The Evening Routine

Two words…evening and routine. For the majority of my clients it is these two words that signify the most difficult time of day.

We all wake up with the best intentions.  The day starts off strong with a quality breakfast and then a decent lunch. We wrangle kids, work our jobs, consume water and high quality foods in modest proportions. We stay mindful and connected with our bodies through the early hours of the day.

And then the evening hours strike…and all bets are off.

For many, opening that refrigerator to start dinner marks the cue for the evening routine to begin.  And that cue – starting dinner – means it’s time for wine!

Hooray! It’s the end of the day! It’s time to reward ourselves!

We made it through another long day. We are tired and we want our adult time.  We need an escape. We need to relax. We need immediate gratification. We need our wine (we reason within moderation…after all we are not alcoholics).

Cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc…we each have a favorite and we do not deviate.

The glass of wine marks the beginning of the evening routine.  For many of us, popping that bottle of wine has become an automatic habit. And often one glass turns into two. And therein lies the problem…

That second glass of wine sets us up for the downward spiral.

With fewer inhibitions we throw in the towel.

We reach for the salty foods. Or the chocolate. We lie exhausted in front of the television and watch crappy reality TV. This entire evening routine erodes our life balance and, of course, sabotages our efforts to prioritize our health and well-being earlier in the day.

What to do?

It’s time to revamp your evening routine. Don’t believe you can do it? I believe you can. Try this two-prong approach:

1. Recognize that the evening routine is an AUTOMATIC habit.

Most kids – out of habit – drink milk with their dinner. Lots of adults drink wine. Recognizing that this habit is automatic takes some of the burden off of you.  It frees you to reframe your thoughts about the evening. You are not weak. This is not about willpower. If you have been drinking wine in the evening for 10+ years it’s a tough habit to break! But know that habits can be changed.

Habits are driven by a cue, a craving and a reward. In this case, the cue to drink wine is often dinner. We open the refrigerator or the pantry door. We lay our ingredients on the counter. We pull the knife to begin chopping vegetables. All of these are cues for the start of the evening routine and that is the symbolic time to open the wine. Before we even open the wine we crave it. We crave the taste. We crave holding the wine glass. We crave the softness we feel after a few sips. But the consumption of the wine is not the reward. The “true” reward is the escape, our adult time, taking the edge off, or immediate gratification.

The key to changing the habit is to find new behavior that gives you the same reward. What type of action can you take other than drinking the glass of wine that gives you the same reward? If the reward is about treating ourselves for all the hard work of the day then why would we do something that routinely turns into a pattern that does not serve us?

How about fixing some sparkling water with a lemon or lime in a pretty glass? Or buying yourself a fruit infuser and drinking some fruit infused water? Or drinking an ice-cold glass of sun-drenched iced tea? None of these speaking to you? Then sit down and brainstorm ideas of replacement behaviors for your habitual glass of wine.

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting doing away with all wine! No way! Wine is delicious. It’s fun to share a glass of wine with friends. It can be a pleasurable part of life. But drinking it every evening as an automatic habit means that you probably are not even tasting it! So when you do decide to have a glass of wine make it truly special! Savor a terrific tasting glass on your deck with the sun shining down upon you. Make that occasional glass of wine sensational and enjoy it!

2. Notice the thoughts that drive the habit.

It’s important to connect to the thoughts that drive your evening routine. By connecting to those thoughts and getting clear on them we can have a better understanding of what is driving our behavior.

Most of us race into the evening hours after barely breathing throughout the day. We are tired, worn out and ready to turn off.  The most common thought about the evening routine among my clients is: “I deserve a treat”. This thought drives a host of behaviors that does not give us the results we are looking for.

Rather, for most of us, the end result is guilt. We feel guilty because we sabotaged all of our good intentions earlier in the day.  We end the evening feeling dissatisfied – and this is not a treat at all!

In order for this cycle to end we need to decide what we want the result to be. Many of us would like to feel peaceful and balanced as we drift off to sleep. Chances are we are not going to get there after consuming wine, salty food and crappy TV.

Recognizing that we choose our thoughts will go a long way in improving the entire evening routine. Instead of thinking “I deserve a treat.” and watching how that plays out in a way that does not serve us how about we think a thought that might get us to where we want to be?

Thoughts that might be better? How about: “The evening is about slowing down.” Or “I am surrendering to the chaos!” or “This is how it’s all meant to be” or “It’s what it is.”

Now it’s your turn. Brainstorm some thoughts that might generate some better feelings in you and ultimately bring out better self-care behavior. And watch as your evening routine morphs into time that brings out the best in you.

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