The Importance of Routines and Rituals

We have evolved to adhere to routines, like the seasonal cycles of a year and the circadian rhythm of our internal clocks. Yet, when your days start to feel repetitive, you might find yourself looking for disruption. This could involve a few minor tweaks, or taking up a new hobby. Or perhaps it’s a complete life overhaul, like moving overseas or a career change. Next thing you know, you find yourself in a state of flux, overwhelmed and desperately trying to manage it all...with a new daily routine.

The thing you were trying to escape becomes the thing you crave –– and the vicious cycle begins again. However, there is a way to break this pattern. By tapping into the Art of Routine building and the Magic of Ritual.

Psychology of Routines: How They Benefit Us

A ‘creature of habit’ is an idiom usually reserved for the most routine adoring of humans, but research suggests that even the most chaotic amongst us fall into this category. Psychologists specialising in habit found that ‘45% of everyday behaviours tended to be repeated in the same location almost every day,’ indicative of our innate penchant for habitual patterns.

Routine is physically and cognitively energetically efficient. It takes minimal effort to brush your teeth twice daily because you have been doing it since childhood. This natural inclination for routine is something we can use to our advantage when trying to develop a new habit, such as writing or meditating daily or even controlling our screentime. It will take some effort, to begin with, but if we do these activities at the same time, in the same place every day (as much as possible), over time, they become second nature.

Myth Busted: Rituals Don’t Kill Spontaneity or Creativity

‘The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.’

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

There is a fear that if we are too strict with our schedules, we are destined to become one track automatons, unable to attain a creative thought –– that we need disruption to be colourful and fuel our creativity.

The trick is not to let our routines feel forced or militant, but to find a way to make them support our natural ways of being –– even leaving space to throw caution to the wind and make snap changes of plan on occasion. As writer Henry Miller advised in his ‘eleven commandments’, “Work according to Program and not according to mood [...] Discard the Program when you feel like it — but go back to it next day.’

Make Your Own Commandments

Just because Jack Dorsey eats one meal a day, and Maya Angelou did her writing in a hotel room, doesn’t mean that if you follow their lead, you will have similar business or literary success. What they have done is to figure out what works for them, just as tuning into your own rhythms can help you with a bespoke routine. Start with considering if you are a morning lark or a night owl, and adjust your work or exercise schedule accordingly.

The second trick to keeping your daily practices vibrant and sustainable is to elevate aspects of your routine to the status of ritual. If routine aligns with habit, ritual is a moment of conscious presence that grounds and revitalises us. Rituals can help anchor routine, making them easier to sustain.

For example, as a morning person developing a morning routine has felt natural to me. But in amongst my meditating, bathing and breakfasting, there is one very special ritual. My morning coffee, from brewing to drinking. It marks a pause, something I look forward to, and it gives me the momentum to accomplish everything that I had planned before and after.

Ritual is also helpful when you need to switch from one task to another, even from work mode to family time. It acts as a marker between events, allowing you to change gears and become present with what you are doing next. In terms of creativity, establishing a routine has been found to help facilitate more ‘flow’, that elusive time melting state of complete engagement. Flow can seem mystical, but by creating a rhythm that balances our habitual nature of routine with the presence of ritual, we can help foster it.

Start Your Day Off Right: the Power of a Positive Attitude

Make your bed.

According to Tim Ferris, the implications for this far transcend mundane domestic duties. It provides a small but manageable win early in the day, so even if all else fails, you still have something to celebrate. It comes with an added bonus, as this one productive act can encourage you to stack some more positive habits on to it. Even if mornings are hard for you, building in conscious, positive and productive practices at the start of your day can provide a lift to the rest of it.

Self-Care Club: Daily, Weekly and Monthly Rituals

The enjoyable and energising nature of a ritual means they can quickly become acts of self-care. Taking care of yourself on a daily basis leads to more nourishment and energy to see you through your months and years ahead. This might mean making healthy choices that take some effort, like going to the gym regularly or hydrating enough; to the more luxurious things, such as a monthly massage, or scheduling weekly facetime with your best friend, be that over cocktails or on Skype.

In times of stress or upheaval, it is helpful to have a list of your self-care rituals on hand. It’s all too easy to forget what it is that we need to do to take care of ourselves when we are in the thick of emotional turmoil.

Becoming Your Best Self

Getting your routines and rituals in order isn’t just about optimising your own performance or quality of life, it is intimately tied to being the best possible friend, lover or parent for your nearest and dearest. Part of the reason self-care and meeting our own needs is important, is because it enables us to support and give back to the people and things we care about, after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Let 2020 be your year of mastering the daily routine, and uncovering the magic of ritual. Start by spending some time tuning in to your natural rhythms, ambitions, and what brings you joy. Then consider how you can honour these by cultivating sustainable routines and nourishing rituals.