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The Importance of Routines in Pursuit of Your Goals

How to achieve more when you don't feel motivated.

Key points

  • Motivation may not always be enough to get things done.
  • Routines are more effective at producing better results.
  • Routines contribute to better mental health.
  • Routines can provide a sense of control and promote mood stability.
Zhang Kenny/Unsplash
Source: Zhang Kenny/Unsplash

“Sometimes I also feel lazy,” I calmly mentioned to Mike. I noticed him smile along with a sigh of relief.

My self-disclosure came after multiple sessions of hearing Mike berate himself, thinking he is not “motivated” or “doing anything with my life.” According to Mike, he should be earning more money and actively composing music. He seemed to selectively ignore the successes in his life. It is common for us to put ourselves down despite our levels of productivity.

I recalled how Mike seemingly idolized me in the past, despite my efforts to be real. He sometimes made remarks about how “you own your own business” and “you’ve written books.” I felt an urge to debate with Mike and make him aware of his many accomplishments. However, I decided to be more relatable. I explained that I am still able to get things done despite not always feeling motivated. I went on to share that motivation is fleeting and unreliable. What happens when we get bad news or have a rough day?

The concept of motivation has evolved throughout history (Berridge, 2018). However, I am using the term to mean a drive that moves us toward a desire or goal. Consider the last time you felt motivated and how long it lasted. It is more useful to have daily routines in place that help us achieve our goals. Routines consist of a set of actions that we do consistently over time regardless of whether we want to do them or not. It is easier to rely on small consistent actions as opposed to sudden bursts of inspiration.

I don’t always feel motivated to do things but I do them because they are necessary for me to move forward. Imagine consulting with a heart surgeon that told you, “I can perform successful surgeries when I feel motivated.” You would not put your health in jeopardy with the hopes that your medical professional feels motivated on the day of your procedure. Instead, it would be better to have the procedure done by someone who has routines in place that make them successful regardless of how they are feeling.

Here are more reasons why routines are important:

Routines Improve Mental Health

Murray, Gottlieb, and Swartz (2021) assert that daily routines contribute to mood stabilization. Hou, Lai, Ben-Ezra, and Goodwin (2020) also note the importance of having regular routines to improve mental health. The article speaks to both primary routines that involve daily living (hygiene, sleep, eating, etc.) and secondary routines that involve goals and leisure activities (social activities, preferences, work, etc.).

Routines Help Reduce Overthinking

McCann (2008) mentions that having routines can decrease excessive thinking for athletes and lead to better results. Overthinking can often lead to negative emotions—such as worrying—and behaviors that impair performance. This is also true for non-athletes. For instance, one article suggests that performance enhancing routines can improve the clinical effectiveness of junior doctors (Church, Murdoch-Eaton, & Sandars, 2020).

Routines Offer a Sense of Control

Eilam, Izhar, and Mort (2011) suggest that rituals help mitigate against stress and anxiety due to fostering a sense of control. Rituals and routines are slightly different in that rituals are sometimes regarded as more meaningful. However, the principle is the same. Having a regular set of actions that we do consistently makes us feel as though we are in control as opposed to going through life in a reactionary manner.

Some of my daily routine consists of writing 300 words, meditating for ten minutes (this could also be supplemented by sitting silently), doing simple exercises, creating a to-do list and writing down one new thing that I learned for the day.

Observe some of the most “successful” people and you will notice strong daily routines that result in positive outcomes over time. Waiting on motivation means that sometimes you will be effective and other times you won’t. Routines go beyond just helping us to become successful; they also help improve our mental health as well.

What does your daily routine consist of?

Drew Beamer/Unsplash
Source: Drew Beamer/Unsplash


Berridge, K. C. (2018). Evolving concepts of emotion and motivation. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1647.

Church, H. R., Murdoch-Eaton, D., & Sandars, J. (2020). Using Insights From Sports Psychology to Improve Recently Qualified Doctors’ Self-Efficacy While Managing Acutely Unwell Patients. Academic Medicine, 96(5), 695-700.

Eilam, D., Izhar, R., & Mort, J. (2011). Threat detection: Behavioral practices in animals and humans. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 999-1006.

Hou, W. K., Lai, F. T., Ben-Ezra, M., & Goodwin, R. (2020). Regularizing daily routines for mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of global health, 10(2).

McCann, S. (2008). Routines, rituals, and performing under pressure. Olympic Coach, 20, 14-15.

Murray, G., Gottlieb, J., & Swartz, H. A. (2021). Maintaining daily routines to stabilize mood: Theory, data, and potential intervention for circadian consequences of COVID-19. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 66(1), 9-13.