I am in the midst of teaching a habit course with my friends Katie and Leo. The great thing about teaching is that the teacher often learns as much or more than the students. That's the case with me.
In watching these amazing students make the commitment to become a better version of themselves, it has inspired me to do the same. Each of us has a picture in our minds of who we want to be. It's getting there that's tricky.
One of the techniques we teach in the course is making a habit small, simple, and manageable so it's not overwhelming. You can take a big habit and break it into small habits. Another concept we teach is the importance of focusing daily on the “why” of the habit. Why are you doing this? What meaning does it have for you? What is the greater context?
Today I'm going to explore those concepts so that you might apply them to your own life if you wish. Look at these comparisons:
Simple vs. Complicated
Even the words evoke a feeling. If the title of my post had been “12 Complicated Rituals for a Better Day,” you probably wouldn't be reading right now. Our lives are complicated enough. Complicated is overwhelming. Give me something I can do without feeling like a failure before I even begin. Every action, idea, decision, and concept can be simplified and digested a bit at a time.
Ritual vs. Habit
Even though I'm doing a course on habits, and that's certainly an accurate word for them, I've learned through this process that my decisions and actions need to be steeped in life purpose and passion. That adds power and motivation for me. Even though the word “ritual” often has a religious meaning, it also suggests something ceremonial, spiritual, meaningful. If I focus on the ritual of my actions, they aren't just a means to an end, they are deeply valuable on their own.
Better vs. Best
Becoming our “best selves” will never happen. Our best self is a work in progress — and it's an ever-evolving concept. My idea of my best self at 25 is entirely different from my idea of that now. So the concept of “better” offers more freedom for movement and change. And it suggests continued learning and growth forever. Have a loose concept of your “best self,” and take actions for betterment that move you in that direction. But remain flexible and receptive.
Day vs. Lifetime
This goes back to the ideas of “simple” and “better.” Just focus on today. That's much easier to grasp and manage than focusing on your entire lifetime. Life is comprised of days. In fact, to get Zen on you, it's comprised of “right now's.” Every “right now” is a microcosm of your lifetime, just as every drop of water is a small twin of the entire ocean. Just make today better. You can deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.
Based on these concepts, here are 10 simple rituals that I find helpful for a better day:
1. Wake-Up Ritual.
When you awaken, begin the day with gratitude. Spend a few minutes in bed thinking about all of your blessings. Then set the tone for the day by thinking of three things you will accomplish today that will make you feel happy and fulfilled. They can be as small as hugging your child. Then, once you stand up, take a minute to stretch your body. Before you race to the bathroom or shower, get your blood flowing and muscles loosened.
2. Sustenance Ritual
I like that word “sustenance.” It packs so much more meaning than “food” or “diet.” We eat to sustain our body, which houses our self and our soul. Eating can and should be pleasurable, as long as the food provides sustenance. There are so many reasons for making poor food choices, so I find writing down what I eat helps keep me accountable to caring for my body in a way that sustains it rather than harms it. Keep a notebook in your kitchen, and just write down everything that you put in your mouth. It's hard to argue with reality!
3. Workspace Ritual
I am the worst at letting my desk get cluttered. In fact, I've been debating whether I should finish this post now or clear off my desk first. A clean workspace removes distractions, clears your mind, removes the low-level anxiety of clutter, and fosters creativity. Taking a moment to clear your space says you respect yourself enough to allow time for a better work environment. Excuse me for a moment — I need to clear my desk.
4. Work Ritual
Before I begin a work activity (writing, coaching, research, etc.), I take a moment to remind myself why I'm doing this. Sometimes it is to connect with people. Sometimes it's to serve. Sometimes it's as plebeian as an action that will produce income — but that can be fun and fulfilling. If I have a task or project that feels meaningless (ie: paying bills, clearing out my email, etc.), sometimes I dedicate the project to someone I love. Maybe that's silly, but it makes it feel more substantive for me.
5. Focus Ritual
I try really hard to focus on the task at hand. It's difficult sometimes because I work from home, and during the summer, there are frequent distractions since my kids are home all day. I try to isolate one small task, and finish it within an allotted time without getting up, looking at email, etc. The clean desk really helps with this.
6. Moving Around Ritual
Since 90% of my work is done at my computer, I try to make sure I give my body a break from sitting and staring at the monitor. I give my eyes a break from the monitor by looking outside for a few minutes every hour or so. Also, I get up and stretch, walk around the house, run in place — something to move my body. I'm more productive in the mornings, so around 4:00 or 5:00, I usually take a break to ride my bike or do some form of real exercise.
7. Drink Water Ritual
After I have my coffee in the morning, I keep a glass of water on my desk all day. I refill it when I take my moving around break. Staying hydrated keeps my mind alert and manages hunger. I try to drink only water during the day, although sometimes I have iced tea with lunch (I am a Southerner after all!).
8. Weights Before Shower/Bed Ritual
My pattern is to work a few hours in the morning before I shower. It's nice to have that luxury working from home. I keep a set of hand weights in my bathroom, and before I get in the shower, I do three sets of lunges or squats interspersed with three sets of bicep curls or tricep work. This takes about five minutes. Before I go to bed, I do another five minute routine of some kind for my arms and legs and/or abs.
9. Practice Italian Ritual
This is a new one for me. In September, I'm going to Italy with my friend Katie to visit our mutual blogging friend Diana. Diana has an amazing bed and breakfast in Acqui Terme, Italy. I've decide to stretch myself a bit and learn some Italian. I did some research on various programs and found a self-study course that wasn't too expensive. Benissimo for me!
10. Light a Candle and Read Ritual
This ritual incorporates so many lovely things. First, I recently bought a featherbed topper for my mattress. It is so yummy and luxurious, that climbing into bed feels like being wrapped in a marshmallow. I generally roll around on the feather topper for a while before I settle down. I've pretty much stopped watching tv at night in my bed. I love to read, so I always have a good book going. Then I light a jasmine or lavender candle on my bedside table while reading. Simply heaven. (Blow it out before you fall asleep!)
Those are my rituals — maybe some will appeal to you. Please share some of your own rituals for a better day so we can learn from each other.
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