Sunday, 3 January 2016

Building new routines and changing old ones

Happy New Year!  I hope 2016 is treating you well so far.

I have lots of new years resolutions this year - including updating this blog more regularly!.  But let's be honest, resolutions are pretty much a joke.  On January 1 we all say this is the year we'll be more organised, exercise, eat healthily, meditate, spend less time online... and by Valentine's Day it's all forgotten and our fancy new sportswear/diary/meditation CD is gathering dust.

Building new routines is hard.  It's especially hard for people on the autism spectrum, given that we tend to be creatures of habit.  Routines provide safety, security and a sense of control in a world that often seems to have none of those things.  They provide defence against sensory overload and social dealings we're not equipped to handle.  They make life easier, and sometimes make life tolerable.  So messing with them isn't to be trifled with.

However, sometimes you have to.  Sometimes you recognise that a routine has become unhealthy or could be improved.  But making that change means fighting against human nature in general, and Aspie nature in particular.

But it can be done... I've had some luck in the last year with some of my ongoing executive function issues, and have managed to step up my self care and housework a notch too.  Here are some tips that helped:

Building new routines and changing old ones

1.   Decide what you want to do - and why
If it's a resolution you don't really care about - like reading more books because you think you should, even if you don't really like reading - you have no reason to stick to it and if you do it'll be a complete drag.  Even important things like losing weight or getting more exercise don't work in themselves - it's about the underlying reason.  If you're motivated by wanting to be healthier, be able to move more freely, get a medical condition under control or look smokin' in a tiny bikini, that gives you a reason to persevere.

2.  Get your gear together
A resolution to eat healthier isn't going to go far if you started January with a fridge full of chocolate and cake and a big tin of those chocolate wafer things you only see at Christmastime.  A pledge to write every day won't go far if you don't have a pen, paper and space to write.  Water aerobics is right out if you don't have togs. 

It can take some trial and error to find the tools that work best for you, but if you don't have the basic gear to start with you're making your job much more difficult.  And the more difficult it is, the easier it is to give up.

3.  Work out how it fits into your existing routine
Early morning exercise is never going to happen for me.  I know it's a great way to start the day, but my work schedule and sleeping pattern just aren't interested in giving me an extra hour (or even an extra ten minutes) in the morning.

It's much easier to try to work one new thing into your existing routine than change everything at once.

4.  Nag yourself
Constant reminders have been a huge contributor to the changes I have managed to make to my routines.  You're trying to break years of conditioning (a lifetime, in some cases) and that means being aware of something you might never have had to consciously consider before.

For me this has meant multiple phone reminders every day, sticky notes on door handles, steering wheels, computer screens and mirrors, and changing passwords to reminder phrases. (5veg2fruit, for instance - and no, that's not one of mine!)  You can also email your future self reminders to check in using Future Me.

5.  Create an environment that makes it easier
If there's an environmental trigger for the behaviour you're trying to change, get rid of it.  If you want to avoid a time-wasting website, block it.  Freeze your credit card into a block of ice to avoid impulse purchases, ask the bar or tobacconist not to serve you any more.

One of mine was stopping myself from turning on the computer first thing every morning, and learning to wait til I'd had breakfast, done some housework, and got something done in the real world.  Moving the computer to a different part of the house so I didn't walk past it as soon as I left my bedroom made that a lot easier.

6.  Respect your sensory and social limits
Exercise can come with a host of new sensory triggers.  Stopping smoking can remove a long-term stim.  The gym might turn out to be a hotbed of interpersonal drama.  All that means extra trouble, discomfort and excuses to throw in the towel.

Try to harness the Aspie tendency to think outside the box to find solutions: will earplugs, sunglasses, or tighter/looser clothes help?  Exercising at night, in sunlight, indoors, outdoors?  Taking up knitting or learning sleight of hand to occupy those cigarette-less fingers?  Sussing out the quietest time of day to visit the gym, or maybe finding a different drama-free one?

Change a process.  It's not like flicking a switch; you don't have to be perfect from day one, and one slip up (or two, or three, or a hundred) doesn't mean you've failed.  And that leads to the most important tip of all:

7.  Give yourself time, be gentle with yourself, and recognise you're awesome for trying new things and bettering yourself.