Personal rituals are critically important for the development of effective systems and also creating a life that is unique and enjoyable to you.
They’re like anchors in the midst of your journey. They tie you to each day, centre you and help you focus on the system you have put in place for success. They are also deeply personal and will vary from person to person.
Finding a solid routine of personal rituals comprised of easy-to-do and consistent behaviours helps to set you up for success. Often the easiest and most effective time of day to implement these practices is first thing in the morning.
Numerous studies have found having a consistent structure to your morning boosts productivity throughout your day. You're also significantly more likely to engage in consistent practices of self-care first thing in the morning when you’re well-rested and your brain hasn’t been faced with making willpower-based decisions throughout the day.
This is vital. We can’t always guarantee we will have energy for the gym, mindfulness or meal prep at the end of a busy day. The last thing we feel like doing is exercising, meditating or deep breathing - even though it may be precisely what we need.
Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple says "Moral of the story here: drive your day, or your day will drive you. Direct, or you’ll be put in a constant position to react."
Science supports personalised rituals
Roy F Baumeister wrote in his book Willpower; rediscovering the greatest human strength that willpower is highest in the morning.
This is why it is crucial to tackle any consistent practice of self-care, creativity or personal development in your morning. It doesn't have to be writing a novel at 5 am. It could be committing to deep breathing, a glass of lemon water or exercise before your external responsibilities take your attention.
From a physiological standpoint, the morning hours offer some extra benefits.
Research shows exercising in a fasted state (i.e. with no food in our bellies) offers better benefits for fat burning and insulin sensitivity. It will also produce greater levels of ketones, for a longer period of fat burning. This is a form of intermittent fasting and is vital because your body will burn body fat - rather than dietary fat - in the absence of food.
You also have the benefit of using cortisol - a stress hormone - to your advantage in the morning. Cortisol naturally peaks in the morning and declines throughout the day in preparation for sleep. Obviously, this is in theory. The reality is that many people experience cortisol surges throughout the day due to stress, excessive exercise and caffeine.
Sisson also says the willpower used in making these health-driven choices has a knock-on effect throughout your day.
"You’ll be more invested in making healthier choices throughout the day if you’re already on a roll with an a.m. workout, meditation time and/or other positive behaviours."
I'm sure most of us probably agree that we feel off when we don't go through some form of morning structure to launch us into the day. But how do develop a nourishing personal ritual?
IMPLEMENTING A PERSONAL RITUAL PRACTICE
There is no one right way design your ritual but it should feel nourishing and not a chore. Including elements that are important to you and your lifestyle is key to creating a sustainable routine.
Here are some tips to get you started.
- Have a think about what makes you happy and settled. Some people really enjoy writing to clear their head in the morning. Your routine doesn’t necessarily have to include typical “healthy” elements. It could simply be a few quiet minutes to yourself.
- Plan ahead We set alarms for our mornings, but we should also set an alarm to go to bed. The only way to carve out time and space for yourself in the mornings is to get up earlier. Set your alarm so that you have a minimum 7 hours of sleep before getting up.
- Choose three activities that ground you. They don't have to be long or contrived. Deep breathing for ten breaths counts. So does drinking a glass of warm water with lemon. You can meditate if you want, or write in a gratitude journal.
- Move your body. This doesn't have to be exhausting. Simply stretching or going for a brisk walk will prepare you for the day ahead.
- Create a ritual, but try a few different things. Once you've put together a morning practice, make a ritual of it. What you try the first morning doesn’t have to be what you settle on. Play around to figure out what works for you.
- It doesn’t have to be the morning, personal rituals are just that; personal. They can be implemented at any time that suits you. Mornings are often easiest for the reasons mentioned above but any time set aside to do something that feels good to you will have great benefits. Maybe it’s a cup of herbal tea before bed or a brisk walk in your lunch break.