Why Rituals Are Important in Your Life
And how they can help you break old habits and create new ones.
Life is fast.
And it’s only getting faster.
Between being connected to your work, hustling to get ahead, and trying to keep your life from falling apart, we are quite busy individuals aren’t we? Thankfully, our brain has evolved to help us navigate our chaotic and messy world. We created habits.
Habits often go by unnoticed by ourselves — which is sort of the point. They are automatic behaviours directed by unconscious thoughts. When a particular behaviour is carried out repeatedly, the brain figures “This is done often enough, guess I’ll put it on auto and leave it in the background.” In doing so, there is one less thing to think about as you go through your day — your brain has reduced the cognitive load by making something a habit.
Imagine trying to go through your day where you had to think about every action you took. You would be totally wiped out by the time you were finished! As it is, your brain struggles to decide what to eat for lunch, let alone having to think about all the mundane tasks throughout the day.
Yet habits are not neutral. As you’ll find out, our habits can show us a lot about who we are and how far we’ll get in life.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken” — Warren Buffet
We are who we are today because of all the choices we have made before. This includes both the unconscious habits that we follow through with, and the active decision-making that guides us forward. We are but a string of decisions.
Just as we can make good and bad choices, so do we develop good and bad habits alike. Good habits, such as eating well and staying hydrated regularly are great! Bad habits, on the other hand, like smoking and depriving yourself of sleep are not so great.
But there’s one habit that I’d like to touch on. Like most habits, it goes by unnoticed by the individual, the only difference is, this habit has crushed more dreams and extinguished more passions than any other.
It is the habit of procrastination.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie
Sometimes an accumulation of our habits can cause us to stop moving. Mindlessly browsing the internet for memes, sitting around and occupying yourself with trivial events on social media, are just some of the most prevalent habits we have cultivated for ourselves.
These habits lull us into a sense of comfort and contentment, burning away at the precious time we have to pursue our goals while we do so. Minute by minute, day by day, we put off moving forward in life or our goals because it’s easier not to do so. Eventually, like any other behaviour repeated, it becomes a habit — we turn procrastinating into a habit.
And if that wasn’t enough, if you procrastinate for long enough, you’ll eventually just stop doing things altogether. You stop pursuing your interest. Your day is just you going through the motions. You aren’t living anymore. You’re drifting through the passage of time — a passenger in your own mind.
But all is not lost. There is a way out. Here’s how.
Rituals are often used interchangeably with habits, but I think they are entirely different. Opposites in fact.
A habit is something you form unconsciously and not think about. They just happen as you go. A ritual, on the other hand, takes your full attention into it. The meaning behind the task transcends the purpose of your actions.
Take making a cup of tea. For most of us, making tea is probably something you don’t put much thought into. We pick out a teabag, place it into a mug, pour in some boiled water and move on with our day. Compare this ‘habit’ version of making tea to its ritualistic counterpart: the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Also called Ocha, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is more than just making a bowl of tea (in this case, Matcha). Preparing tea here means pouring all your heart and soul into the movements and aesthetics of the task. Every action — considerate. Every gesture — deliberate. Even the angle of the placement of utensils is considered from the view point of the guests observing the ceremony.
Now, I don’t mean you should turn making tea into your ritual, but consider finding something you want to excel in and turn that into a ritual.
Creating A Ritual
The most important part of creating your ritual is the purpose behind it. Why do you do something? Is it because you want to get better? Is it because there is an intrinsic meaning behind it (it reminds you of a person or a place)? Whatever the reason maybe it must resonate with you. This will be something that you are going to pour all your attention into, so make sure it is worthy of it.
Take the Early Riser Ritual for example. People who value rising before the crack dawn do so because of what they can accomplish in those hours, when the rest of the world is asleep. Some go to the gym — when no one else is around and there are no distractions. Others might find it the perfect time to work on their own goals, knowing they won’t have the luxury later on in the day. To them, their morning ritual is sacred.
After finding the purpose in your ritual, you’ll need to make it consistent by attaching ‘steps’ to it. Take my writing ritual for example:
This ritual begins about an hour after lunch. Before I sit down to do my writing, I clean my desk and put everything back in its place. Then I make myself a cup of black coffee, pour myself a glass of ice water and a glass of milk, and place it on the coaster on my desk. After that, I play the piano for about 5 minutes to clear my mind and then put on any 10-hour long music piece from Minecraft (currently listening to this). Then I begin writing.
As you can see, rituals can be hyper-specific to the individual — and that is a good thing. It makes it uniquely yours and in total control of it. While I usually end up writing in 2 hour sessions before being distracted, my ritual has managed to overcome the hardest part: starting.
By turning what you want to start doing or improve on (in this case, writing) into a ritual, you can overcome the urge to procrastinate and actually get to doing it. You have learned how to break the habit of procrastination!
The Ritual of Consistency
The most power ritual you can incorporate into your life is the Ritual of Consistency. This ritual has only one purpose behind it: To build persistence by making the timing and performance of your other rituals consistent.
“Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel” — Napoleon Hill
By making the time at which you perform your rituals consistent, you establish that these hours carry sacred meaning to you. Whether it’s 5am for your morning ritual, or 2pm for my writing ritual, deliberately marking out time for your rituals places greater importance and meaning to them — they aren’t just some event that you do sporadically.
Here’s how the Ritual of Consistency can help in your other rituals:
Do you want to eat healthier? Make meal prepping a ritual. Then apply the Ritual of Consistency: Every Sunday morning, at around 8:30am you go to the supermarket and buy what you need to make for the week ahead. 10:30am comes around and you begin your meal prepping ritual.
Why 10:30am? Because it gives you just enough time to finish preparing your meals, cleaning the kitchen and then its off to lunch. The time at which you start also should carry meaning.
Week after week, you carry out this ritual at the same time. Never failing to go to the market at 8:30am and beginning prepping at 10:30am. Soon, you would have carried out your rituals often enough that the effects begin to show.
You’re eating healthier, saving money from ordering take-away and eating out less. You feel better and your well-being has improved. At this point, you couldn’t imagine a life without meal prepping anymore — after all the benefits you’ve gained from it. Eventually, these rituals will become second nature to you — you no longer need to think about having to doing it anymore.
Almost as if it has become a habit.