“In the beginning man makes the habit. In the end, the habit makes the man.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
This post started simple. I was going to write about some pros and cons of routines. As I filtered thoughts, I found myself meandering around routines, habits, rituals, ruts and behaviors. Granted they’re not mutually exclusive but I wanted to find my way back to something more focused. So work with me as I try to ‘tighten’ this message.
There may not be much difference between a routine and a habit. A habit typically refers to a constant, often unconscious inclination to perform an act, acquired through its frequent repetition. They can be good, bad or indifferent. Create a habit and it becomes part of your routine. A routine suggests ordinariness, even a lack of thought; to be on autopilot. But routines also involve choice for taking advantage of a range of things such as time, willpower, discipline, and optimism.
It’s helpful to have order and discipline in our lives. Creating good habits and useful routines helps us feel productive and directed. Yet, sometimes, routines turn into ruts without our realizing it. We can find ourselves feeling trapped, bored, and boring without understanding why. Enter stress; obviously unwanted and unneeded. When we feel relied upon to perform tasks we’ve grown to resent, or simply to do things the way we always have, that sense of duty can sap our energy and enthusiasm.
On another hand, a ritual usually refers to religious meaning or a solemn ceremony. But rituals are not always simply a means to an end. They can be rational, extremely effective and deeply valuable on their own. For example, think of rituals performed after experiencing losses that alleviate grief or rituals performed before high-pressure tasks to reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. They can also be as simple (and superstitious) as eating certain foods or ‘crossing ones fingers’ for good luck.
Rituals (and most of us have them) can have a casual impact on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If you’re wondering how you might add to or restore some focus to your rituals or routines, here are three possible actions:
- Acknowledge your top three. Every morning, ask yourself, “What are the top three most important tasks that I will complete today?” Prioritize your day accordingly and don’t retire at night until the top three are complete.
- Align meaning with what matters. Often, rituals are the things we care most about. If you value nature, choose a tree-planting ritual by performing mindful and valued steps that allow you to celebrate nature. Whatever rituals you create, remember to include significant and repeatable steps.
- Craft an “Ignore list.” Most people have a to-do list but it may help to ask yourself: “What’s not worth doing?” Write down what you’re willing to disregard – emails you have no intention of responding to, vacuuming, or exercising more regularly. Review the list occasionally to ensure that nothing on it is getting your undeserved attention. (But think twice about the exercising.)