10 Simple Rituals for a Better Day

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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Comments

  1. Very simple (duh) but effective tips. A lot of it resonates with how I view my own life – especially the distinction between “habit” and “ritual.” Habits to me sound monotonous and repetitive, but rituals add a layer of meaning that makes the experience special every time.

    I also agree with your “moving around” ritual. Like you, I do most of my work on the computer. Therefore, it is crucial for me to go outside a few times a day, take a short walk, listen to the birds, look at the trees. Something to get my mind outside of our technologically abundant world and back to a more natural and soothing mindset. Spending time with nature always seems to give me that feeling of security and interconnectedness. It reminds me where I came from.

    Thanks for these small tips. Very helpful reminders.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Steven,
      I am so glad you found the post helpful. Spending time in nature provides me the same feelings. I am fortunate to have a window right in front of my desk, and I look out over a small pond and a tree that I can almost reach out and touch. I see all kinds of wildlife, including a stunning blue heron that visits the pond every now and then. I did hear on the news recently that people who sit all day are more prone to heart attacks, so that is additional motivation to get up and move beyond the window!

  2. My favorite is lighting a candle and reading – however, I may not stay awake long enough to read much if I lay down!

    I think it’s so true that the smallest things can make the biggest difference. It doesn’t have to be a huge change to feel better. Small, persistent steps can amount to quite a difference in one’s outlook, wellbeing, and health. We all want a quick fix, but it’s the small steps that add up in the long run.

    Your course sounds great – glad it’s going well.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thanks Marci! I have to sit up in bed — can’t lie down either or I’d fall asleep with the candle burning! It took me years to realize there aren’t any quick fixes — and to learn that the “getting there” is just as much fun as the arrival!

  3. Peppy | The PeppyWrites Chronicles says:

    Hello Barrie,

    What a wonderful, inspiring article!

    I think your “wake-up ritual” is vital for getting the mind focused on positive aspects of life – a great way to start the day and implement the other rituals listed. This is definitely an article I will be re-visiting.

    Have a fantastic “Italian ritual”. I believe Diane shared pictures of her Bed and Breakfast on her Blog awhile back … ahhh, absolutely breathtaking and romantic. I hope you have a great time – my visit to Italy, years ago, remains a special memory and I have no doubt it will prove the same for you.

    Always,

    Peppy

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Peppy,
      Thank you for your kindness. I am so excited about the Italy trip. I’ve been to Rome and Florence, but never to this part of northern Italy. Diana calls this an “immersion” trip for relaxing, eating, and enjoying the surroundings. Sounds like a trip to heaven to me. 🙂

  4. Stephen says:

    Thanks Barrie really enjoyed the post.

    The idea of ritualising habits really resonates- breathing conscious thinking, feeling and being into habits which can otherwise become quite unconscious and mundane.

    Nietzsche struck upon this idea of “eternal recurrence” (a more modern version was seen in the movie Groundhog Day). That everything we do is destined to be repeated into infinity. Now without having to necessarily take that literally, the idea is very much in line with your message make the now sacred

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Stephen,
      I bet Nietzsche had no idea his concepts would be made into hit movie! I think I like sacred moments rather than an eternity of recurrences. 🙂

  5. Phyllis says:

    Barrie:
    I installed something called a Mindfullness Clock on my computer and set it to chime on the hour to remind me to move my butt out of my chair. When I hear it I sometimes just stand up and stretch, sometimes I switch from a sitting-down task to a standing-up one, and sometimes I use it as a signal to tell me it’s time for my meditation or my workout. There’s something about it, too, that helps me stay focused because it increases my awareness of the hours passing. But I ALWAYS take a deep breath and a drink of water (yes, I’m a Southerner, too, and iced tea is tempting, but I’m trying to leave it alone since I can’t stand to drink it without sugar).

    http://www.mindfulnessdc.org/mindfulclock.html

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      What a fantastic idea Phyllis! I need to check that out. I love it. BTW, I use stevia in my iced tea. Not as bad for you as sugar. 🙂

  6. Ho piaciuto il suo articolo meraviglioso!

    Arrivederci

  7. Enjoyed your rituals very much Barrie. I do think rituals are so important for a happy and balanced life. I just work at my computer in the mornings, it’s enough for an old guy like me, then in the pm have a little ritual where I go to the gym and do some resistance work and have a walk and then to a coffee shop. By then it’s time to come home and do another ritual, watching the evening news and having supper…
    And the best ritual of all? Listening to my inner self. Thanks again Barrie.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Christopher,
      Those are lovely rituals. And you are not old — as I joke with one of my girlfriend’s father, “You are a young man trapped in an old man’s body.” You are definitely a young man at heart Christopher.

  8. Heather says:

    What a timely article!

    I spent some time just this morning just thinking about what I want my life to look like so that it reflected my true self and in that reflection, “habits” and “rituals” were a big part of my reflection. It was so reaffirming to reading your post today. It holds a lot of meaning for me — thank you!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Heather,
      I am so glad. I love it when a post arrives for a reader at just the right time!

  9. Cathy | Treatment Talk says:

    Enjoyed this post, Barrie! I think it is important to organize and think ahead with some new rituals, as it will make our lives more meaningful. I try and read each night for an hour before I go to bed, and let go of TV. The candle makes it a little more special. You have some good suggestions that I will definitely think about. I particularly like a little exercise before the shower, that’s a good one. Thanks!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad you like it Cathy. The exercise before the shower has really worked out great. I can get most of the exercise done as the water is getting warmed up. Having the weights right there in the room helps to remind me.

  10. Barrie, I loved this post. A fairly new ritual for me: Instead of just letting our new adopted dog out the back door first thing in the a.m., I go out, too… with my coffee, yoga mat and devotion. Kids are still asleep, the sun is rising… it’s become one of my very favorite parts of the day!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Oh, that is lovely Angela. I hope your new dog doesn’t disrupt your devotion! 🙂

  11. Hi Barrie
    Well ritual is cool but it is nice to take a break from the usual. Get up at 7, drink coffee, eat oatmeal, get cleaned up, turn on the computer, check out email etc., go for an hour walk and then settle in for the rest of the day in front of the computer. Broken up by occasional grocery shopping. Yikes sounds like I am getting in a rut! But I did break it up with attending the graduation of my granddaughter the other day. (only grandchild) How nice it would be to have youth back and how old it makes me feel. Okay now I have to enjoy wisdom over youth. Makes you think though. Going to work at getting out of a rut. I almost think I have too many rituals, now it is a time for stream lining the unnecessary stuff. Will try to incorporate a little more pleasure into my rituals…
    Have a great time on your Italy trip, sounds like fun.
    Mary

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Mary,
      Yes, some habits can get to be routine. Those don’t feel like rituals to me. I am picky about the rituals, because I don’t want them to feel rote. Once they do, it’s time to switch it up. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Enjoy the “young parts” of being older. There is so much to enjoy in life!

  12. jenny123 says:

    Rituals and celebrations are one way to intentionally create meaningful connections with special and important events and people. Many of us already celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and various holidays including rituals we may not even recognize as such.

  13. C.Devaraj says:

    Thank you Barrie.

  14. Hi Barrie.
    Thanks again for your great post. I love the way your advice comes across in a conversational manner. It makes one feel like ‘I think I know this lady.’ Personally I use some of the ways you outline and I agree with you in that they make ones day great. In particular I love the ‘gratitude’ way. The moment I open my eyes in the morning or when my feet touch the floor, I always go through my ‘gratitude’ ritual. I repeat it severally during the day and when I retire to bed. I find it very helpful even when things seem not to be going particularly well. It’s energizing and makes life more interesting.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much Murigi. That is exactly the tone I want to set in my posts. Gratitude does make life better. It puts the focus on the many good aspects of our lives. I am grateful that you took the time to write such a lovely comment on my blog Murigi!

  15. I truly like this post. I have had health problems for over a year. They are not disabling enough that I can’t do everything, just enough that I do what I can when I can. I have taken the time to really work on my true self, something that had been neglected for quite a few years. During this year, I have created rituals throughout my day. I start every morning with a ritual. I have a list of words that bring visualizations of what I want my life to look like. I also have a playlist of music that inspires me that I listen to while pondering my word list. I then apply my actions of the day in context of that vision.

    As an avid gardner, I look over my flowers, shrubs and vegetables several times a day. My dog helps remind me when we need to go out and explore. Because my town was 95% destroyed by a tornado in 2007 and I rebuilt a new house in the part of town that still has old trees (through donations and volunteers, bless you all), I love to watch the birds. Song birds in all their glorious colors are very abundant. There’s even an oriole that sits for hours on the tree outside my picture window.

    As a chef, I am able to take the time to ritualize every step of food preparation. It is amazing how much more nourishing a meal is when every component has been methodically brought into awareness. That is not possible in a work environment.

    Thank you for a great post.

    David

  16. Life is a sum of personal rituals that have special meaning for you. Thanks for sharing this great article 😉
    BTW, for all of you trying to drink more water during the day, why not putting in a liter of water a couple of slices of cucumber and lemon? or even slices of orange and mint leaves. Keep it nice and cold in the fridge and you will find yourself looking for water more frequently.

  17. Awesome!! Wow. You really hit the nail on the head. I love the simplicity of your post. Great perspective.

  18. I love this! Ritual is a way of shifting from one space/mindset/reference into another. Doing so consciously can add so much to the meaning of our lives! And I love the simplicity!

  19. I liked your write-up is an interesting technologythanks to google I found you

  20. I did not know there was such a thing as a featherbed topper. We had feather beds
    When I was a child. I remember they would fluff the bed when they made it. At night
    When I got into bed I would crawl in from the bottom so the mattress puffed up around
    me. Your article brought back wonderful memories.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I’m so glad Shirley. You must try a feather topper if you loved a feather bed. It is really wonderful!