5 Ways to Create Rituals from Habits
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All of us have habits in our daily routines. Maybe they involve checking our email before starting work, or making coffee before talking to anyone, or calling our parents during lunch.
Most of our habits develop without knowing it. We start doing something one day, and over time, the action becomes so engrained that we don’t even think about it anymore.
Habits formed by happenstance are just that: habits. When we mindfully choose our habits and repeat them to serve an end goal, they become rituals. Rituals are the foundation upon which great work is completed.
The Rituals of Great Minds
Great artists throughout history have developed and followed rituals (many that seem ludicrous and even destructive to the casual observer):
- Benjamin Franklin wrote naked for an hour every morning to “refresh” his mind in the cold air.
- Beethoven rose at dawn and counted out exactly 60 coffee beans to make his perfect morning brew before sitting at his desk and working until 2 p.m.
- Painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec worked best at night setting up his easel in brothels around Paris.
Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals shares the rituals of 161 artists, from Picasso to Louis Armstrong to Woody Allen.
While the rituals include everything from long walks (Kierkegaard) to secret note-writing (Jane Austen), all of the artists have one thing in common: they all had a ritual.
In our lives and businesses, we have an idea of what we want to accomplish. We might even codify those ideas into goals. But how do we reach those goals? More importantly, how do we create amazing work throughout our lives?
The answer is not waiting for inspiration to come. (When are you actually going to be inspired to finish that report or import your spreadsheet of email addresses?) As V.S. Pritchett notes:
Sooner or later the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.
I disagree with Pritchett that you have to work every minute of every day. In fact, as Joshua Fileds Millburn notes in his minimalist memoir Everything That Remains, taking time to enjoy the moment and avoiding the trap of planning every minute of every day allows space for you to actually think and let your mind wander.
Combining work and solitude into a ritual is the goal. As Currey notes:
“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”
5 Ways to Create a Ritual
Everyone has habits, so we might as well make those habits positive. You can shape your habits to help you and then continue those habits with purpose. With purpose, these habits will become your ritual.
There are five simple steps you can take to create a ritual.
1. Prepare Your Environment
If you set your running shoes out before you go to bed, you’re more likely to run in the morning. If you set Facebook as the first page you see when you open your computer, you’re more likely to spend time on Facebook.
Creating environmental change has a dramatic impact on what we do. Great artists, business leaders, and entrepreneurs set themselves up for success by preparing what they want to accomplish before they take the time to actually do it.
If this means shutting off your Wi-Fi until you write a chapter in your book, do it (Freedom is a great program that can help). If this means opening Excel and finishing your tedious spreadsheet calculations for work before checking your email, do it.
Set yourself up for success, and make environmental preparation a part of your daily ritual.
2. Find Your Productive Window
The artists in Daily Rituals knew when they were most productive, and they protected that window of time.
If you are a morning person, get up and make your ritual centered around that time. If you are a night person, like Toulouce-Lautrec, hide away in your office, your study, or even a bar to create during your peak hours.
As Stephen King notes in his book On Writing, write the same time every day, and the muse will find you.
3. Do the Hard Stuff First
Normally we push off the annoying work until the end of the day, which becomes the end of the week, which becomes the end of never. As Julien Smith notes, if you work on the hardest task first:
“You’ll discover that your day will get easier, and the rewards will get better as time goes on. So the first thing is hard, but next is easier, and then easier still, and so on until you have the most fun doing the easiest things on your task list.”
Plus, we know that the easiest thing on your list will get done anyway, so leave that for later.
4. Choose Only 5 Things You Want to Do
Think of these as your longer-term vision of where you want to be. You can build tiny steps in your daily ritual that will help you get to where you want to be going.
As Julien reminds us, these activities don’t have to be world-changing actions. If you have a goal to learn a language, just spend 10 minutes working on it. If you want to live a mindful life, try three minutes of sitting. If you want to spend more time outside, walk your dog around the block each morning.
Choose five simple activities you want to do, and spend the minimum amount of time necessary to start getting them done.
5. Focus on Completion, Not Perfection
Spending time every day pursuing your craft doesn’t mean that you will end up with something you are proud of. That’s not the point of a ritual.
The point of a ritual is to continually pursue your end goal. It will be ugly, painful, and maybe even fruitless at first. However, if you are able to sit down and do it, the result will come.
Joshua Fields Millburn notes that the best advice he ever got on how to be a good writer was to sit in the chair.
Figure out what your “chair” is, and go sit in it every day. Make it a part of your ritual until you it’s impossible not to do it.
Use Your Ritual To Create a Legacy
Creating a ritual is the most important step you can take to succeed at business, create amazing art, or become the person you always wanted to be.
You already have habits. All you need to do is transform these habits into positive rituals. These rituals help you to create on a regular basis and, as as psychologist William James argues, “frees our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”
The sum of all the tiny steps you take through your ritual creates an impressive body of work, a legacy you can be proud of.
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