Episode 101: Making Helpful Habits Stick With Sheela Hobden
Have you ever tried to create a routine but found yourself falling out of it or losing motivation? Or maybe you want to create a big change in your life but find it too overwhelming? Creating habits that benefit us may seem daunting, but you just need to take it one step at a time. Remember that before actions become habits, they start with routines.
In this episode, Sheela Hobden joins us to discuss how we can harness the power of checklists to create a routine. She shares how you can approach your goals in a more realistic way and learn to encourage yourself using specific goal setting techniques. Sheela also recommends creating identity-based goals to ensure that you keep building your new identity even after completing certain milestones. Start small, and eventually, you’ll see these good habits stick!
If you want to know how to create helpful habits to change your life, stay tuned to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Discover how you can free up time and brain space for the important things by harnessing the power of checklists.
- Learn how to reduce shame and failure when working on your goals by opting for identity-based goals and a range of targets.
- Understand how small changes can create a significant impact on your life.
[03:31] Sheela’s Background
- Sheela has a background in HR and learning and development. She specialises with people who work hard with others.
- She is also a Shapes trainer and has MIT courses for wellbeing and resilience.
[04:31] Why Routine is Important
- Our brain loves routine because of its certainty. This shifts the brain to the competency mode, which helps us get into a state of flow.
- Being in a state of flow allows the release of chemicals into the brain to help us feel more relaxed.
- When people are in times of stress and change, the SCARF model is essential to remember. This stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.
- The model notes that when our routines change, there will be a threat response. Being able to put things back in place will then drive the reward response.
‘If you’re doing something that you need to do, or you want to do, and you’re choosing to do that, then you’re meeting that certainty state element of it.’
- Listen to the full episode to learn more about the five components of the scarf model.
[08:24] Free Your Mind with Checklists
- Don’t underestimate checklists. They can get your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper.
- This makes sure your brain is freer to spot unexpected things.
- When Sheela was training for an Ironman in 2017, checklists ensured that she was teaching properly and helped her understand how long certain activities take.
- Checklists can also reduce the feeling of overwhelm when done correctly.
‘If I think about situations in my life where I’ve had to get things done, the checklist has been really, really vital.’
- Your brain can think of a few things all at the same time. Studies show that you can hold a maximum of three thoughts at once.
- However, you must ensure that when you unload your thoughts onto the checklist, you remember to do them.
[13:54] Build a Habit through Routines
- The more you practice your routine, the more it becomes a habit.
- When trying to create a habit, you need to make sure that it’s easy to do. The easier it is to do, the more likely you’ll do it.
- Creating habits can also free up brain space by decreasing thoughts on whether you want to do certain things.
- Sheela also recommends having identity-based goals to ensure that you continue your habit even after reaching specific goals.
- Anchor a new habit on something else you’re already doing.
[16:55] Set Yourself Up for Success
- When you need to tackle tasks you don’t like, make sure you do it when you have good energy.
- You can also create enticing actions around the new routine to make you more excited about it.
- The more you do this, the more you don’t even think about how you don’t like the task anymore.
‘Make sure that thing that you don’t really want to do, make sure you’re doing it a time when you’ve got good energy for it. Make sure you’ve got good things around you.’
- Make things automatic as much as possible.
[20:00] Don’t Underestimate Small Changes
- Create significant changes in your life with small changes every day. The minor steps will ensure you can follow through.
- Create a range of targets instead of just one goal. Sheela shares an example of having a lunch break at least three times a week, but the ideal number is 5.
- This will ensure that you don’t beat yourself up when you can’t meet your target goal.
[23:14] Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Routine?
- Remember that the things you choose to do are ingrained in what you want in life.
- Simple actions can lead to contentment and happiness.
- When we think our habits are not working towards our purpose or are becoming boring, then we just have to change them.
‘It’s also about being aware that if you choose to not follow your routine on a particular day, it’s about identifying what the consequences of that might be.’
[26:46] Time, Generosity, and Purpose
- The more you can clear your time and thoughts through habits, the more you can spend time on the things that are truly important.
‘By creating routines and habits, we are making things automatic, so we don’t need to think about it.’
- When you keep yourself too open to choices, you can become paralysed.
- Sheela shares that this is also why meal planning for weight loss is essential. This reduces choices and keeps people on the plan even when they’re stressed or in survival mode.
- Be kind to your future self and plan the best choices for them.
[32:34] Create Good Routines at Work
- Emails and notifications are common distractions at work.
- It takes around 23 minutes to get back to what you’re doing, so make sure you set up specific times to open these.
- Don’t tackle a challenging task when you don’t have the energy for it.
- Learn to identify your moods when doing specific tasks or shifting between tasks. This can help you set up a routine that maximises your energy.
‘It’s about identifying what you do best when you’re doing that so that you can map your routines. It might be that you shift a few things around, and you get the same work done in less time because you’re doing it at the times that work better for you.’
- Sheela also recommends doing creative tasks first thing in the morning.
[37:42] The How and Why Behind Tasks
- Whatever task you want to do, identify why you need or want to do it, then how you will do it.
- Knowing the rationale behind a task ensures that you’re on board with the idea.
- Working out the hows of a task helps you identify ways to make it easier.
[38:50] Sheela’s Personal Checklist
- Sheela shares her checklist for personal health, including exercise, sleep, right foods, water, meditation, and more.
- She also plans out her week and batches her tasks.
[40:46] Sheela’s Top 3 Tips
- Set boundaries around your new routine and stick to them.
- When it’s not working, ask for help.
‘If you aren’t following a routine and something is not quite going right, I would say ask for help. Ask for help.’
- Celebrate small wins and jive with your joy. Our brains automatically focus on negatives, so we need to learn to balance them with positives.
Sheela Hobden is the founder and executive coach of Bluegreen Coaching and the co-founder of Ellipsis Coach Development. She is also a coach at The Joyful Doctor and a Shapes Facilitator. Sheela specialises in coaching people who pay so much attention to others that they often forget about themselves. Her work is evidence-based, and she uses tools like Wraw.
Sheela is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation, earned a post-graduate certificate in Business & Personal Coaching, a Wraw Index Practitioner, and an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.
Interested in her work? Check out Bluegreen Coaching
You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and email
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Rachel Morris: Do you wish you have a system which would stop you forgetting to do things, or simply make it easier to do those difficult things which you plan to do, but at the time just seemed like too much effort? And do you worry that you spend far too much time and mental energy on trying to organise yourself, and wish that your good habits could just, well, become automatic?
This week, I’m joined by Sheela Hobden. She’s a master coach and specialist in wellbeing for doctors. We talk about the power of checklists and how one’s life could be said to be made up entirely of all the small actions that we take and habits that we persist in. Sometimes, we get frustrated with ourselves even though we set ourselves and worthy goals. When push comes to shove, the urgent stuff gets in the way, and we’re just too tired. Or, we simply forget to do the things that will get us to our goals. And Sheela gives us some great tips about how to work with your brain, rather than against it to routinise your day, which isn’t as scary or depressing as it sounds, but will actually free up your brain to be creative and think about much more interesting stuff.
So, listen if you want to find out more about the surprising power of checklists, how to make good habits stick even when you tried and failed in the past, and how giving yourself a range when it comes to setting goals and targets can reduce your guilt and turn failure into success.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm and have got used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to craft your working life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and love what we do again.
Thank you to so many people who’ve shared the podcast with friends and all the listeners who have emailed, giving me feedback. I always love to get emails from people telling me how the podcast has helped them. And I feel so grateful to all the amazing guests who have shared their time and their wisdom.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Is there a particular topic you’d like to see covered? Are there any guests you think we really need to get on? Or would you like to come on the podcast yourself if you’ve got something to share? Or an interesting take on how to beat burnout or work happier? You may also have some questions you’d like answering. If I can’t answer, then I’ll probably know someone who can. So, just get in touch with me at email@example.com.
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It’s fantastic to have with me back on the podcast, Sheela Hobden. Now Sheela is a professional certified coach. She’s got a background in HR, and learning and development, and she specialises in working with people who work hard with others. That’s a lot of our listeners here, I think so.
Sheela, it’s brilliant to have you back. You’re not just a coach, are you? You’re like an ‘Uber coach’.
Sheela Hobden: Elevated status. So yes, I am also a coach supervisor on the need to supervision at the job of doctor, and also I’m a mentor coach. So, supervision is keeping us safe and sane as coaches, and the mentor coaching is keeping us sharp. I also have a huge passion for wellbeing and resilience. I’ve set eight sessions… That I have my own program, the MIT for you. And I also… Shapes program for you.
Rachel: Yeah, so she was one of our very wonderful Shapes trainers. You’ve also been on the podcast before, haven’t you? Talking about rest I think it was.
Sheela: It was rest indeed. Yes.
Rachel: So, we’ve got Sheila back to share more of her wisdom. This time, you thought it’d be really important to talk about routine. Now, what makes you think it’s important to talk about routine right now?
Sheela: When we were talking about doing an episode, it was coming towards the end of the summer holidays. And so, we had that period of time off. Even if you’re working during that time, things change a little bit; the kids are off to school, or people are on holiday. So, things like meetings might not happen. So, things sort of shift to a bit.
And then come September and getting really into October, it starts to feel like actually, we need to sort of get this routine back and underway because we’ve got to fit everything in again. So, it felt like a good time to actually have a think about bringing routine back.
Rachel: I think over the summer, my routine went completely out the window and I went to a bit to the summer holidays going, ‘Lovely to be off, it’s lovely to have a break!’ But, we do just want to get back into the normal rhythm and frankly, I want the house back to myself. When everyone out of the house so I can get on with my own routines. Why is routine actually quite helpful for us? What is it about our brains that make us love routine?
Sheela: So, the brain loves certainty when it knows what it’s doing. It goes into what we kind of call competency mode. That’s when we can access the thinking parts of the brain, the rational parts so that we can make clear decisions. When we’re in that competency mode, when we are following a routine, when we’re doing something we know, we get into this state of… And I know that you talk about this quite a lot as well, how important is to help us get into this state of flow.
The research was done by a chap. Now, I’m going to attempt to pronounce his name – [inaudible]
Rachel: Haley Six said, Haley [inaudible].
Sheela: When we get into a state of flow, releases some really great chemicals into our brain and we start to feel more relaxed because we know the brain, it gets what it’s craving for in that thing of certainty. So, that’s where routine is really helpful.
Rachel: Okay. And is there any science linked to this?
Sheela: So, I love the model that David Rock has built; The SCARF model. SCARF stands for ‘Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness’. So, certainty stands out quite clearly there. ‘Autonomy’ – it’s about choices and being able to make responsible choices. If you’re doing something that you need to do, or you want to do, and you’re choosing to do that, then you’re meeting that ‘certainty’ state element of it.
The other interesting thing is that ‘status’ is about our relationship, meaning to other people or within social settings. Generally, we get into a routine because it’s something we want to do because of who we are. By doing that routine, it keeps us in that sort of status and having that meaning to other people in terms of who we are, in terms of serving them.
The model actually is designed as a leadership model to help people work out what other people might need in order to get through periods of change. Then, you think about when a change happens, our routine gets shifted a little bit, we start to feel uncomfortable. And this model looks at, according to each of those SCARF components. The brain will have a threat response or reward response that talks about putting these things in place will drive the reward response, which helps the brain feel settled.
Rachel: So you feel settled if you’re getting that reward. And also there’s something for me about, ‘If you’ve got a routine, it means you’re not going to forget things’.Anxiety that dropping a ball, and I guess the more you’re juggling, the better routine is. I’ve just done a course, actually. It’s the Michael Hyatt – Free to Focus course.
He’s got a book. I find really, really helpful that one of the bits was all about, he said, ‘You’ve got to now write down your morning routine, write down your evening routine’. So, I thought, ‘Right, okay. Get up, clean my teeth, put some moisturiser on, put my contact on… Why are we writing this down?’ And like, take a pill with that and take this and that. And even in the evening, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, I just do this every night, okay?’
Currently going on a slug and snail hunt in my garden because I’m trying to grow some flowers. Honestly, there are many slugs – slug and snail hunts, put the cats into the kitchen, get a hot water bottle, do my tea, get into bed, read for 20 minutes. And I thought, ‘This is such a waste of time because this is what I do anyway’.
Actually, in the last few days, having written it down, I’m like, I wrote it down and worked out how long it took. Actually, it takes about half an hour by the time I’ve got rid of all that snails. I was like, ‘Oh, okay! Next is it. Okay, this is..’ And it’s almost like, I feel much more ready, ‘I’m now doing this. I’m now doing this’. Then, I said, ‘Right. Well, I’m only going to read my book for 20 minutes’.
Normally, I can get really hooked for about an hour and then I haven’t put my light up. I’d say plan it, even though it’s what I was doing already. It’s just, I don’t know that it feels like there’s a mental load off my brain.
Sheela: Yeah. As you were talking, it’s brought to mind the book, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, where essentially that is the book that’s… If you’ve got a checklist for things, it gets it out of your mind, is on the paper, and you just got to follow that through. If I think about situations in my life where I’ve had to get things done, the checklist has been really, really vital. He’s talking about not just assuming what to do in any given situation.
But actually, if you’ve got all the stuff that you regularly don’t necessarily need to think about in a checklist, it means that your brain is freer to spot the incidental things because he’s coming from a surgeon’s perspective. If all of those things are ticked off, then there’s more capacity to spot things that may go wrong and catch them quicker because you’re not trying to remember the stuff you’ve got to do as a routine anyway.
Just a couple of examples from my side. So, I did Ironman in 2017. Yeah, I know it’s crazy. I got around, but I ran because I printed out… I made a training plan. And that training had every single thing I do each day in order to meet that need. It wasn’t just cycles or swims, it was making sure that I’d got the right sleep, making sure I’d got the right nutrition, making sure that I’d done all the stretching and all of those things.
Because to work full time and train for something like that, if it isn’t written down anywhere, it doesn’t happen. So, I think that point about writing down your routine… And also it helps you identify exactly how long it takes you to do those things, so you can make sure you plan stuff. And then that reduces the feeling of overwhelm when you think, ‘I’m not going to get all this stuff done’. So, combining the power of routine and writing it by doing that sounds brilliant.
Rachel: Yeah, there is something, isn’t there? About getting out your prefrontal cortex and talking about this in the Shapes, of course, don’t we? That… The prefrontal cortex can get very overwhelmed if the prefrontal cortex is your rational human thinking brain. You can literally only hold one thing there at once – just like the ram of a computer. And if you’re swapping between tasks a lot, then you’re having to put one into short term memory, get another one out.
I think the evidence is that maybe you can at maximum hold three things in your head at once, but not really anything more than that. If you can get it onto paper or a checklist, you don’t have to hold it there. But it’s there. I guess it does come with a caveat though, and I know that surgeons that I’ve spoken to have told me about this. Because Atul Gawande, he created the… Can’t remember it’s called – the surgical checklists that you go through the name is completely…
It’ll come back to me halfway through this podcast. But the problem is, if you take it for granted that it’s there, so it’s done, that can be really dangerous – ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve done that checklist, so it’s done’. And then, you actually haven’t worked through it. I found that with my daughter the other morning, so she’s just started a new school.
Let’s say she’s 11, that when she goes to her new secondary school, she has to remember to take her lanyard, her phone with her because she’s likely won’t remember. She has to remember her Chromebook, she has to remember her games kit if it’s games on that day. Sometimes she has a flute lesson. Sometimes she got to wear her blazer. So, there’s six things and we’ve actually also added… Remember your brain to that list as well.
As she was running out the door today, I was like, ‘Have you done the checklist?’ Because she’s a bit scattered. She’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, got it. Got it!’ To ‘Oh, you’re stupid checklist, man!’ But I called her back. I stood her in front of it and we went through it. And I was like, ‘Where’s your lanyard?’, ‘Oh, it’s in my bedroom’. Up she goes to get it. So, she was just like, ‘No, I’ve done the checklist!’ And like she actually hadn’t done the checklist. The power of checklist.
If you use them, don’t lean it. It’s also getting a system of storing it as well. We sort of digress a bit, don’t we? Routine, checklist, all important. Now, that’s all very well and good. But there’s something about making these things automatic and turning them into a habit, isn’t there? How does habit and routine linked together?
Sheela: I think the work that I really like around this is James Clear. He’s written a book called Atomic Habits. And he’s also got a newsletter, actually. It’s really, really quick and simple. Because once you make something a routine, it does become a habit, and it starts to become something that you don’t think about doing.
For example, if you want to do exercise first thing in the morning, and you set that up as your routine, you can put other things in place that help it happen. So, you can get your kit out the night before, you can decide what type of exercise it is that you’re going to do and have every single thing ready. Because the easier it is for you to do, the more likely it is that you’re going to do it.
Once you’ve got that routine into a habit, you don’t even really think about, ‘Do I want to do this?’ Or ‘I don’t want to do this!’ Because your body just knows and it likes that certainty and knows what’s going to happen next. It just gets on with it without even really thinking. Again, because you’re not thinking about and toying with, ‘Should I do it, I don’t really feel like it!’
You’re freeing up more space again for that brain to do the thinking that you want it to do, rather than wasting it on thoughts about whether or not you want to do it. I think what really stood out to me when I read that book was he talks about outcome-based goals and identity-based goals. For example… I keep using sports quite a bit. But if you set a goal that says, ‘I want to run the London Marathon!’
That’s just recently gone, a lot of people would do that. And what a lot of people find is that if they set a goal to run the London Marathon, they run the London Marathon, and they never run again. Or they might, but several months later. If you set a goal that says ‘I want to be a runner’, and as part of that you want to run a marathon, you’re more likely to continue to be a runner. And so you run every day because you are a runner.
When you are working towards a goal, you’re a slave to the plan to get to that point in time, and then you kind of want to spin it. So, there’s some real value in having identity-based goals. I like intentions actually, rather than goals because goals seem to be sort of hit or miss, whereas an intention is ‘This is how I would like to be. This is what I’m going to aim for’.
The other really great tip that James had in his book, if you want to start a new habit, if you want to get a new routine, it’s really good to anchor it to something else. For example, you’re talking about your evening… Your morning routine is like, ‘I brush my teeth’. If there was something else you wanted to do in the morning, like have a mindful minute or something, because what I’m going to do in my mind four minute straight after I brush my teeth.
Because you brush your teeth every day. You don’t think about that, so you just hook it onto something else that you’re already doing, and that is really powerful, as well. If we bring it into a work setting, and if you wanted to sort of work towards this intention of like being an organised person, you might make a routine that says, ‘On a Wednesday morning, I’m going to do all those invoices that I need to process’ or ‘I’m going to manage all of it, I’m going to work through my plates at that particular time.
Set yourself up for success as well. So, make sure of that thing that you don’t really want to do, make sure you’re doing it at a time when you’ve got good energy for it. Make sure you’ve got good things around you. If it’s having a nice coffee, if it’s having a quick walk, before you do it, just make sure that you’re set up for success in whatever that routine is.
By saying, ‘Alright, I’m going to do like horrible job that I don’t really want to do but I’m going to make sure that I’ve got my nice coffee and have a walk before or I have a walk afterwards’, so that it’s all everything set up around it is enticing for you to actually do it. Once you’ve got that into a routine, you’ll start getting up on a Wednesday morning and not even thinking about it, you’ll just head into it. And then the job’s done before we even thought about it, which is brilliant for things that you’re not really that favourable for at all.
Rachel: I love that! That combines two concepts really this whole making it enticing. Few weeks ago, we had Anna Dearmon Kornick on. She’s a time management coach, and she has some really good tips for people about how to manage their admin time. When we talk about productivity and time management, particularly for professionals that are delivering a service as a day job.
So, say a GP doing a surgery, it can be quite difficult because you think, ‘ Well, I’ll be holding the patients’. When they come in, you still have a bit of admin time that you need to organise. And she was talking about creating a routine for your admin time. So, whenever you sit down to do admin, you know that, ‘This is what I do first, and then I do this, and then I do this, and then I do this’. So, you don’t have to think about, ‘Oh, got these things.
First, you’re gonna check your results, then you’re going to do your referral letters, then you’re going to do your patient tasks and then, you’re going to do something else. Or, with what you said, when you’ve got the energy do those really big things that you’ve been putting off like that insurance report or something like that. Do that. Do that first.
But I love what you said about ‘Make it enticing.’ Even better if I know that, when I sit down to my admin I’m going to make myself a really nice coffee and maybe have something that I really like to eat. That suddenly then ties that thing that I don’t like doing, make it easy by having routine but then you’ve got this reward while she’s doing it. Then that… if I had a really nice piece of cake every time I had to see my invoices, that would be good.
Get really massive. Something healthy. Something healthy that you want to do that I think it just clears your brain. Making stuff automatic like Michael Hyatt says, ‘If you can make things as automatic as possible, then it’s important’. I guess… But the stuff around habits. So you’ve got the Atomic Habits, you’ve also got the Tiny Habits book as well, which is really helpful. It’s about making big changes in your life, but one tiny habit at a time.
Sheela: Yeah, it’s that thing. If you change course by 1%, each day that you carry on that 1% if you think that you change it on a compass. If you carry on on that 1%, you will still make progress overall. It doesn’t have to be big. It can use… Whenever I’m working with anyone, and they’re looking at making changes, we might get to the end of a coaching session on someone say, ‘Right, well, I’m going to walk now, seven days a week, and I’m going to start going to the gym three times a week, and I’m also just going to completely overhaul my diet’.
You kind of said, ‘Right, let’s just scale back on this and think how realistic is it that all of these things are going to happen?’ Because if you don’t do that seven days, then you’re going to potentially start beating yourself up about that. The other things are going to go out because you’re so actually… What’s the smallest step that you can make towards this thing that you want to do differently? That will lead to the biggest stuff because you’ll feel the success sooner.
It’s the same with when I’m doing workplace coaching, and people are getting really frustrated about the way that things are happening and just wanting to completely sort of withdraw from it all. It’s about thinking, ‘Well, Where are my easiest wins? And what can I shift that I can do regularly build into my routine that’s going to help me feel better about the work that I’m doing and the people that I’m serving.
It might just be rather than, ‘I’m gonna have an hour-long lunch break every day’, it might be ‘I’m gonna have a five-minute coffee break where I leave my desk and I go and talk to somebody’. That’s a good way of starting, isn’t it? And building up from there… Ranges are really…And I realised we’re on a slightly off-topic again.
Rachel: I love going off piece on You Are Not A Frog. It’s fine.
Sheela: Something really useful when you’re trying to make a change is having a range to work between. So, okay, I’m going to take a lunch break at least three times this week. My ideal is going to be five. If I come in somewhere in the middle, that’s good. It is a three, four or five, that’s still that’s good, rather than saying, ‘I’m going to do five’ because when you don’t meet it, he just comes back down again. So, ranges are really good for that.
Rachel: I love that idea. I’ve had a really, really busy week this week. I normally like to exercise every day. But actually, I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve had such a failure of a week for exercise’ and then let’s actually, ‘No, I will have done it three times this week’. Actually, my minimum is three. So actually, no. That’s all right, that has been a success. Actually, it’s much more motivating to then actually go and do it. And I always say with that, you’ve always done better than the person who’s still laying on the couch.
Sheela: I’ve often done better than my cat. My cat gets two to three every night. They’re very naughty.
Rachel: Yeah. So, I get this routine thing. I get this habit thing. Some people like me really crave novelty and new things. If we are doing the same thing, if we have got all these routines, is there a danger that we over-routinise our lives and it just gets really monotonous and boring?
Sheela: My view on this… Because I’m the same actually. If you look at the Myers Briggs profile, I come out as a ‘J’. I like to have the same… I like to have that… I want to be able to choose what I’m doing because I don’t like being undecided. But I think I’ve become so routineised over the way that I work – because Myers Briggs is normally done in a workplace setting, that’s how it comes out because I’m still in that like…
But what I also noticed is when I get to the weekend, if I don’t have a plan, then I get really edgy because I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself and I’m worried that I’m going to waste day. I think I know I do need a planner. I do need a plan. I’m constantly swinging between the two.
But the most interesting piece of research that I have come across is the work of Viktor Frankl in his word, in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning. If you haven’t heard of Viktor, I’m pretty sure you have listeners, in case they haven’t. He was a psychiatrist, Austrian psychiatrist in the German concentration camp as a prisoner. And he wrote his memoirs about what he learned about the people that were going to…
He would be able to predict essentially, if some of those prisoners were going to survive or not. What he said is that, ‘It’s what we’re doing at any given moment in time that’s important because overall, what we’re doing in that one moment stacks up to become who we are as a person, and it links up to our bigger, wider purpose’. And I think that’s really, really helpful because I think for a lot of people, when you say to them, ‘What’s your purpose?’
They feel like you’ve got to have this grand plan, this grand gesture, this world changing purpose. Actually, your purpose is just to be a contented, happy, healthy person. Then actually, those things that you’re doing on a day to day basis – like brushing your teeth, keeping your teeth healthy, drinking plenty of water, getting to bed, getting to sleep. All of those little things, adding up to you as the whole person that you want to be.
That’s where I think that the routine sort of doesn’t get boring, because it’s who you are. If you want to be someone different, then you change some of those routines. And that’s what we’re talking about, those small steps. Equally, within that routine, you can still have a chunk of time that you say, in your routine, ‘On a Saturday, I have a couple of hours, and I choose what I want to do in that. I don’t have to choose now’. And then, you can bring your joy or your play, and your, ‘ I’ll choose then what I want to do’, but it’s still built into your routine.
And it’s also about being aware that, if you choose to not follow your routine on a particular day, it’s about identifying what the consequences of that might be. To skip your lunch might mean that you don’t actually… You’re not as productive as you want to be in the afternoon. If you skip that walk, you might not be as physically fit as you want to be.
It’s just about thinking, weighing up, ‘Is this other thing I want to do instead of my routine?’ I want to skip the lunch with friends because I want to go for a run. So, that’s going to tick your healthy box, but it might not tick your social box. And it’s just about weighing it up and deciding how important those things are to you, I think.
Rachel: Absolutely. I just love that concept that actually, what you do in life is built up of those tiny moments, and it’s built up of those habits they’ve made. I think even if you do have this sort of grand purpose in life of building an orphanage, actually you can’t get to do that unless you’ve got some time to do it. And I get very, very struck recently about the link between time and generosity because for me, I think giving is really, really important.
But the busier I get, the less able I am to give because I don’t have time to even think about it, or do it, or give in terms of time, or volunteering. If by creating routines and habits, we are making things automatic, so we don’t need to think about it, it will then actually clear space in our diaries, but also in our brains to then, do those things that are really, really important to us.
Because I’m sure even the Nobel Prize winners need to keep themselves fit and healthy, and they need to brush their teeth, right? Their teeth will fall out and they’ll spend all the time at the dentist and then they won’t be able to get on with that job of saving humanity, will they? So, we all have to do it. And it’s… For me, I guess it’s about choice. So, I’m the opposite to you. You may have guessed that from working with me Sheela.
Our Myers Briggs P – I like to keep my options open, I often do things last minute, I’d sort of… I don’t like getting bogged down to one swan decision or one way I’m going to spend my time. Sometimes, when you live like that, you then got too many choices and it’s really hard to decide what you’re going to do at any given time, and that can become quite paralysing.
I remember – just a silly example in our last house when we wanted to make some internal changes and make it… Having gone from having tiny toddlers to having to do older kids. We need to remodel the house a bit. Someone recommended an interior designer who could look at stuff like that.
I tell you, she was worth every penny because instead of going to the shop and having to choose between 100 different lights, what happened was she worked out what I liked and then she gave me two choices. She’s given, ‘I found these and these. Which ones do like?’ ‘That one!’ ‘Brilliant!’ And we do it and it all looked great right. That choice fatigue that we have, and that’s why we can feel so anxious.
If you’re going to the supermarket, you just want a tin of tomatoes and there’s 20 different types – well, actually, there’s not any… We were talking in the field shortage, HTV shortage post-Brexit. There’s probably only two types left. When there are 20 types you’ve got to choose from it’s like, ‘How on earth I choose?’ And I guess that’s what routines are. If I get to a Saturday afternoon and know that actually I’m going to play tennis every Saturday afternoon.
I’ve planted, ‘Oh, gosh! The choice is gone’. It’s just a lot easier. I can always choose not to do it and go and do something else. I think just the less options we give ourselves, so we’ve got to choose between stuff we don’t really know what we want to do, the better. That can just take the mental load off, really.
Sheela: Yeah, I think it’s… If you apply it to things like when people are trying to lose weight as well, generally what happens with that is you do a meal plan for the week, and you get all your food, you get it all ready, so that the choice is gone. You go to the fridge and you eat the thing that you plan to eat. It does come to when there’s too many options, we get over excited by the option that we’re not supposed to have, because we’re always, you know, breaking the rules.
It does, it takes it away. It takes away the need to go to that process. And so it freeze our brain capacity again.
Rachel: Yeah, and it tells me that you’re making that hard decision when you have got the willpower there. Like you said, if you’re preparing your snacks in advance, you’re preparing them, maybe in the morning, where you just had your breakfast. You’re not hungry, put your snacks in there, in the fridge. When you take it to work with you. So, when you’re really starving.
This was so true for me when you know, after surgery, you’re absolutely starving, you got another two hours of work to do. Go into the kitchen, if someone has bought in a cake. There is no way on this earth that I’m walking past that cake.
Sheela: Yeah, because in my car workshop, I say, if you’ve finished one of your GP sessions really, really late, and you’re on your way back, and you need to get some fuel, and you go to the fuel station, and the diesels there, your car’s petrol, the diesels there, you can’t find the petrol and you’re like, I’m too tired, I’m too tired to find the petrol, I’m just gonna stick some diesel in, it’d be fine. Like, we all know that diesel does not work in a petrol engine, and we just would not do it.
But yeah, we’re quite happy to burn the cake into your body and then expect to still be able to fall in the same. And so it’s like, why don’t we search a little bit further, for the thing that we know is going to help us. And so then yeah, if we’ve routinised if that’s made it work we’re gonna have, then we get there isn’t a choice, we just we take that thing, because that’s the thing that we’ve planned.
I think that comes back to if we do our planning, when we’re in our like competency mode, and we’re thinking rationally, thinking clearly thinking about what we want to eat. It means that when we’re in survival mode, so you’ve just finished that surgery is really stressful. The decision isn’t there. So you just take what, what is there? So if you’re doing you’re planning for your future self, by making a routine out of things.
Rachel: Yeah, it’s about being kind to your future self. Yeah, then that surgery, I know, I’m going to want cake. Actually, wouldn’t it be better to have some carrot sticks and some hummus in the fridge? So I can just grab it and, and go and drink it? So I mean, we’ve talked about food and weight loss and stuff like that. But what else can we do to help with work? How else can routine help with work?
What other ideas have you got that people can use routine to just ease the burden a bit at work?
Sheela: I think one of the biggest killers is email, because we open our inbox, and it sits open in the background. And I mean, personally, I’ve turned all notifications off. And actually, I don’t turn it on until I’ve done at least one job. But what happens is you’re trying to work away, and then an email pops up, you go to look at that and you get distracted by something else. By the time you’ve realised you’ve been distracted, you forgot what you actually do.
I think it’s like something like 23 minutes to get back to what it was that you were doing. So in terms of a routine, if you can create a routine that says, Yeah, I open my emails at a certain time. And then I close it again. But imagine actually closing Outlook, and then doing a job and then opening it. So you’ve got specific times that you open and look at your emails. And another one that we talk about in the Shapes workshop is doing your best work at your bedtime.
Making sure that you’re not trying to do a task that you really, really hate when you’ve just really got zero energy for it. Or if you get your most creative ideas first thing in the morning, then do the ideas work first thing in the morning. So from what we’re tracking over a week, what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and how much energy you’ve got, how much energy you’ve got, like at the start of it, at the finish of it.
A tool that I often recommend people to use called the Mood Meter is an app by Mark Brackett and you can track what mood you’re in. And then it’ll ask you about the situation that you’re in, whether it’s work or home, what’s going on. And then it comes up this button saying Do you want to stay in this mood? Or do you want to shift and I think that shift button is just so powerful, because the physical thing of realising actually I’m in control of how I’m feeling here.
So I can, I’m going to choose to shift out of that lead, or I’m going to choose to stay in it because yeah, this is great.
Rachel: What happens when you press the Shift button?
Sheela: It just comes up with some ideas and says try this. Try this. Readiness and take. So it summarises that and to show you how much on average You’re spending in each of the quadrants: high pleasantness; there’s low pleasantness, high energy, low energy. So it’s really useful. Have you been using it recently as well with people who are thinking about things like, ‘What do I want to do in my career?’
‘Actually, what do I want to do in my next role?’ I use the me mood meter, because if you set an alarm to tell you to go on to it, at certain points during the day, you can track what tasks are generating what mood in you, and then it just builds you a picture of.. ‘Yeah, actually, I want to do more of this, or I want to do less of this, because I’m always feeling really angry and anxious when I’m doing.’
So think, again, I’ve gone off tangent a little bit, but it’s about identifying what you do best when you’re doing that, so that you can map your routines. And it might be that you shift a few things around, and you get the same work done in less time, because you’re doing it at the times that work better for you.
Rachel: Yeah, that makes total sense and that’s something I really have put into my routine. I mean, obviously, it’s difficult if you’ve got a load of patients, you’ve got to see at 8 AM. But if you do have a bit of a break, when your computer goes on, first thing, do, I guess I’d say, do your hardest work at the best time. But I’ve really gotten to habit. I’ve got into the routine of sitting down, doing a sort of prayer meditation app, and then using a journal, which is really helpful.
It actually tells you what to do. It’s called The 6-Minutes Success Journal. There’s a bit of gratitude in there, there’s a bit of prioritising in there, there’s a bit of habit tracking in there. It’s really good. And then I will often prepare presentations, workshops – things like that be the first thing I do before I check email before I do anything else.
When I’m doing that, in the morning, when I’m fresh, I’m really loving it. I’m thinking, ‘This is fantastic. I’m getting creative, getting ideas, it’s much better!’ If I’m doing it at the end of the day, when I’m a bit time-limited. It’s just something I’ve got to do because the deadline is coming up, it feels like a total chore and it’s probably not as good. It’s really interesting, the way that work just changes depending on what your energy is for it.
Sheela: Yeah, I think you’re right. Similar to that… If I’ve got anything creative to do, I’m much better doing that first thing in the morning. I think because your brain is fresh, you’ve just had your sleep, you’re rejuvenated. So, it’s a great time to do.. And like you say, it’s really good to do that before we start the other more routine stuff, but there’s easier to think about.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah. So we just talked about routinising. I’m going to use that or adjective? Which is the word I’m going to use now? What else have you got in terms of routinising things that…
Sheela: I think, thinking about the why and the how of it? So whatever task it is you want to do? It’s thinking about why you’re doing it? Or what are the reasons that you’re doing it for, and also how you’re going to do it. And then essentially, you’re getting emotionally and physically attached to this routine.
Because sometimes when there’s something that you just have to do, if you haven’t actually made sense of the rationale behind the read that you know why you need to do it, you haven’t really bought into it. And then also the how, how are you going to do it, because if there are different ways to do it, and some ways are easier than others, or some you feel more comfortable with than others, once you marry those two things up.
So this is the reason I need to do it. And this is how I’m going to do it to make the most efficient for me, those two things start to like hanging together and you’re more attached to it. I think that that makes sense. So in a minute, I’m gonna ask you for your three top tips, because we’re nearly out of time. But is there anything in terms of routine that particularly works for you?
I think the key thing is when I was putting two things, I checklists, so for my personal health, as you know, recently, I was knocked off my bike by a car has suffered quite significant concussion over many months. And I looked at all the right foods to eat. And I had some exercise from the physio and I needed to. I actually had to physically go and get into bed and go to sleep. And I made just a little tick sheet.
I’m still doing it now. So I took it to say that each time I’ve had a bottle of water, I ticket, I’ve done my meditation, I ticket to say I’ve had a little walk to say about my rest and then all all my foods and you can look at it and it just means that I know that I’m doing the right things to help me recover. But also when I go to take something so I’ll go to take the water and I go oh, I haven’t had my vitamins today so I’ll take those now.
So that goes back to the checklist then reminds you and that that was a follow on from when I had timeout from burnout and I was getting myself better. I knew the things I needed to do so I had the tick sheet then. And as I said, the Iron Man the training, so it’s just taking the, because you, you feel a sense of achievement when you’re getting everything ticked off as well. So it helps, you don’t have to remember what you need to do in your head.
They remind you of other things that you need to do, and it clears you, you don’t have to just carry it around with you. And you get that sense of achievement. So I think there’s a whole chunk stuff there. And then for the word perspective, I would say that it’s planning out the the week and chunking things up. So essentially batching, so that I’m only processing my invoices on a, like a Monday afternoon.
Then, I’ll do my follow up calls with people on a Wednesday afternoon. And so chunking things up, so I know what I’m doing on what day can be really helpful.
Rachel: Great. That’s really, really helpful, Sheela. If you have quick three top tips to share with people around routine and habits and all that.
Sheela: I think it would be, once you’ve set your routine, set your boundaries around it, and stick to them. If you are following a routine and something’s not quite going right, I would say ask for help. Ask for help if you can before you need it. This goes wider than just routine, really. It’s more about how you are in the workplace.
Whenever I speak to anyone who’s had any difficulties with their mental wellness, the thing everybody says is, ‘I wish I’d put my hand up sooner and asked for help’. I think the same. I soldiered on thinking, ‘I don’t want people to think I’m weak’. That would be my another tip there.
Then the other one, I’ll finally add, and I’ve been using this phrase recently is, ‘Jive with your joy as much as you ruminate on your rubbish’. Because the brain is automatically going to the negative so frequently. We have to do more of the joy to balance it out. We get a win, we just don’t celebrate enough. So, jive with your joy. Don’t ruin it on your rubbish.
Rachel: Love that love that she did. That’s fantastic. Oh, well, thank you so much that that’s been really helpful. I’m going off to try and routinise my life now. I like it. I like it. So if people want to contact you, how can they contact you?
Sheela: So, bluegreencoaching.com. I’m also on LinkedIn. So you can email me directly. I think we’ll add it into the show notes. Sheela@bluegrencoaching.com. But yeah, LinkedIn, Twitter, all the social channels. That’s me.
Rachel: Lots of stuff, yeah. Sheela’s one of our Shapes trainers. I think you’ve been doing quite a lot of work with induction programs into primary care recently, haven’t you? New roles in primary care. What’s that been about?
Sheela: Yeah, it’s been actually really, really great workshops. People coming into primary care who were into these new roles. When we talked about the SCARF motto, we talked about this in the workshop. Because when you come into a completely new role that nobody’s ever done before, that is a complete change. There’s so much uncertainty, and you don’t always have the choice because you don’t really know what the choices are yet.
We’ve been running this, it’s a two-hour workshop. And we work through some of the Shapes. But what people are finding is that, it normalises how they’re feeling, and actually recognising… It’s a normal, natural human state to feel that discomfort when we’re in periods of high change. And so, we use breakout rooms to discuss the different shapes.
But people are coming away saying they feel more like they’ve got more options in terms of how they can get in control. And yeah, those workshops have just been… The people that have been coming along who have been social prescribers, the pads, health and wellbeing coaches, that the care coordinators as a whole – all these new roles. And people are finding it really, really useful.
So it’s always a joy to do this stuff because when I left my sort of corporate role, and as I said, I want to help people help themselves, so they don’t get into difficult situations at work to be able to do it for people, it just really makes me smile.
Rachel: Yeah, so it’s a fantastic session. I think you’ve had physios, and paramedics, and nurses haven’t you? They all…
Sheela: I knew I’ve missed someone off this.
Rachel: Well, there’s so many roles around, aren’t there? And you know, I think we really need to be supporting these people because it’s not easy just to go into a new practice and integrate. You need to be pretty proactive about stuff and pretty… Resilience, I think so? So, if anyone’s interested in any of these workshops in their area, then do get in contact with us, and we’d love to come out and do that for you.
So anyway, a quick bit about what you’ve been doing. That’s fantastic! I have to get you back because there’s so much more I want to talk to you about.
Thank you so much for being here and have a good rest of the day.
Sheela: Thank you, and you! Bye.
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Connect with Sheela: Bluegreen Coaching I Facebook I Twitter I Youtube I LinkedIn I Email
You’re Not a Frog Podcast Episode 45: Rest. The Final Frontier with Sheela Hobden
Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
You can also check out Michael Hyatt’s free course here!
Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg PhD
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
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