t do this in order to compare, but more so to glean a few new ideas.

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Michal Pechardo

Video of this Blog Post. (7.45 min)