A few years ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Sunday evening, staring at my planner. It was my time to look at the week, create my menu, and schedule in time for movement and relaxation. I always felt good when I got some movement in before work. So when Monday came, I popped right out of bed, strapped my tennis shoes on, turned on my favorite podcast and went for a walk. This whole planning thing was going well for the first couple of days.
But gradually, the time I carved out for morning movement started disappearing. Instead of strapping on my tennis shoes right when I got out of bed, I would pick up my phone and start scrolling. I’m sure you can guess how this story ends. I would find myself in the rabbit hole of social media, still sitting in my pajamas with 5 minutes left before it was time to get ready for work. A ping pong match ensued inside my head, debating about when I could squeeze some movement in at lunch, after work, or if I should just totally skip it for the day. Guess what I usually chose?
This has only happens to me, right?
I’m sure it’s no secret to you that a considerable amount of our time is consumed by unconscious habits. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines unconscious as “free from self-awareness,” and habit as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” In other words, when we have repeatedly taken an action for a length of time, we are no longer aware that we have a choice in whether to take the action again, instead we do it automatically. We are no longer choosing in the present moment, but we are choosing based on our old, unhelpful programming.
This old programming is both a blessing and a curse. A curse because it has not gotten us what we really want, and a blessing because we become aware that these habits have not gotten us what we really want.
When we are aware and accept these habits as they are by releasing judgement of whether they are “good” or “bad”, we are able to see more possibilities for our health and wellbeing. We have a chance to use these new possibilities for creating rituals that work for us.
So, how do we step out of unconscious habit and into clear, life-giving ritual? I recommend reflecting and journaling your responses to the following:
1. List the habits that take up space in your life currently - both the unhelpful and helpful habits.
2. Acknowledge why these habits have made a home in your life. Do they make you feel more comfortable? Do they help distract from the hard realities in life? Do they keep your potential and true self safe from criticism and the opinions of the world? Do they make you feel proud or good about yourself?
3. Get honest and clear. How well has your old programming gotten you what you really wanted? What is the old programming costing you? On a scale from 1-10, 1 being not interested, 10 being very interested, how interested are you in creating new programming that gets you what you want with way less cost? If the answer is less than an 8, you may not be ready for change, and that is okay, but it would make it hard to commit to new rituals.
4.Create a list of rituals that will give you energy, confidence, and joy. These rituals are meant to work FOR you, not to work ON you. You don’t need fixing! Also, the rituals may look different week to week. Since you are always changing and growing, your rituals will naturally follow suit.
Examples: Reading for 20 minutes before bed, taking a bubble bath on Sundays, creating menus for the week, moving your body often, or catching up with friends at your favorite cafe.
5. Commit to your rituals. Follow through is married to deep desire, which is why so many of us “fall off the wagon.” Are the rituals you’ve chosen created by YOU or by what someone else told you to do? Make sure your rituals are achievable and realistic, and that you actually feel that they will enhance your life.
6. Find your “spark.” For lasting change and commitment to ritual, I have found a lot of success in finding my “spark.” The spark is the action you take before the ritual. It reminds your body of the commitment you’ve made to yourself. For example, in my story about morning movement before work, my body knew it was time to walk when I strapped my tennis shoes on. I did it right when I woke up, before checking my phone. If I delayed that action, I was way less likely to follow through with my ritual of walking. If one of your rituals is reading before bed, maybe your “spark” would be turning off the TV and putting the phone away for the night. Your body knows it’s time to slow down and read.
7. Dedicate yourself to your spark. Since it is the trigger into your ritual, don’t let your excuses or old programming stop you from taking the necessary action.
8.Weekly, make note of how the ritual is making you feel. You may be discouraged after committing to the ritual and not getting the “results” you thought you wanted, for example: changes in how you look, acknowledgement from others, etc. We are a culture that prioritizes results, especially surface results like weight loss. But what most of us want, deep down, is to feel energized, confident, and happy. So, before tossing your rituals out, evaluate how your body, mind, and soul are feeling as a result of the new action you are taking.
9. Appreciate you. Your openness and willingness to look at what no longer works for you is one of the greatest gifts you will give to your soul. You may not get it perfect, because none of us really do. But you are open and taking steps forward. And that is what matters in the long game.
I hope you have faith in your goodness, in your ability to do hard things, and in your complete worthiness of a well and happy life. Now get out there and create some energetic rituals!