Rituals are more present in our everyday lives than we may have noticed and it’s our ritualistic nature that nurtures our wellbeing. We often overlook rituals and take them for granted simply because we do them mindlessly. However, rituals are incredibly powerful when performed on purpose. They allow us to experience everyday life with a deeper meaning and enjoyment. Water is just water until you choose to drink it every morning, warm and infused with lemon; with every sip, silently and gratefully considering how it nurtures your body.
Rituals are quite different from habits and practices, but all three can be woven together to create a framework for living well. Unfortunately, modern culture may make you feel that life needs to be constantly satisfying, happy and perfect. But rituals can help you to enjoy the ordinary elements of life and sprinkle them with magic.
Habits, practices and rituals
Habits are behaviours or actions that are repeated so often that they become automatic. For many of us they may have manifested as a morning meditation, writing in a gratitude journal before bed or flossing our teeth. They are great because they conserve energy by reducing our cognitive load, and become mindless action.
A paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 per cent of the action people performed each day wasn’t the product of well-considered decision making; it was habits.
Habits can have negative or positive effects on our wellbeing. So we can use our compassionate self-awareness to examine our habits and consider those that bring a greater sense of fulfilment and wellness into our lives. We can choose to regularly reflect on our actions and habits to make sure they are supportive.
Ask yourself, “Which habits support my health and wellbeing right now?”
Although habits can sometimes seem insignificant on their own, the very nature of continuously repeating them can impact on our health, productivity, relationships, finances and happiness.
Practices are a set of actions taken to acquire or improve skills. It’s through repeated practice that connections get established in the brain that support the new skill. Mindfulness, gratitude, optimism and a positive relationship with money are all learned skills.
We can use practices strategically by considering what skills would bring greater fulfilment to our lives. Then we can create practices to cultivate these skills. Practices strengthen our wellbeing “muscles”.
Ask yourself, “Which new or improved skills would support my health and wellbeing right now?”
Rituals are symbolic actions that have a deeper purpose than just the actions themselves. They usually follow a syste m and contain a sequence of actions. You can use them to anchor and enhance your wellbeing experiences. Mindless rituals are just habits.
Ask yourself “what aspects of my life do I really love and care deeply about and would benefit from connecting with deeply?
Know what brings you fulfilment? Then make it a habit. Need to improve? Create a practice. Want to connect deeply? Design a ritual.
Why are rituals so powerful?
Essentially, rituals are supercharged habits with heart. Naturally, most of us think habits are important. Most self-help books like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change will show you lots of examples of good habits.
And, yes, habits are important, but rituals are more powerful as they combine multiple habits, follow a system and emotionally connect you with why you are doing what you are doing. They connect you to something larger than yourself.
The power of rituals doesn’t come from a particular belief or involve luck. It comes from what the rituals symbolise. They represent something significant to the person performing them, such as a professional athlete preparing before a game.
Rituals provide comfort
Most parents can attest to the power of family rituals and their ability to provide comfort to their children, particularly in unfamiliar circumstances. A simple song and a bedtime story can create a great sense of connectedness and belonging, and lets everyone know how important they are to the family. This ritual can help to provide feelings of security and predictability when you are travelling or working late.
Of course, rituals can provide the same sense of comfort to adults. Having your own bedtime rituals can help you to destress from work and can assist with sleep when you are working away from home and in unfamiliar places.
Rituals give us comfort and a sense of control when life gets challenging. They support our need for structure and balance. When we embark on a new exercise regime we often begin to feel a greater sense of wellbeing and safety knowing that we are doing the best we can for our health.
Anne Lamott, author of In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, considers how rituals can cast an anchor of stability in turbulent times, “Daily rituals, especially walks … around the neighbourhood, schedules, work or meals … can be the knots you hold onto when you’ve run out of rope.”
Whatever ritual you decide to embrace into your daily life, as long as it supports your health and wellbeing you will have the added benefit of increased feelings of inner balance and safety.
Rituals transform the mundane into the sacred
The Japanese tea ceremonies (the “way of the tea”) are the perfect example of rituals imbued with the deeper meaning of inner quietness, purity and tranquillity. They allow us to find the magic in the mundane.
In our own lives, rituals can allows us to pause, take a breath and reconnect with our inner needs. Whether connecting to the sacred means getting back in touch with nature or the divine, rituals are the perfect way of integrating that into your daily life through seemingly mundane acts.
Rituals don’t need to be elaborate or spectacular to be effective; what matters is that they are meaningful to you. The amount of time you spend conducting your rituals is not important; rather, it’s the intention you put into them. They can be really short and done anywhere, as long as they mean something to you.
Rituals foster a greater connection with ourselves and others
When we create a ritual to purposely fill our minds with loving kindness through meditation, write in a journal to connect with ourselves or sit around the dinner table and talk to family, we feel more connected with ourselves and those we care deeply for. It’s through rituals like these that we can experience how powerful they are at filling our days with love, purpose and meaning.
Rituals encourage self-love
Rituals can help to remind us that we are valuable and our needs are important. Most of us find it difficult to make time to care for ourselves among the busyness of everyday life, but rituals can remove us from the ordinary flow of life and place us in a sacred space.
Whether it’s soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath, listening to your favourite music or painting your nails, these self-care routines don’t have to be empty. Infuse them with personal meaning and significance.
3 ways rituals can boost your wellbeing
1 They help you shift your awareness and energy at particular times of the day
Rituals can be particularly helpful with transitions throughout the day; from morning rituals to a lunchtime pause to the bedtime wind-down. They can powerfully signal to your brain and body that you are ready to make a shift in mood and energy and move with intention into the next activity.
- Use a morning ritual to set the tone of the day.
- Take a lunchtime pause to release morning stress and prepare for the afternoon’s work.
- Use the family dinner ritual to share experiences and show gratitude to each other and for the food prepared and shared.
- Have a bedtime ritual to help to relax and disengage from the day with meditation and writing in your gratitude journal.
2 They help to release negative feelings and setbacks
Rituals allow you to acknowledge and release negative and challenging emotions. If there are feelings you are hanging onto or not coping well with, create a ritual such as writing down your worries and ceremoniously burning them with a candle or burying them in the garden.
3 They create meaning around the things we care about most
Rituals add deeper meaning and awareness to what matters most and bring greater appreciation to what we have.
If you value nature, you may choose to create an autumn tree-planting ritual that allows you to celebrate nature with a few mindful steps. Whatever rituals you choose to create, remember to include a few personal, symbolic and repeatable steps.
Sometimes it helps to have a special place to go or actions to take for specific rituals to work, like journalling, stretching or meditation.
How to create a ritual
We can choose to incorporate rituals into all aspects of our lives that need care. A well-designed ritual can nourish our bodies, emotions, financial lives and relationships. One of the easiest ways to create a ritual is to redesign one of your existing tasks and get ready to enjoy the pleasurable rhythm that rituals create.
- Identify your most challenging time of day and describe the sequence of activities you are already doing. Are you happy with the results?
- Decide how you would like to feel after the ritual is completed.
- Set an intention for the ritual: anything from more energy to healing to a good night’s sleep. Choose a power word to reinforce the focus of that intention when you do it.
- Redesign this task so you can achieve the outcome and experience the desired feelings.
- Consider sounds, scents and light to bring soulful energy to the ritual.
Often we take the power of rituals for granted, associating them only with religious ceremonies or empty daily tasks. But when we aim to live lives full of connection, meaning and balance, then creating our own rituals is the best way to get the most out of each day.
3 things to make your rituals even more powerful
1 Light Soft lighting from candles and lamps automatically creates a calm atmosphere and allows you to connect to your deeper self. If you are creating an energising ritual, consider the use of direct sunlight to reinvigorate your energy.
2 Sound Use music to help support the purpose of your ritual. Choose soft and relaxing for self-care, silence to enjoy nature, popular music for creating togetherness, or fast-paced rhythms for action-oriented rituals like cooking.
3 Scents Use aromatherapy essential oils to balance, harmonise and promote the health of your mind, body and spirit. They can be incorporated into your unwind, meditation, study and exercise rituals.
Remember to be flexible
Some people might consider rituals to be too controlling and think they inhibit our ability to act spontaneously and creatively. However, it’s actually the stable platform that rituals create that helps us to manage and enjoy the messiness and unpredictable aspects of life. As Lamott says, “It’s discipline that leads to freedom.”
Remember to check in with yourself and not become too attached to your rituals, either. Your definition of meaning and purpose will most likely change throughout your life. So too will your rituals.