Pros and cons of routine in confinement

By Fernando Díez Ruiz, University of Deusto

In this unusual period of confinement in which we are currently immersed, there is no doubt that having a busy mind makes time go faster and takes us away from states of anguish, anxiety or depression. Many experts insist on the importance of establishing routines in daily life that prevent us from being idle and thinking too much about our surroundings. But is establishing routines really that beneficial?

Routine is a word that comes from French, routine, which means "custom or acquired habit of doing things by mere practice and more or less automatically" (RAE, 2020). The routine allows us to organize our time in a practical, automated way.

Historically, there have been illustrious people recognized for their routines, such as Nietzche, Karl Max or Emmanuel Kant. The latter was nicknamed "the Konigsbergh clock", his native town, and he had the habit of walking every day at the same time, taking advantage of his passing through certain places to set his clocks.

Well, with COVID-19 lurking, we have seen ourselves, overnight, forced to seclude ourselves in our homes. We have had to stop our daily inertia in its tracks, to make way for an unknown and unusual situation with repercussions worldwide. In this context, routine can play the role of ally or enemy.

Routine saves energy

As positive aspects of the routine, it should be noted that it allows us to achieve a certain level of order and organize our lives, in addition to gaining tranquility, sleeping better and obtaining greater emotional security. To make matters worse, planning reduces stress and depression, generates a known structure and helps us move in our "comfort zone".

On the other hand, routine helps us to better manage our time, in a disciplined way, saving efforts. Operating with a certain level of automation, without thinking, avoids cognitive overload and helps us better focus on new learning and routines.

In this sense, we can affirm that with discipline we save mental energy, which we can allocate to the development of skills. In addition, it should not be forgotten that routines are transformed into customs, something essential to maintain an activity over time.

Without fear of being wrong, we can venture that repetition is the key to acquiring habits. In an article published a few years ago by the magazine Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Wendy Woods and colleagues at the University of Southern California (USA) assured that 40% of the time we do not think about what we do: we get carried away by automatisms. With enough motivation, we can change habits. Although if we squeeze the willpower a lot and it falters, we will easily fall back into those fire-recorded routines.

According to Woods, studies reveal that it can take between 15 and 254 days to turn a behavior into a habit. Now that we are confined at home, we have before us the opportunity to acquire healthy habits that in the whirlwind of our busy lives it was so difficult for us to establish.

The risk of boredom and addictions

In return, routine can lead us to monotony, making every day seem the same, without incentives. In the end, we risk ending up losing the spark and getting bored. With the danger that this entails falling into the clutches of some dangerous addictions such as alcohol, drugs, gambling or compulsive eating.

To avoid reaching this point, we must ensure that our spirits do not drop. Thinking excessively about the situation generated by the pandemic can lead to a state of anxiety or depression, which makes us more vulnerable.

Matter of attitude

It is clear that we have the opportunity to take advantage of the routine, especially if we apply it correctly to our schedules, hygiene and personal care. We can also improve our self-esteem and fuel our hope by thinking that all of this will happen (that it will). Even take advantage of circumstances to order some aspects of our lives, maintain contact with our loved ones, maintain intense physical activity and carry out common activities.

In a way, we have before us a unique opportunity that we should not miss. We must not forget that circumstances are not chosen, but the attitude we have towards them is.

North American athlete Jim Ryun said that "motivation helps us start and habit helps us continue." So let's start planning and putting into practice routines that allow us to follow a daily rhythm. Of course, to avoid monotony there is no other choice but to combine them with a certain dose of creativity and innovation in other aspects of our day to day.

Fernando Díez Ruiz, Professor, Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Deusto

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.