Building a routine that matters.

I am in a daily battle with depression.

I’m really careful with the language I use when I talk about depression. I never say “I struggle with depression” or “I suffer from depression.” Words hold power and I don’t ever want to give off the impression that I am in a fight that I cannot win. I say things like “I handle depression” or “I battle with depression.”

You must be prepared to go into a battle. You don’t show up without ammo, a strategy, and an army behind you. This is how I battle that daily depression: with strategy, purpose, and an army behind. 

The biggest weapon I have when it comes to fighting depression: a routine. 

Routines add a rhythm to the day. Routines are something stable to look forward to. Routines ensure that you are pushing towards something— a goal, an aspiration, a better version of yourself. For someone who faces depression and the possibility of being derailed by emotions throughout a day, establishing a solid, unshakeable routine has been a game changer for me.

First things first, track your current routine.

Before setting out to revamp your entire life in one day, take a few days to track what your current routine looks like. A routine is anything you’re doing on a near-daily basis. Yes, this means negative things you’re doing: sleeping too much, waking up late, watching Netflix, spending time on your phone. Even the things you wish you could change right now are a part of a routine that is happening daily for you. Good or bad habits— there likely are things you’re doing that you wish you could a) stop or b) do more often.

Map your ideal day.

What would your perfect routine look like? Would you be up early? Would you have time to read for pleasure? Map out your most ideal days and place stars next to everything that is not already a part of your daily routine. It’s important to know what you’re going after, what you’re striving for.

Vital parts of your best daily routine might look like:

Drinking water
Waking up before the sun
Unplugging at 9pm
Going for an evening walk
Making a smoothie

You wouldn’t think you’d need to schedule all these things out but it’s very hard to make a pattern or build a habit when you don’t put these sorts of things on the calendar. Routines don’t show up without hard work.

Set a goal and then make the goal attainable. 

Let’s say the goal is to build up to a workout regimen that happens 5 days a week for 45 minutes each time. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to hurl yourself into that kind of routine if you’re not used to working out so consistently. So set this big goal as your 6-month goal. Tell yourself, “I would like to be working out 5 days a week within the next 6 months.”

Take that big goal and chop it up in 6 smaller monthly goals. Potential ideas:

  • Workout 2 days this week
  • Workout 10 days this month
  • Take a walk for 20 minutes each day

If a goal is attainable you will experience the taste of victory. Once you get a taste of that victory you’re going to want more of it.

Why am I failing with every goal I set?

I went through a phase where I was failing every goal I set for myself. It led to a lot of defeat and negative self-talk. I kept thinking, “I am never going to be happy with myself. I am always going to be stuck in this place.”

I think the reason I was failing at my goals is that I was going too fast with them. I was setting really big goals without any form of habits to back them up. My recent goal was to kick grains out of my diet completely. A friend commented the other week that I’ve been killing the goal, executing it so effortlessly.

It looks like zero effort but the truth was I’d set a series of smaller goals before tackling this big goal. I learned how to cook grain free. I stocked up my pantry with the essentials. I tackled 2 Whole30s. By the time I was ready to kick grains out for good, I’d already set a bunch of smaller goals to get me to that starting line. I’d trained. I was ready.

Every day, every week, every month.

There are going to be things you do every day, every week, and every month. For instance: I dedicate one day out of the month to go through my finances, make my donations, and do my budget sheets. I mark off two hours every Sunday to plan my week out. These are things that don’t happen every day but they deserve space in the calendar. Truthfully, they won’t happen at all unless I make that space in my calendar.

Here’s an example of what I commit to doing every day:

Read my bible + pray
Workout (6 days a week)
Take medication
Drink water
Encourage someone
Say “I love you” to Lane

Apart from saying “I love you” and encouraging someone, I really have to schedule the rest of the stuff out. It has to have a place in my day or else I will put it off, forget about it, or find better to do.

And here’s the truth: there are days when I don’t “feel” like it. I want to skip the workout. I want to sleep in. I want to just scroll through my phone instead of making a meal for myself. But I am learning to do it anyway. When I don’t feel like it. When I would rather be doing something else. When I want to complain. I have yet to say the words, “Bummer, that workout was awful” or “Man, I am so mad I made a healthy meal for myself.” Is it always perfect? Nope. But I am working towards a better version of myself and so I must be willing to say “no” to the things that want to keep me stagnant.

How do you build a routine when your work schedule fluctuates? 

This is why I think mapping your week out before it begins is essential. Just because you do something at 10am one day and 1pm another day does not mean it isn’t part of the routine. On days where I am traveling, it might not be 9pm until I get into the gym but I make a daily promise to myself: I will get my workout in. I will read my bible. I will take my medicine. I rarely give myself excuses or free passes. I know these essential parts of my day make for the happiest, strongest, and kindest version of me.

If you have a schedule that fluctuates, plan your week out whenever you get that work schedule. See the week in front of you. Mapping my week out on a Sunday is an immovable commitment I make to myself and it guarantees that I never walk into a week blindsided by what is to come or how I am going to get it all done.

Do you think it’s better to go 100% in on day 1 or gradually build up to a big routine change?

I have a few thoughts on this. I am a pretty big “go 100%” advocate BUT I think you can only afford to do it well ONE AREA AT A TIME. When I went for the 5am hours, I committed wholeheartedly and daily. Yes, I still failed. But I didn’t give myself the wiggle room of 2 out of 5 days of 1 day a week. I exerted my best energy into waking up that early.

I absolutely would have failed if I tried to tackle 5am hours, 5 days in the gym, and clean eating all in one month. It would have been a recipe for failure.

Pick one thing you want to go hard in the paint with and then give yourself grace in the other areas. Set smaller goals in the other areas. Willpower is a limited resource so don’t be surprised if it runs out on you.

But what if I fail?

Here’s the thing: you will fail. You won’t eat all the kale. You will go for the donut instead. You’ll get to the gym and only have the energy to sit. You will miss a workout routine. You will forget your sneakers. You will mess up the recipe. You will sleep in. You are going to fail and the world is not going to fall apart. You will mess it all up and that’s perfectly okay… building a routine isn’t about being perfect 100% of the time. It’s about building towards something better. It’s about going after what truly matters most to you. Figure that stuff out. Set the small goals. Rejoice over the small victories. Start over new each day.

Building a routine takes time and patience. Celebrate the good, often + always. You’ve got this.

hey you,

I would love to hear from you. What’s one thing you want to go 100% in on this month that will make your days, weeks, and months better for the future? Let’s chat about how to make this a reality!

23 thoughts on “Building a routine that matters.

  1. Hannah, I really appreciate this post. I am a big goal setter but I often set too many goals at once. Or, I’ll make a goal for myself and then life gets crazy. I really like your idea of setting time aside to plan the week. I usually do that daily but maybe I should try the week instead. Thanks for all the new ideas to think about.

  2. Hannah, this post lined up exactly with where my heart and intentions have been over the past month, but sheds some light on how to keep the frustrations of “constant failures” down. I love the way you break down larger goals into smaller more attainable ones. I think that is where I struggle most. I appreciate the share!

  3. This post is such a fantastic reminder of the importance of routine and that we aren’t going to win at all the goals all the time. Building gradually is frustrating, but so important. The things I am going all in on right now are: Water + Meds & Vitamins + Getting up earlier (gradually moving it back as my body does not manage mornings well). I love the idea of planning weeks on Sunday, and since I use a Simplified Planner with a Sunday Prep section, I’m going to start that this week.

  4. GREAT post! I have been thinking about starting a morning workout routine, but I have such a difficult time getting up in the morning. I always hit snooze one time, which of course is 9 minutes. My thought is to skip snooze, have my shoes ready at night, and start out with a quick but efficient 10 minute workout and build from there. When this email came through today, I felt that God had really sent me this message, so thank you for writing it, and thank God for sending it!

  5. Hannah, thank you so much for your weekly emails. They are something I can look forward to every week in my work to build a routine to help myself with my own battles. I am so glad my friend introduced me to your writing.

  6. Hannah,

    I just finished up my health coaching program and finally became an “official” health coach! I still have so much to learn, but it’s been amazing to learn and develop my coaching skills. So much of coaching is digging in to what a client wants and why- and the way I help is implementing these systems and processes with them. This post you wrote is SO perfect! Talking about starting small and working your way up to your six month goal is spot on. That’s exactly what so many of my clients struggle with- they want to change EVERYTHING all at once. My coaching program has taught me that “small hinges swing big doors,” doing the little habits over and over adds up to create big life change and makes a bit differences in your life. So thank you so much for sharing this is such a clear, accessible way! I so believe this concept is something everyone would benefit from learning!

    So appreciate you!! Kathleen Wyne


  7. Hannah,
    I love this! This month I want to commit to drinking more water, reading my bible + pray often (also), and James 1:19. ❤
    p.s. I wanted to add going to the gym 2x's a week on here! but I get SO busy and when I fail I get discouraged… I know you mentioned this, but I'll work myself up to that.

  8. I like this article a lot. I think routine is absolutely the best way to work with depression. I have also battled depression and loneliness my entire life, but have learned many things over my short lifespan that help prepare me to battle blue days smartly, rather than get bulldozed over by my really shifty emotions. Thought I would share my routine in case anyone one else can relate. For me, getting up early is NOT COOL. I read an article once about hacking your morning routine that changed the way I do things. The article told me to ask why I didn’t want to get up in the morning, and see if I could find a routine that would not only solve all the problems but also use my weaknesses to my advantage somehow. It was a fun challenge for me to come up with the routine, which I will share: My main reasons for not getting up are 1) I’m tired. 2) it’s cold out there and warm in bed. 3) don’t want to wake my husband. 4) dont have the energy to start the crazy at [blank AM]. 5) Cant focus on reading my Bible when I’m falling asleep. After reading the article about hacking my routine, I made some immediate changes. Because I was tired, I decided the first thing I would do when I got up was sit, not shower. Because I was cold, I lay bathrobe and slippers near my bed to fly into as soon as I got the courage to get out from under the covers. Each night, I set up the fuzziest blankets in the house on the corner of my big leather couch so that the couch will not be cold when I sit on it (I can’t even express how much it helps to be laying bed thinking of my cozy spot! Instead of trying to convince myself to get up and start running nonstop for the day, I convince myself that “I can get up from bed and move downstairs to the fuzzy blankets and sit there.”). On my way to the couch I put my tea kettle on. My rule is that I can put as much cold water in the kettle as I want, and turn the stovetop on as low as I want, and I get to sit with my eyes closed and do nothing as long as the kettle is heating up. I also fill my Camelback with water and place it in the fridge the night before, and while my water is boiling I try to jumpstart my 8-a-day with cold water, which is supposed to wake you up quickly. Sometimes I just get back to the couch and fall asleep as soon as I sit down. But even if I fall asleep on the couch couch without sipping much water, the kettle whistle wakes me up and because I don’t want to disturb my husband I am very quick to jump up and turn the kettle off. I stand while my tea brews, about five mins. When it’s ready, While I’m drinking tea, I take it back to the couch to drink, and I watch a Ted Talk or other educational/interesting video that I have selected and queued up the night before, since I can’t focus on reading my Bible right away but am always interested in learning something, and listening/watching keeps my attention better. I limit the length of the video(s) to 20 mins when I am select it so that I don’t waste more time than I want to. By the time the video is done, I have comfortably woken up, drunk water and tea, and learned something in a relaxing way, and only around 30 mins has elapsed. At this point it is so much easier to do life! Then I can read my Bible -usually always whole listening to the audio on my headphones while reading along to keep me alert. a bonus is that I get that happy feeling that comes when you actually do what you set it to do -get up early! And honestly even if you get up and aren’t 100% productive, it helps to get up and do anything at all! Thought I would share in case someone else finds this helpful. 🙂

    1. Thanks for posting your routine, it is helpful to see how other people wake up early, especially when they aren’t morning people either. I will have to keep some of your routine in mind.

  9. Thank you Hannah!! That was such a wonderful post! I am a firm believer that establishing routines and habits can remedy so many things and really drive your live toward positive change.

  10. I map out my week too. Starting with read scripture app, then a bike ride but when I can’t settle to read scripture I go on the bike ride first. This all takes places at 5:30 am. I’m better at being an early bird! Also, need flexibility with my schedule. Like flipping scripture and bike ride. I’m still working on meal planning, which seems easier in the fall, cooler months. But throwing together salads with meat makes planning a no brainier. Your write, encourages me to sharpen my planning and not get to layer back, thanks!

  11. I’ve been off balance lately and slipping into a funk. I was blaming it on being in a pretty big life transition, but now I’m motivated to be more intentional with my routine than ever. That’s what’s going to help me get through this with a sane mind.

  12. Routines are also good for other illnesses and disorders. I have fibromialgia and without following my routine I would not be able to be considered high functioning. These were all great tips I am looking to work into my life, to help me better accomplish my goals and better perform my routine. A friend of mine struggles with depression and has a certain routine she follows in order to handle her depression. Recently her now ex-boyfriend told her “Is your faith in God or in a routine?” Do not believe that lie that having a routine is not relying on God, God gives us routines and ways to handle the problems we face in this world and having a routine is not a replacement from him. He is in the good routines, he is in the illnesses and disorders and pain we suffer with in this world. He blesses us with ways to deal with the problems and pain of this world, and following those paths he has made for us can draw us closer to him. As long as we do not worship the routine over him, it is a blessing from God that should not be devalued.

  13. This is such a timely post! My husband and I have been going through a few transitions the last couple months. He’s a professional drafter now (Woot! Woot!) So we’ve been adjusting to a morning schedule where he gets to sleep in until 6:45am now. Before, we would wake up an hour earlier than that, he would leave around 6:30, and I have would have an hour at home by myself to write or wash breakfast dishes before heading to my job. And it’s hard for me to adjust to new routines, but I’ve noticed I do my best writing in the mornings and this new schedule (with zero writing time) is something I need to figure out.
    But, our personal life has also been crazy. My grandma passed away a couple weeks ago and we’ve been visiting family a lot and planning a memorial service. AND I’m also transitioning over to a new job, so any chance at a routine right now is hard. The only thing I weekly commit to (and I’m finally getting back into it) is writing down the week’s to-do list, places I’m going, and self-care on a 2-page spread in my bullet journal (another blog post Hannah wrote). And then during the week, I try to keep a daily log of memorable things that happen; easy journaling.
    So, I’m trying to give myself grace during this weird post-death, grieving, memorial service planning part of my life.
    After I took the Spring Intensive way back in April, my daily writing was on fire! But I’ve been lazy with daily writing and I’m bummed about it. So, the thing I want to go 100% in on is writing every day. And I want to be brave about just writing down the words in my head and then just putting them up on my blog, because that’s where the courage and the practice comes in.
    So, I think I’ll go write after commenting on this blog post.
    I also, want to get into the habit of reading my BIble every day. I was trying to read through the Gospels on my own, but then I decided to start your Bible study, Hannah, because it is centered around Jesus and the Gospels. But working a regular 9 to 5 type job is tough to fit things around.
    So those are the two things I want to try go 100% in on: writing daily and reading my Bible every day (even if it’s not the Bible Study–that could be saved for Saturday mornings.) But I’m remembering grace goes really well with transitions. In a couple weeks, when I have a free weekend, I’ll start to reexamine my morning routine 🙂
    Thanks again for this post Hannah!

  14. So I am a teacher. 9 months out of the year I am a schedule “Queen”! Now that it’s summer I have no built in regimen. Just yesterday I was asking myself “why are you feeling so frumpy?” And it hit me! No schedule! Then I read your article this morning and it just reaffirmed that I’m craving some sort of a schedule! So thank you for this reminder. God is a God of order and not chaos and I am called to imitate Him. So one thing I want to be deligent with is getting to the gym. I always, always, always take my medicine. I know how “life-saving” it is for me. I think if I can see that exercising is like medicine for me it will help my mindset when I’m not “in the mood” to go. Thanks again for the tips on chunking the larger goals into smaller attainable goals as well.

  15. Definitely impressed with the wording choice of ‘battling’ and not the use of ‘suffer’, small changes as such can make a difference in the approach of dealing it with it appropriately. Enjoyed reading it.

  16. I love the way you call it a “battle” instead of a struggle. Calling it a battle makes it feel like it is something you can win. I want to go 100% on the blog I just started. Sometimes my mental illness makes me doubt myself. How can I ever succeed at something like this when my mind doesn’t always work right, you know? But I am fighting those thoughts of self-doubt as hard as I can. I really appreciate you for giving me some weapons I can use against my depression!

  17. Hi! I am new to your blog! I just want to say, not only do I love your writing but your fight to be your most authentic self. Gosh, why does it sometimes feel like the scariest thing in the world to try on some new shoes if the ones you’ve been wearing for years are giving you blisters and led you into a job you hate? Good for you for giving the writer inside you room to breath, grow, and dream! If I had to choose one thing I’d like to improve on this month it would be to eat less foods with added sugar and continue with a more plant based diet!

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