One thing you probably noticed about inpatient treatment is that everything happens on a regular schedule. You go to bed and get up at the same times every day, you eat meals at the same times, you have regular times for group therapy, individual therapy, and activities, and so on. This isn’t just for administrative convenience. Keeping a regular schedule is a useful practice for recovery. Here’s why.
Consistent effort is crucial
The first reason a regular routine is important is because the consistent effort is crucial. Whether you’re trying to recover from addiction, learn to play the piano, or run a marathon, consistent daily effort will pay off far more than sporadic, heroic efforts. Recovery happens one day at a time and it doesn’t take many days of skipping crucial parts of your recovery plan before your mental state suffers. Therefore, your recovery efforts have to be integrated into your daily activities.
Unstructured time is dangerous
Boredom and loneliness are dangerous for anyone in recovery, especially early on. Sometimes it’s not good to have too much time to think. Negative thinking can creep in and boredom can often trigger cravings. You certainly don’t want to have a whole evening or weekend with no clear idea of what to do. A regular routine keeps you busy but, ideally, not too busy. Your time is structured and you feel like you have things to do and you don’t have to think too hard about what’s next. Action keeps you moving toward your recovery goals while minimizing the opportunities for boredom and rumination.
Willpower is a finite resource
Willpower is a useful quality to have in addiction recovery but you can’t rely on it too much. Willpower, like physical energy, runs down over time and needs rest in order to recharge. In fact, the brain is far more greedy for energy than the body is and using willpower takes special effort. Instead of relying on willpower, you have to set up your life in a way that makes sobriety easier. That means having supportive friends, healthy habits, and a regular schedule. When you are used to following a regular schedule, you don’t have to constantly make decisions about what is best for your recovery. You go to sleep at a certain time, you go to meetings at a certain time, you exercise at a certain time, and you do other recovery-related activities at certain times. It becomes automatic and you don’t have to constantly use your willpower to make positive decisions. You can save it for when you face unexpected moments of stress or temptation.
Good habits are based on routine
Related to the point above, good habits help us automate healthy behaviors. You don’t have to think about whether you’re going to have the salad or the fries or whether you’re going to exercise after work. You just make the healthy choice out of habit. An important thing to understand about forming good habits is that they are based on routine. We tend to learn behaviors in sequences, whether it’s tying a shoe, hitting a tennis ball, or solving a math problem. Eventually, these sequences get “chunked” so we don’t even have to think about them. You can use this to your advantage when forming good habits. The various parts of your daily routine can be cues to begin a new positive behavior. So for example, you might have a regular sequence that goes: wake up in the morning, put on your exercise clothes, feed the dog, walk for 30 minutes. However, forming new habits is much harder if they aren’t connected to some part of your daily routine. You don’t have a strong cue. Whatever good habit you want to create, it’s much easier if all your days have similar features.
Predictability lowers stress
Stress is not your friend in addiction recovery, especially early on. As you progress in recovery, you will learn to cope with stress better but even so, it’s good to manage it as much as you can. Having a daily routine lowers stress. You pretty much know what tomorrow will be like. You don’t have to put so much energy into worrying about what might happen or trying to anticipate potential problems.
How to establish a good daily routine
If you’ve been through an inpatient treatment program or perhaps spent time in a sober living home, you are probably already used to a regular routine and the easiest thing to do is just stick to that as closely as possible when you’re living on your own. Go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, eat at the same time, and so on. If you don’t already have a regular routine or you have modify it significantly to accommodate other commitments, start by scheduling your top priorities and fill in your other responsibilities around those. So, for example, you might start out by scheduling eight hours for sleep, an hour for recovery-related activities, an hour for exercise, and two meetings a week, then schedule other activities wherever they fit. Actually write it down and keep it somewhere you can see it. Follow this schedule for a couple of months and it will become automatic.
Know when to break from your routine
Although a consistent daily routine is, on the whole, a good thing, there are some drawbacks. The most obvious is that you might get bored. While a consistent routine reduces stress, it also reduces novelty and excitement. Most people in recovery need consistency more than they need excitement but if the consistency starts to feel stifling, it might be a good idea to introduce some variety into your routine. It could be something small like taking a different route to work or something bigger like taking a class or visiting a new 12-step meeting. When making changes, take it slowly. Making one change at a time helps preserve continuity and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.