“Developing a morning or evening ritual, or both, is key to our mental health.”
Last week in this space, I looked at the idea of ritual. There are many different kinds of rituals– small daily ones, larger annual ones. Rituals can bring us comfort and nostalgia. They have been scientifically proven to relieve stress and anxiety. Rituals help us process grief and express emotion.
Rituals also set us up for success. Today, I’d like to look at the idea of the importance of daily rituals. You may have rituals you do not even know you have! Both in the home and the workplace, implementing rituals can set you up for a more productive, happier day.
Studies have shown that athletes who perform some sort of ritual–even one that is superstitious or seems unattached to the sport or action they are about to perform–tend to perform better. Part of this is related to the tension-reducing effect of rituals that we looked at last week. Because our brain is always working, if we can engage in a habitual ritual, it allows the brain time to “rest” as it engages in something it knows well.
If we cultivate daily routines, we free our brain to concentrate on other aspects of our day that might not be as predictable. If we have rituals to begin our day, we save our brain to deal with the meeting at work we didn’t know we had; the tantrum our child throws in the middle of the grocery store; the broken dishwasher; the new client we’re meeting for the first time.
The Groundedness of Consistency
Beginning or ending our day with rituals allow us a feeling of accomplishment and control even if our day or entire life is anything but calm. Very often, we abandon our rituals exactly when we need them most: during major life changes or times of stress and uncertainty. Sometimes, this is because we were keeping rituals we did not even know we had. We didn’t realize the importance of these seemingly-minor acts to our overall wellbeing. When life gets stressful, we eliminate what seems unnecessary. Those morning or evening rituals grounded us, and without them a stressful life unmoors us even more.
Developing a morning or evening ritual, or both, is key to our mental health.
You may be tempted to protest that you can’t set up rituals because your life is too full. Who has time in the morning for rituals? You have kids that need fed and dressed or a long commute. Your mornings are filled with activities and people that need you.
If this is the case, you need rituals even more! It’s not the amount of time that makes a ritual a ritual. Some can pray for 30 minutes every morning, and some can pray for five. You set your morning ritual to fit your life. The person who is busy can eliminate some of the anxiety by embracing the consistency of ritual in the small areas where it is possible.
How to Start
To begin, look at what you do consistently in the morning each day. Take a moment to write them down. Chances are, you have a morning ritual. And chances are… it could be better.
Could you set yourself up for success by simply waking up a little earlier? Maybe before your spouse or the kids? It might require building some virtue (going to bed earlier; conquering the snooze button) but consider the rewards of a less stressful morning.
Are there moments in your morning actives when you’re wasting precious time? Maybe you don’t even realize how much time you waste when you check social media before even getting out of bed. It’s become a ritual, but is it a healthy one?
I have to begin my day with exercise. If I don’t do it first thing, and tell myself I’ll do it later in the day… let’s be honest, it does not happen. So I know I need to incorporate that into my morning ritual. Now it has become a habit, just like the Wordle (which gets completed when I’m cooling off after exercise). It doesn’t mean that I leap out of bed every morning when my alarm goes off, but it does mean I know exactly where I’m headed when my feet do hit the ground.
Another part of my morning ritual is looking at my goals and weekly task list. If this wasn’t part of my morning routine, I would likely forget to consider these things at the beginning of my work day, and instead launch into answering emails or other tasks that would get my day off on a less-productive and less-focused foot.
Start by writing down what you’re already doing. That’s the first step to recognizing your rituals and then assessing where you could improve.
The power of ritual is the power of habit; when we do something repeatedly, it becomes part of the makeup of who we are, for good or for ill. Do not look at a morning ritual as boring or uninspired. Rather, beginning your day with a morning ritual sets you up for success the rest of the day.
Besides morning rituals, it can be helpful to incorporate rituals to begin and end our workday, and finish our day. These little tweaks to our daily life can bring us peace and stability at home and at the office, as well as build us into virtuous men and women. We’ll look more at this next week.
Image credit: Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
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