This past year, I found myself floundering — stuck within an alternating cycle of feeling either overwhelmed or paralyzed. The combination of creative tasks, course work and deadlines typically drives me with a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment. However, though I had both homework to produce and blog posts to write, I struggled to find the words to express myself. Instead of studying or filling pages with words and ideas, I consoled myself by eating cookies and watching lots of 24 hour news networks. Needless to say, none of this was any help in boosting my productivity or pulling me out of the mean reds. So, I started working with a coach. It has been a good — if challenging experience. I have learned some great things from him, but I think the greatest lesson is on the power of ritual.
As I put these thoughts to paper, I realize that I wasn’t depressed. The real truth was that I had fallen into a series of bad habits: email before prayer and meditation, stagnating in front of the TV instead of walking, and lunches at buffets instead of healthy, homemade salads and juices.
I had totally forsaken one of the key doctrines of living a life that I love: if you want an extraordinary life, you must have equally extraordinary routines and rituals. My coach, Fred, reminded me of this and stressed (and still stresses) this with every call we had.
I was stuck because I was allowing life to happen around me. I was overwhelmed because I was trying to squeeze as much as possible into each day with no plan of any kind. I was stuck in habits that exacerbate our feelings of stagnation, and I allowed my feelings of being overwhelmed to paralyze me.
“There is a comfort in rituals, and rituals provide a framework for stability when you are trying to find answers.”
So, what is it that I need – that we all need? The twin powers of routine and ritual. Nourishing and supportive routines help frame our lives. Rituals remind us of our own sacredness, our desire to connect with our core, and our relationship with our higher power.
The word “routine” can seem incredibly rigid and dull, but good routines are neither. Rather than stifling your creativity, routines are about managing your energy effectively in order to direct it toward your real desires and purpose. Our daily actions are what create our life, so by creating nourishing and supportive routines, we are choosing to fuel our days and nourish our spirits.
We all need daily time-outs, an excuse to stop and take a moment to celebrate, connect, honor and recognize the different aspects of our lives. This is where ritual comes in. Rituals offer us compassionate discipline where we focus our attention and energy on achieving a certain feeling. They will ground us regardless of what’s happening around us.
Extraordinary routines require minimum engagement in order to let us achieve productive results. Rituals are celebratory, meaningful, and require us to be completely engaged—even if it’s only for two minutes.
One of the first things I did after starting to work with my coach was to reestablish nourishing routines and rituals, thereby creating structure, support, and strong moments of being. I realized very quickly that solid morning and bedtime routines formed parenthesis around my day. This seemingly simple change in my day-to-day living has altered my world.
I’m more productive, more creative, and feeling incredibly grounded. My sense of drive and purpose has returned to me with an underlying feeling of peacefulness. Nearly every person I talk to says that the way they start their day sets a tone for the whole day. Our morning routines set the tone for productivity, and our morning rituals give us a daily check-in with how we want to feel, and who we want to be.
“I believe in rituals.”
So, what should we include in our morning routine?
Choose actions that create an environment of order and support. Simple chores like unloading the dishwasher and clearing the kitchen counters don’t just minimize disorder; they also leave your energy available to help you create and strategize rather than merely reacting.
Similarly, nothing can disrupt your day like skipping a part of your morning routine. Even something as basic as making the bed every morning gives your brain an important message: the old day is over, and today is a fresh, clean slate.
Creating your morning ritual can be just as simple: just turn some of your regular morning tasks—showering, for example, or making coffee — into a time of reflection. Some of my greatest awakening thru prayer has been in the shower. Even transforming the most mundane activity can be a way to choose how you want to feel, to honor your soul, and to show respect for your spirit.
I spend time each morning in prayer and meditation, and writing in my journal —activities that never fail to connect me with my core and remind me of my sacred place in the world. And I give thanks for my blessings – thank you for the blessing of breathing; thank you for the feeling of my feet on the floor; thank you the sun streaming thru my windows; thank you, thank you, thank you.
“The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.”
More powerful than any morning habits, however, are our bedtime routines and rituals. Bedtime routines allow us to close out our current day as well as stage the coming one. The elements of your routine should be personal to you, but I recommend that they include both self-care (brushing your teeth, washing your face, moisturizing your skin) and preparation for the coming day (choosing your outfit, reviewing your appointments, and staging your bag and keys near the door).
Your bedtime ritual, on the other hand, is a time to focus on connection, reflection, and celebration. Regardless of how much you did (or didn’t) accomplish that day, each evening is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself, your desires, and your spirit. Connecting with our spirit is a vital component of creating a life we’re in love with.
Later, after my own self-care, I write in my gratitude journal, both to remind myself what I’m thankful for, as well as to record the highlights of the day; often I share this gratitude writing on Facebook. Finally, I take a few moments to still my mind with prayer or meditation. Lastly, I proclaim aloud the best thing that happened that happened that day and turn off the light.
Even if I’ve had a bad day, these rituals help me fall asleep feeling peaceful, content, and loved.
Adding small rituals of opening and closure to my days gives tremendous value to my mind and soul. For me, good rituals are evident in how peaceful my heart feels.
I fully recognize that it’s possible to get stuck even in good routines. The routines that work now may not be as productive next week. Dreams and desires are ever-changing, so as I continue to grow and stretch myself, my routines and rituals will grow and stretch as well.
Empowering routines, along with loving rituals, are essential ingredients in the recipe for living a daily life that I love. By creating your own rituals and routines, you’ll be taking the first steps to creating your own recipe.