How lit­tle rit­u­als help build habits

The key to your ev­ery­day badassery could be in seem­ingly sim­ple repet­i­tive ac­tions.


It’s the pour-over coffee/uni­corn mug/ crossword rou­tine that starts your morn­ing, and those lucky un­der­wear you put on when your team is in the play­offs. It’s the route you walk to work, and the weekly Skype-and-pop­corn date with your sis­ter. Whether you re­al­ize it or not, your life is full of rit­ual.

Nope, rit­ual isn’t just for sage-burn­ing hip­pies and crys­tal-wield­ing witchy types. In fact, rit­ual is a tool for ev­ery­day badassery that we can all take ad­van­tage of.

A rit­ual doesn’t have to be any­thing elab­o­rate or mys­ti­cal: It’s sim­ply an ac­tion or be­hav­iour that you as­so­ciate with an­other ac­tion, be­hav­iour or event, such as a change in set­ting, ac­tiv­ity, time of day or year. And in fact, far from your as­sump­tions about hip­pies and sage, rit­ual is deeply rooted in the neu­ro­science be­hind con­di­tion­ing and habit-form­ing, and can sup­port you to do all the amaz­ing things you al­ways say you’re go­ing to do, but never get around to.

Say, for ex­am­ple, you want to start wak­ing up early in the morn­ing to write. You can cre­ate a sim­ple rit­ual out of your early morn­ing writ­ing prac­tice by light­ing your favourite can­dle or brew­ing a cup of coffee at the same time. By adding in these small el­e­ments of rit­ual, you wire short­cuts in your brain that re­mind you of the state of mind that you want to en­gage in when those ex­ter­nal cues are used. The more of­ten your can­dle-smelling, cof­feedrink­ing, writ­ing neu­rons all fire at the same time, the stronger the neu­ral path­ways that as­so­ciate those ex­pe­ri­ences with cre­ativ­ity. The re­sult? Your brain will be more pre­pared to fo­cus and dive into the cre­ative process be­cause you’ve set up some rit­ual around it.

A com­fort­ing, en­joy­able rit­ual also helps to cre­ate plea­sur­able feel­ings around the prac­tices and habits you want to build. It might feel like a chore to leap out of bed be­fore sun­rise ev­ery day and ham­mer out an­other chap­ter of your travel mem­oir, but the prom­ise of that can­dle and coffee rit­ual will slowly be­gin to make the prac­tice so spe­cial that it will be­gin to feel un­de­ni­able. For this rea­son, it’s im­por­tant that your rit­ual be sim­ple enough that it can quickly and eas­ily be­come habit.

Adding a lit­tle rit­ual to some of the prac­tices and habits you’d like to fos­ter in 2018 is a great way to start, but rit­ual has the po­ten­tial to have an even more pro­found im­pact on your life. Though we all cre­ate rit­ual in our own lit­tle worlds, whether it’s un­con­sciously or con­sciously, it’s the rit­ual that we share with oth­ers that may be most pow­er­ful. Shared rit­ual has al­ways been of the ut­most im­por­tance to hu­mankind. It’s one of the most mean­ing­ful ways we can com­mune with each other, and yet many of us fail to par­tic­i­pate in this age-old way of build­ing and main­tain­ing our so­cial sup­port net­works.

Many so­ci­ol­o­gists ar­gue that the loss of rit­u­al­ized rites of pas­sage and con­nec­tion with the earth (see also: Danc­ing un­der the full moon) con­trib­utes to fur­ther dis­con­nec­tion and gen­er­al­ized floun­der­ing among us mor­tals. This year, in ad­di­tion to ex­per­i­ment­ing with small per­sonal rit­u­als to sup­port your ev­ery­day badassery, see if you can bring a lit­tle rit­ual into the way you con­nect with the peo­ple around you, or to sweet old Mother Earth. Whether you call it magic or call it science, rit­ual will level-up your life in the best way.

See you at the next full moon? No? Too soon?


The joy of that first cup colours the work that comes af­ter.

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