You don’t have to be a fan of the scientific method to believe the word of those who study routine for a living. You like to stick to a regular run time because it suits your schedule.

You may prefer the same route because you know exactly how many kilometers you get under your belt or you like the familiarity. But even scientists believe that variety is the spice of life, which is why some insist that strict routine could be bad for you.

The psychology of routine

You know the feeling: One day, you decide to run at exactly 6 a.m. every morning and before you know it, you’re admonishing yourself because you missed your regularly-scheduled morning run. Congratulations. You’ve become a willing participant in a routine that has some of the best and worst benefits a runner can experience.

Habits, notes Dr. Bernard J. Luskin, writing for “Psychology Today,” put the mind into a continual loop that becomes instilled in our brains. The acquisition of habits is so subtle, most people don’t even realise they’re taking hold because routine is comforting, predictable and reassuring.

Even the process of acquiring the habit is predictable: It starts as a cue (I will run each day at the same time), becomes routine (you don’t think twice about changing the time slot) and delivers a reward (look how awesome I am keeping to my schedule!). You’re hooked. Welcome to the club!

Knowing your personality type can help you break a routine

If you’re scared about ending the routine that has provided comfort and reliability over time, one of the first things you can do is to determine your “type,” as conceived by Psychcentral scientists.

Once you identify your personality type, your ability to break your routine can be easier. Here are the 4 groups into which you may fit:

  • The Upholder: You love schedules and have high expectations, but if convinced change is beneficial, you can do it.
  • The Questioner: It’s important to be told valid reasons you need to change your routine in order to follow through.
  • The Obliger: You’re big on accountability. Changing your routine may require you to treat yourself to rewards to help you over that change hurdle.
  • The Rebel: Rebels experience the best routine-busting success if they pick new times or places rarely traveled by conventional runners. They like to be unique!

10 reasons your mind and body need variety

  1. Working the same muscles repeatedly you can destroy muscle fiber before it has time to repair.
  2. Running by rote on a familiar path can cause you to “zone out,” putting you at greater injury risk.
  3. Repeat running times and places can lead to boredom that can cause a runner to quit altogether.
  4. Your routine can diminish your flexibility when it comes to thinking and moving—both on and off the track.
  5. Taking the same route or allocating the same time can hinder your creative thinking.
  6. Having a routine may become so embedded in your psyche, if it’s interrupted, it can trigger depression.
  7. Mood swings neutralised by running may return as a direct result of too much monotony and repetition.
  8. Employing the same run time and location can render women vulnerable to attack, especially at night.
  9. Routine strips your run of the excitement and beauty you once found so interesting.
  10. It takes bravery and risk to alter a routine, but the results are well worth that gamble!

Hacks for changing your routine that really work

  • Scout out different locations and commit to running there once a week for a month to break the monotony.
  • Think about trying night runs in a safe location to break an embedded morning routine.
  • Switch flat terrain run for hills, stairs or other vertical challenges to inject variety into your conditioning.
  • Indulge your curious runner with speed workouts (20 second sprint; 10 second rest) to interrupt boredom.
  • If you run on trail or gravel, switch to pavement or asphalt track for a fresh sensory feel under your feet.
  • Recruit a partner. Maintaining a rigid routine when someone else regularly runs with you is hard to do!
  • Reward yourself each time you abandon your routine. If you’re an Obliger, your success is practically guaranteed.

Can you get used to a “new normal”? Runners ask this question when confronting routine, but by switching things up, you establish new ways of doing things that extend beyond your favourite activity to your job and personal life. Who doesn’t want to take an opportunity to grow as a person?

Dr Vicky Lauren

Dr. Vicky Lauran is a certified holistic life coach and nutritionist, she also has 8 years' experience as a power yoga instructor and holds a Ph.D. in exercise, nutrition and health. She has worked with major online publishers like Web MD and Huffington Post and now is a residential contributor at RunSociety. She loves bringing what she knows to the community and hopes to help everyone on the road to happiness.

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