Creating Rituals for Healthy Habits
Why are good habits so hard to develop? Not only is it challenging to establish certain regular routines, it can often be a stressful process. If you find yourself struggling to adopt a desired habit, creating a ritual can be an enjoyable, effective way to facilitate positive change.
We all have routines we easily do on a daily basis (e.g. personal hygiene, simple chores, etc.) but others are not so automatic (e.g. getting enough sleep, meditating, eating healthy). Rituals provide more than a process for developing a habit—they also have elements that relieve stress, add meaning and motivate us to keep it going.
The Calming Effect
One of the most important reasons why incorporating rituals into your daily life enhances positive wellbeing is the overall comfort factor. Having a calming ritual can improve your overall wellbeing by helping to ease your fight or flight response. This reaction is activated when you face the unknown. With daily rituals in place, your fight or flight response is softened immensely. Adding pleasant activities to a ritual creates a calming effect, so you actually look forward to the process instead of avoiding it. Even when things at work are hectic or there is an issue in your personal life, knowing that you can rely on the welcome distraction of a comforting ritual makes it much easier to move forward instead of drawing back. For example, if you want to create a bedtime ritual to improve your sleep habits, you could add activities such as drinking soothing lemon balm tea or warm cinnamon milk, doing some gentle stretching, taking a bath, listening to a relaxing recording and/or reading a light-hearted book. The key is to choose activities you truly enjoy so you associate the healthy habit (in this example, getting enough sleep) with the pleasant ritual.
A Way to Add Meaning
As you create a ritual for your desired habit, it helps if you can truly connect it to your daily life in a soulful, meaningful way. Think about what it would mean to you if you could fully embrace your desired habit and succeed in making it a daily practice. Imagine yourself already accomplishing this goal, and what it feels like doing it every day. You could also make a vision board, write in a journal, check in regularly with a friend or coach, or find some other way that works for you to add meaning to this habit you desire. Once you decide, you can incorporate it into your ritual. To use the sleep example again, you could include a brief exercise of imagining yourself sleeping peacefully as a part of your bedtime ritual—each time you do this, it will become easier and easier to accept this image of yourself as a healthy sleeper. Making a sleep vision board with all kinds of positive sleep images and/or using a dream journal are other ways to create a bedtime ritual that is meaningful to you. You can adapt this idea to other types of habits such as healthy eating, meditating, exercising or any habit you want to acquire.
O.K., so you have added some calming elements to your ritual to relieve any stress associated with developing a habit, and you have decided on a way to make the ritual and the habit meaningful to you. Is this enough to keep you on track? Perhaps it is, but if you need more than that to fully embrace the habit, there might be a way to further motivate you to maintain it. This is a time to look deeply within yourself to find what motivates you. Maybe you are already aware of it, or maybe you have to dig a little to discover what could be a reward or motivation you can build into your ritual to keep you going. I will give some examples, but it is up to you to figure out which rewards work best for you. With our sleep example, you could reward yourself with aromatherapy (choose your favorite scent), splurge on some luxurious socks (e.g. cashmere) to wear to bed (the National Sleep Foundation suggests wearing socks to promote sleep), use special sheets on your bed (e.g. high thread count cotton, satin, flannel—whatever feels good to you), wear silk pajamas, affirm yourself for sticking to your routine (more about affirmations here), and/or start doing things you were too tired to enjoy when you were so sleep deprived. What motivates one person might not work for another, but once you discover your rewards and motivation, any habit will be much easier to develop.
Although I used the example of getting enough sleep, you can choose any habit you want to develop, and try applying these ideas to see if they can help you succeed. If you have any questions or ideas to share, feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org