Ritual is such a nice word, isn’t it? There’s something really comforting about the idea of observing a ritual that sets the pace for your day. The word ritual calls to mind something deliberate and calming – maybe there are nicely-scented candles involved. I think of my rituals as things that I choose to do for myself – like taking a bath every Friday night to melt away the stress from the previous week. If habits are involuntary behaviors, then rituals are the things you intentionally do for yourself or others. Pretty lovely, right?
The other thing I like about rituals is that they have a positive association. You can have bad habits, but you can’t really follow a bad ritual. Think about the habits you follow throughout the day. How many of them make you feel good about yourself and the world you’re helping to create? How many times do you finish doing a routine, mundane task feeling uplifted? This is where the differentiation between ritual and habit takes place for me. Habits are prosaic and often peppered throughout my day, while rituals are an intentional break from my normal routine.
Here’s an example: about a year ago, I got into the bad habit (there’s that word again) of taking to heart a lot of the negativity that I faced throughout the day. The people I was around seemed stressed and angry, and I became stressed and angry right alongside them. It’s so easy (effortless, actually) to internalize stress and make yourself miserable. It wasn’t until I hit a wall and my anxiety started affecting my work that I realized I needed to make some changes. I did some research, and slowly began cultivating a few rituals to help alleviate some of the stress I was feeling and regain some control over my process.
In the following year, Sebastian and have rethought and redone our usual routines to include some happiness-sparking rituals, and let me tell you, the difference has been palpable. Though stress still comes and goes, overall we’re much happier and better able to weather whatever storms (literal or metaphorical) that are thrown our way. Here’s how we created these meaningful rituals, and five that really worked for us.
How To Create Meaningful Rituals
- Figure out when you’re most likely to be stressed. This is where Bullet Journal can come in super handy. Take a look at your past week and see if you can identify the points or tasks that made you anxious. For me, the stressful points occurred mostly in the afternoon before the end of the workday. This information helps you pinpoint where in your day you’d most benefit from taking a pause.
- Identify what triggers your stress. Maybe you’re spending too many unbroken hours behind a desk, and its unconsciously driving you crazy. Or, maybe criticism from clients or coworkers is getting to your head. See if you can pick out a common denominator between stress points – doing so can help you proactively manage your stress and rituals.
- Control for external factors. Certain times of day are better suited for rituals than others. Mornings and evenings tend to be the most effective for me – morning rituals allow me to set a positive tone for my day, whereas nighttime routines help me wind down more easily. Figure out when it makes the most sense to put the breaks on your day, and try to plan your rituals around there.
And here are 5 rituals that have worked for us:
This one actually comes from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (best. podcast. ever). Here’s something amazing : research shows that people who practice active gratitude “get a boost in happiness and optimism, feel more connected to other people, are better-liked and have more friends, are more likely to help others—they even sleep better and have fewer headaches.” (The Happiness Project). Holy cow, how awesome is that? Better still, gratitude is actually one of the easiest rituals to infuse into your daily life. Try this the next time you’re entering your home – take a moment, as you’re putting away your keys or setting down your bag, to think about all the great things you have going for you. If you have trouble focusing on the positive, try locating just one thing for which to be grateful, and turn that thought over in your mind for a few minutes. Gratitude allows you to see the silver linings, even when you’re going through a stressful period, and will help you overcome whatever negativity may be swirling around in your head.
Reading has entirely transformed my nighttime routine. A year ago, I would spend hours tooling around on the Internet on my phone, and my sleep quality was nowhere near where it should have been. These days, Sebastian and I take 15-20 minutes to read in bed before sleeping. Not only have I rediscovered my love of reading (which has turbocharged my happiness levels), I sleep longer and more deeply because I’m not staring at a bright little screen until the early hours of the morning. It’s a small change that has had a HUGE impact.
Don’t underestimate the power of endorphins. Exercise is maybe one of the best rituals to adopt this year, especially those that actively encourage mindfulness. Next time you’re feeling strung out, try taking a 20 minute walk without your phone. Get outside and let yourself take stock of your surroundings. Or, if you’re not a huge fan of fresh air, maybe take 10 minutes and do some yoga. True life, exercise is maybe the quickest fix for stress, and is a very worthwhile ritual to adopt.
4. Treat Yo’ Self
How about a little positive reinforcement? One of my favorite rituals these days is taking a bath every Friday night. I run some hot water, throw in a bath melt, maybe light a candle, and for the next 30 minutes life is good. Treat yourself to a massage or fancy cup of coffee periodically – I promise, you’ll feel much better for it.
At least once a week, Sebastian and I cook dinner and eat it together, without our phones or the TV on. Similarly, S has a reminder on his phone to reach out to friends and mentors once every month to reconnect. These moments are cathartic – we get to enjoy a home-cooked meal and really connect, and Sebastian gets to hear from friends with whom he may have lost touch. Take a couple of minutes to connect with someone you love – whether it’s the first few minutes snuggling in bed after you’ve just woken up, or a few minutes over drinks when you talk about your day, ritualized connection makes you feel more in touch with yourself and the people you care about.
What rituals do you practice? I’m always looking for something new to try – let me know in the comments!!