Posted on 01 February, 2016

Why Do Humans Crave Routine?

By Jacob Andreae in Lifestyle Why Do Humans Crave Routine?

[Photo credit: Jay Huang]

Ask anyone what they’re looking forward to at the end of a long break or holiday. I bet they say they’re most looking forward to getting back into a routine. But why is that? Why do people crave a break so bad but before long, they want to be back into a routine?

Routines allow you to create structure and predictability in your life. 

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I notice this a lot in mid January. One of the things I enjoy doing in the current version of my perfect day, is waking up with inspired people to conduct fitness classes. When I first started, I very rarely took a break. However, in the last couple of years I’ve shut the doors, so to speak, and taken a break over the Christmas holidays/New Year period. Two thousand and fifteen was the longest break I’ve had from these classes, taking four weeks off. When I emailed the group in mid January to remind them of our recommencement date, many of them expressed how much they were looking forward to getting back into a routine from their own holidays.

There are many routines in life. Going to work, preparing dinner, cleaning the house, paying the bills, the list goes on. Routines allow you to create structure and predictability in your life. They allow you to feel safe. Without routines, there would be too much uncertainty in life and everyday functioning would slow down.

When you can expect that exercise will be at 6am, breakfast will be at 7am and work will finish at 5pm, you can repeat that daily routine so that you create habits. Habits allow your hormones and neurotransmitters to behave in a certain way. For example, your nerve cells expect to receive a certain amount of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins every day as a result of exercise. This makes you feel good. When your nerve cells don’t get that, they have to undergo a series of physical changes to adapt; and this takes time and energy. The body wants to conserve energy for any physical challenge you might want or require it to do.

Having routine and breaking that routine is constantly in a dance, swinging back and forth to create a happy balance.

Being in routine is about being in your comfort zone. As the brain strives to make the uncertain world as predictable as possible, your comfort zone becomes smaller, tighter and more comfortable. Being in your comfort zone makes you feel safe but it also starves you of new and exciting experiences - the sort of experiences your brain needs for vitality and to keep it active. Having routine and breaking that routine is constantly in a dance, swinging back and forth to create a happy balance.

Why Humans Crave Routine

  • Routines makes you feel safe.
    The world can be a dangerous place and there is quite a bit of uncertainty. To allow you to feel safe, your mind likes to know what to expect. When you know what to expect, you can relax around familiar situations. 
  • Routines give you predictability.
    Learning the likely outcome of various events, allows you to have some predictability about your world. When you know how things ‘usually’ or ‘should’ work, you can relax. When things occur out of the ‘normal’, you become much more attuned to responding, especially if that involves a fight or flight response.
  • Routines make you feel comfortable.
    Not being able to predict a persons behaviour, or knowing if food will be on the table tonight, causes stress. Chronic stress is no good for anyone. Being able to feel safe in your environment and predict the outcome of the plethora of events that occur each day, gives comfort. 
  • Routines simplify life.
    When life is simple, you can achieve more. Planning out your day, week or year, reduces stress by giving you an idea of what to expect. This in turn makes you feel comfortable. When you don’t have to worry about as many things, your brain has a better capacity to operate and become more creative.
  • Routines allow you to learn new things.
    When your brain doesn’t have to constantly predict how you should behave, or always be on the lookout for situations that could cause you harm - physical or psychological, it opens up. When your mind is open, your brain is free to create new pathways to old problems and new connections to new challenges. This is the basis of innovation. 
  • Routines allow you to do more.
    Creating routines allows you to be more productive. One way to be more productive is to create schedules of routines. A weekly schedule for example, allows you to know what to expect, when, and for how long. This develops the power of focus by giving you a timeframe to work on a particular task. When you create a daily and weekly routine, you can get more done by improving your focus and eliminating distractions.

Routines, and breaks from routines, operate in a ying and yang fashion. The interplay between the two creates the spice of life. Routines allow you to feel safe and comfortable, which in turn, allows you to live more simply and get more done. Routines essentially allow you to get more done in less time. They also form the basis of habits at a cellular level.

How do you feel when you’re out of routine? How did you feel the last time you got back into a good routine? What is your favourite routine?

About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

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Why Do Humans Crave Routine?A quick start guide to losing weight and staying on track. Learn the strategies I use to eat and move for optimal health. Includes worksheets to enhance your motivation, commitment and discipline, along with a sample eating plan and exercise program.