Friday, September 14, 2012

Routine Changes: Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

We all know the story The Tortoise and the Hare. The hare was so sure he'd win the race, he stopped to take a nap while the tortoise kept up a slow and steady pace until he defeated the hare.

Of course, the moral of the story we're supposed to get is that the hare was over confident, but I wonder if it says something more about the hare - like maybe he was a procrastinator.

Did he have a habit of checking out whenever he felt cocky?

I've started many new cleaning routines through the years and they work - for a time. I pretend I'm a Type A housewife who likes to scrub floors and can't sleep at night until every last dish is clean. I clean under beds and fold fitted sheets the Martha Stewart way. Then, I get bored. The Internet is calling. I skip the routine here and there. Before I know it, my old habits are back, the house is dirty and cluttered again and my sheets are balled up in the linen closet.

The staggering truth falls on me like an anvil in a cartoon - the new routine never actually took hold. I wonder if I'll ever master this cleaning routine thing. Maybe it's always too much too fast.

If we move too fast when we're trying to establish a new routine, is it easy to check out, like the hare?

Lots of us have walked this path with varying degrees of success. It seems so easy to establish new cleaning routines, yet, often, we fail. Why?

The problem is we already have established routines whether we realize it or not. These routines can take the shape of comfort or procrastination rituals that work against us.   

Photo courtesy of Vilhelm at Morguefile.

Think about what you do every morning. Part of my morning routine includes turning on my computer and checking e-mail, Facebook and Pinterest. I do this before I do anything else. It's not constructive and is something that could most definitely wait until later in the day. I'd love to start my morning routine with a few light chores, but it hasn't happened all that often. Why?

Because an established behavior pattern is incredibly hard to break.

In a Psychology Today blog, Thomas Scheff, Ph.D. tells us we are all creatures of routine. Everything we do is routine. This includes our speech patterns, how we interact with others and how we take care of our home and work environments. We are our routines.

But, what is a routine, really?

When you break it down, a routine is nothing more than a habit. We have both good and bad habits. Bad habits can be especially hard to break because they make us feel good. Eating junk food, watching TV or Internet surfing can all prompt our brain to release a feel-good chemical called dopamine (National Institute of Health, News in Health, Breaking Bad Habits, January 2012).

We can override this process and break bad habits, but there's no one full-proof way for everyone. Luckily, many people have success replacing a bad habit with a good one. The question is, what's the best way to do this?

It seems logical that a slow shift in routines may work better than an abrupt change, that is if we are to take our cue from the tortoise rather than the hare. Perhaps making one small change at a time instead of several fast-paced changes will work for those of us easily sidetracked by our bad habits.

How can we use this to jump start a new cleaning routine?

Recognize the routine you already have, even if it's not the one you ultimately want. Add a positive step onto the beginning of the routine. Once that's become a habit, keep adding, one step at a time, until you're right where you want to be.

It might be convenient for the hare to make an appearance once in a while, but somehow, I think the the best over-all strategy for establishing new cleaning routines is to be the tortoise. Slow and steady, one step at a time, and we can leave those procrastination habits in the dust.


  1. I realize that I am a tortoise most of the time and do love the computer like you; plus I am working on an Ed.D in counseling and need the computer. Routines that I conquered include Scripture reading and prayer--conscious choices.These I value each day. A habit that I have changed is diet--losing weight safely. Exercise is slow to come, but healthy lifestyle is so worth it.

    I am working on a new strategy for all those other areas like clutter and cleaning which do get me down. I am doing the first few steps from Mindy Starns Clark's book, "The House That Cleans Itself" this month. This book is challenging how I work and it doesn't matter how slowly I work--just have to do the steps she mentioned in sequence. If it works for Mrs. Clark who is a prolific author and speaker, then it has to work for me too, I'm thinking. We'll see.


  2. I'm interested in checking out that book, too. Sounds like it might be a good one.

    I need the computer, too, which makes it doubly hard to try to pull away from it sometimes. I have to write and have to keep up with e-mail for the boys' schools and activities.

  3. Interesting. I don't think I nap out of cockiness, I nap because I physically ware myself out trying to get it all done right now....

  4. Oh, Tree - I've read your blog and know you have a lot on your plate. Hugs to you!