3 Tips for Turning Routines into Rituals

Some people like to wake up early and start their day with a morning workout. Other people enjoy spending their mornings catching up on their favorite news sites, while some prefer a slow morning routine that involves meditation or reading. And some people need to have a cup of coffee before they can even function to do any of these things (“It’s me, hi…).

Whatever it is that gets your day started, having a routine helps you get organized and create structure in your life. This structure can provide a sense of safety, and more importantly a sense of control— something that can be especially difficult to find when there’s currently a lot of uncertainty in our lives.

But even though we know consistent routines are so important for our wellbeing, why do so many people struggle to create, or keep up with, them? One reason is because many people don’t know how to start building new habits — or how to maintain them once they’ve been implemented into their lives. It’s not as easy as doing something for twenty-something odd days and suddenly it sticks.

And how do you keep daily routines from feeling like just another check box on your to-do list? One thing I’ve done is shift my perspective of “boring” routines as an opportunity to create a ritual of self-care for myself. A ritual doesn’t need to have any religious foundations (unless you want it to). It’s noticing the little things you do each day with relatively the same pattern or series of acts. For example, if before you go to sleep each night you brush your teeth, the proceeding acts of opening the drawer, grabbing toothpaste and toothbrush, squeezing toothpaste onto brush and so on becomes its own ritual. You do it so consistently that you don’t even have to think about it. The mind is able to go on autopilot, which makes these actions the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. When done mindfully, we can use these rituals as a way to rest and restore, to pour back into ourselves a bit when we’ve given so much to others the whole day.

Creating a daily routine, and turning these routines into your own small rituals isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s nowhere near as easy as just doing the same behavior at the exact same time each day — you need to actually enjoy what you’re doing in order for routine to become ritual. So how do we go about making this happen? I’ve put together the following three tips to help you create and stick with the daily routines and turn them into rituals you’ve created to give back to yourself.

Keep it simple. Creating a daily routine that improves your physical and mental health doesn’t need to be too complicated. Scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest, it’s easy to think your nightly routine needs to consist of a seven step skin care routine, face yoga, self-massage, making yourself a cup of lavender and chamomile tea, and gentle stretches in bed to even count. It doesn’t.

A nightly ritual could be as simple as brushing your teeth each night. One single act that you do mindfully to signal to the brain and body that it is time for rest. The catch here is doing the act mindfully. Turning on the faucet and listening to the flow of water, tasting and smelling the minty freshness of your tooth paste, listening to the sounds the bristles make as they pass over your teeth. Try to stay in the present moment while doing this single act, notice where the mind wanders, and give yourself grace if you become distracted. This creates a much different experience than brushing your teeth while simultaneously picking out your pajamas, refilling your dog’s water bowl, getting a glass of water for yourself, and mentally rehearsing what you’ll say in tomorrow’s meeting.

Start small and build. Pick one act you already do daily (i.e., putting on shoes, brushing your hair, washing your face, getting a glass of water, brewing coffee) and make it an opportunity to practice mindfulness. If you want to add more steps to this daily ritual, tack them on to the things that you are already doing daily. This act is called stacking, and it’s a not-so-secret weapon behavior change specialists have been using for years to help their clients stick with new habits. Remember, your morning and night time routines do not need to be a long laundry list of things to do.

Try adding just one new thing and testing it out for a few weeks, then adding another onto this new habit if you want to. This creates structure to your daily routine that is supported by the habits you already have in place. Where a lot of people get frustrated is they try to recreate their whole morning or bedtime routine. This ends up feeling more overwhelming than relaxing, and your daily rituals shouldn’t feel like yet another thing you’re supposed to be doing. This brings me to my last and probably most important tip.

Do what YOU want. We already live our lives with plenty of “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” thoughts to feed our anxious minds, your daily ritual is not meant to be another one. And if it is, then it might be an opportunity to practice doing less. One of the benefits of social media is that it’s easy to quickly save all these new ideas for things we could be doing for self-care, but make sure that the activities you add to your routine are things you actually want to do, not things you should be doing because they’re trendy.

I’ve gotten in the habit of asking myself (after buying one too many jade rollers), “does this new act of self-care make me feel like I’m missing something or need to get something I don’t already have?” If the answer is yes, then I know I’ve likely just gotten hooked by yet another marketing tactic and not necessarily found a new self-care routine that’s going to make all the difference in my wellbeing. My point is, add activities to your daily routine that YOU like to do, the things that refill your cup. Coloring, massaging lotion into your hands and cuticles, looking at the stars, cuddling with your dog, or texting a loved one good night, none of these are necessarily “Reel worthy” but if they bring you joy that’s what matters most.

For many of us, it’s easy to feel like we’re just getting by and the thought of adding more to our day seems impossible. Creating a daily ritual is not meant to be something we need to add to our schedule but rather a shift in how we are moving mindfully through the habits we already have in place.

5 thoughts on “3 Tips for Turning Routines into Rituals

  1. Great post! Having a simple daily routine and turning it into a mindful ritual is such a powerful way to add structure and self-care to our lives. I especially appreciate the tips on starting small and doing what we actually enjoy. My question is, how do we stick with these mindful rituals when life gets busy or stressful? Do you have any advice for maintaining these practices during challenging times? Thanks for your insights!

    1. Excellent question, and I think one many people are wondering because we all lead such busy lives. I think the best part of turning routine into ritual is that you don’t need to add more to your busy schedule or overload your already full plate. Start by picking something you already do daily. Opening your eyes and waking up in bed you can take a moment to breathe and do a body scan, while brushing your teeth you can pay attention to all the senses that are stimulated, when opening an email you can pause and adjust your posture if it feels uncomfortable. All of these can be subtle shifts to what you are already doing.

    2. And I’ll add, practicing self-compassion when things do get hectic is so important. Because there are those nights you forget to brush your teeth because you’re so tired or you wake up in a hurry because you overslept. These events may happen, and if they affect our routine every now and then that’s totally normal. Giving yourself grace and wiggle room to miss a routine every now and then is important. Sometimes this wiggle room can even help you see which routines are really important and worth keeping in your schedule and which ones might be saved for special occasion rituals.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I agree that forgiving yourself for not always being on the ball is important. Most of what we think of as being important isn’t.

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