Cultivating Healthy Habits and Routines – The Role of Occupational Therapy
Habits and routines play a crucial role in shaping our lives. They underpin our productivity, well-being, and overall quality of life. Whether it’s our morning cup of coffee, a regular workout routine, or the way we approach our work, these patterns of behaviour can help us experience fulfilment or can at times, hold us back. In this blog, we’ll explore the profound impact of habits and routines on our lives, and how we can harness their power to build a life of meaning and satisfaction.
What are habits and routines?
The terms habits and routines are often used interchangeably. However, they are two different concepts:
A habit is a relatively automatic, repetitive pattern of human behaviour1. Examples of habits include driving the same route to work each day or grabbing a coffee first thing each day.
While a routine is a collection of habitual, repeatable and predictable ways of acting2, often in a familiar environment. Routines can provide a structure that organises and maintains our lives3 in an energy-efficient way.
Why do they matter?
Habits have a profound impact on our lives in various ways:
1. Efficiency: Habits automate our routine tasks, saving our time and mental energy for more important decisions.
2. Consistency: They provide a sense of structure and predictability, contributing to a more stable and balanced life.
3. Progress: Positive habits are building blocks of goal acquisition and help us experience and maintain feelings of forward momentum.
4. Health and Well-being: Lifestyle habits such as exercise and a balanced diet can significantly improve physical and mental health, which helps us lead a life of meaning and purpose
Building empowering routines
Now that we understand the importance of helpful habits and routines, let’s explore how to build them into our lives:
1. Identify your goals: Begin by defining your long-term and short-term goals and how habits and routines relate to your goals.
2. Start small: Begin with manageable habits that align with your goals. Small changes are more sustainable and less overwhelming.
3. Consistency is key: To establish a habit, consistency is crucial. Commit to performing the routine daily or on a regular schedule. You may require support and encouragement to do this, especially in the beginning.
4. Accountability: Share your goals and progress with a trusted friend, family member or support person.
5. Environment matters: Design your physical and digital environments to support the development of your habits. For instance, place your workout gear in a visible spot to encourage regular exercise.
6. Positive reinforcement: Reward yourself for making progress with your routines. This can include acknowledging your progress, purchasing a treat, attending a community event of value, or anything that makes you feel proud and accomplished.
Reducing unhelpful habits
On the flip side, many of us struggle with habits that hinder our personal and professional growth. Breaking these habits often requires a different approach:
1. Self-awareness: Try to recognize the habits that are getting in the way of what you want to be doing and how you want to spend your time. It can also help to reflect on the triggers or factors that lead you to engage in unhelpful habits.
2. Replace, don’t remove: Instead of trying to eliminate a habit, try to replace it with a healthier alternative. This could include slowly reducing the amount of time you spend on an unpreferred habit, rather than going ‘cold turkey’.
3. Seek support: Unhelpful habits can be challenging to overcome on your own. Consider reaching out to an occupational therapist for support and guidance.
4. Patience and persistence: Breaking a habit takes time and effort. Be patient and kind with yourself and keep pushing forward, even if you slip up.
How can Occupational Therapists assist with helpful habits and routines?
1. Individualised assessment and goal setting – to understand the current impact of your habits and routines and potential areas of support
2. Skill development – to help you be able to perform tasks relevant to building and implementing your daily habits and routines.
3. Provision of assistive technology, adaptive strategies and home Modifications – to promote safe and efficient performance of daily activities that make up your habits and routines.
4. Emotional Support – to assist with barriers associated with motivation, stress and anxiety when trying to develop your helpful habits and routines
5. Capacity Building – of important people in your life to support their ability to help you develop meaningful routines and habits.
Meaningful and effective habits and routines are the building blocks of a satisfying and fulfilling life. By taking deliberate steps (often with support), to build positive routines while breaking less helpful ones, we can achieve our goals and live a life consistent with our values. Habit and routine formation is not about being perfect, but making progress, one step at a time. It is important to remember that habits and routines can be rebuilt, no matter the obstacles. You might just need the transformative support of an occupational therapist!
Wilcock A.A (2008). An occupational perspective of health. Thorofare, NJ: Slack
Wilcok A. (2005). The occupational brain: A theory of human nature. Journal of Occupational Science: Australia, 2(1), 68-73.
Heintzelman, S. J., & King, L. A. (2019). Routines and Meaning in Life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(5), 688-699.
About the author
Lucy O’Hanlon is the Clinical Excellence Lead – Psychosocial Disability and Sensory, with KEO Care. Lucy has spent her 13-year career helping people who live with a psychosocial disability to live lives of meaning and purpose, consistent with what is important to them.
Lucy is passionate about advocating for people with psychosocial disabilities to be supported by a network of supports who understand them and are responsive to their needs and preferences. Lucy is also passionate about supporting the current and emerging occupational therapy workforce to be able to provide high-quality care to those living with a psychosocial disability.