Everyday life is full of routines. Mind-numbing routines, sometimes? Don’t you think it’s about time we make those routines do work for us? What if folding laundry was more than getting your clean clothes into your drawers or washing dishes more than a clean kitchen? I honestly believe it is this practice of transforming routines >> rituals that allows me to a) get my house work done in less time, b) actually enjoy it?! and c) feel ready to do my most important work for the day.
When I first stepped into the wellness industry, back in 2010, I came through the door of bodybuilding. I’ve never done a competition but it was a thought at one point and I’m not a stranger to those kinds of workouts / meal plans. I’m very grateful for that introduction – I gained strength and muscle mass quickly, which kept me motivated and inspired me to keep learning. Plus it was a good match for my body type. It still plays an important role in how I choose to fuel + move my body [And I’m pretty damn proud of the body I’ve built] But it (like most things) has its downsides.
When I became a mom and chose to pursue being a personal trainer, I started to look at the industry from more of a removed point of view and was startled by it. “How does anybody live a “real life” while pursuing health goals?” I asked. Because what I could see is that once you converted to a “healthy lifestyle,” you became obsessed…and it became a part of your identity, from your way to make money to what your friends know you as.
Now granted, filtering has a lot to do with my perception. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of women who came before me, saw the same trends, and chose a different route, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But with social media, it was easy to feel like I had to make this all-or-nothing choice: either I’m a fitness girl [ruled by workouts and meal prep], or I’m just a regular jane [always wishing to be healthier but never having the time].
That does not have to be the choice, my friend.
This is why I so heavily emphasize the USE of wellness. Not as the be-all, end-all of life but a vital tool. Every bit of “everyday life” can be used to restore energy, cultivate curiosity, and release the toxins that threaten to distract our minds + bodies from doing good work.
So today I’m going to walk you through how to be more intentional with these everyday moments – how to use them to center your mind, release negative thoughts/emotions, and bring your attention back to what matters – so you can walk into your work ready to dig deep and solve whatever problem comes your way.
It’s likely you’ve heard of the concept of a ritual. It conjures up mental images of ceremony…sacredness. I’ve experienced it in church, my college fraternity, and before every soccer game.
A ritual, when boiled down, is a habit loop. Some kind of cue sets off a chain of actions that results in a reward. The difference between a ritual and a routine (also a habit loop) is the mental component.
Routines + rituals are important for gaining new habits…they are raised up by any given health coach as the way to eat better, work out more consistently, and the reason all that is so hard to begin with. Routines and rituals are slightly different from each other. Routines involve autopilot – we back out of our driveways the same way every time, without thinking about it. There isn’t much “intention” behind it. But a ritual draws our minds + hearts to a focal point and is, then, a tool for bringing the mind out of autopilot and into mindful living.
Transforming routines into rituals is a pathway to living your everyday life more intentionally.
Whether you work at home or an office, care for kids or live alone, there are some tasks that are common between us. Activities such as laundry, brushing your teeth, and cleaning up your kitchen are prime opportunities for infusing your day with more mindful action.
Guidelines for rituals:
- Have a baseline (most important, bare minimum)
If your morning ritual lasts 2 hours and you wake up late, it’s more likely you will skip everything. However, if instead you know what the most important elements are, you can trim the fat when necessary without losing the effect of the ritual.
- Start with 1 at a time
It’s great to have an evening ritual, morning ritual, and little pockets of mindful action throughout the day. But setting it all up at once is going to overload your brain. Choose one, give it some time to settle in, then begin to work on another. I recommend starting with your evening ritual first because when that is in place it becomes easier to start waking on that little bit sooner to have a more intentional morning before work/kids.
- Know why you’re doing it
If you don’t have a reason to wake up an hour earlier than you need to be ready for work, you will hit snooze.
- Check in + evaluate progress
It’s not enough to enact a ritual, you need to know if it is doing its job. Evaluating weekly, monthly, and even quarterly if you are seeing the results you want.
- Cut it out if it’s not giving results
Trying to do too many things before your kids wake up? Green smoothie habit not feeling worth the effort? Gym too far from home? Don’t force things that aren’t working, or worse, are causing unneeded problems. Of course you can assess your expectations and try to problem solve. (For example, green smoothies don’t have to have a bunch of fancy ingredients to give you extra servings of veggies + an energy boost). But just because you start something doesn’t mean you have to keep it.
- Tie together a physical action with the mental care
This is key to building a “ritual.” It’s not about going through the motions of your morning routine, it’s about engaging your mind + your heart in the doing. Whether it’s folding laundry or preparing dinner. As Ruth from Gracelaced says, “learn to love what must be done.”
- Tie daily “chore” task with self care
- Finish dishes > drink glass of water
- Fold laundry > close eyes + take deep breaths
- Make dinner > stretch or sit in a squat while it simmers
These may not scream “self care!!” to you but taking time to nourish + care for your body in these simple ways will do a few things: a) get you in the habit of using your spare minutes more effectively, b) bring your attention to often-neglected needs, and c) bring other goals like fat loss or more movement into your everyday tasks…that kind cohesiveness breeds consistency.
- Replace running through your mental to-do list with mindfulness
It’s common to use showering or making breakfast to tally through the day’s task-list but that can put us into a state of anxiety leading to snapping at family or feeling rushed. Instead, let the task list be a part of the evening and morning rituals so you can be present + engaged in the moment during other activities.
Now that we’ve established guidelines, here are a few ways you can cue a ritual:
- Time of day – this is your ritual when you first wake up or as you prepare for bed. Also includes nap time if you are home with kids.
- Certain activities – what you do before you open your computer or while you wash dishes.
- Core habit that leads to domino effect – you probably head to the bathroom when you first wake up so that already-established habit can lead to a domino of other behaviors like brushing your teeth, washing your face, and drinking a glass of water.
- Jolt awake – setting an alarm on your phone can turn a normal moment into a ritual as it calls your attention back to the present. It’s as simple as “When my 9:45 alarm goes off I ______.”
Finally, here are a few ideas for rituals that will help build good mental + physical habits:
- Brushing teeth >> running through how you want to feel today + what you’ll do to feel it (morning) / what DID YOU DO to feel that way (evening)
- Prepping breakfast or folding laundry >> gratitude list
- Driving >> deep breathing
- While showering or washing dishes >> ask yourself questions
- Where has my mind been today? What am I dwelling on?
- How am I feeling? What’s causing that?
- Is this how i want to feel / think today?
- Set alarms for typical “trouble’ times to reawaken using a phrase or mantra
- If you’re home with kids, choose healthy + indulgent activities for the first piece of nap time or post bed time.
- Stretch while watching a show
- Walk around your house while eating a piece of dark chocolate
- Go take a short nap or just close your eyes and zone out for a bit. Set an alarm if you have things you need to do.
To close out here I want to point back to what I said in the introduction:
“I honestly believe it is this practice of transforming routines >> rituals that allows me to a) get my house work done in less time, b) actually enjoy it?! and c) feel ready to do my most important work for the day.”
For those who don’t know, I spend my days at home with my kids, whom I homeschool. While my husband runs a startup software development company from our home office, I act as lead problem-solver on the home front…a role I took on very reluctantly. However, over the past couple of years I’ve learned to live out what Ruth from Gracelaced often exhorts: “Learn to love what must be done.”
So instead of spending so much of my mental energy telling myself I don’t have time to do laundry or thinking about how much I despise folding or dishes or vacuuming, I started to remind myself of how important these mundane tasks are to my family’s ability to focus on bigger things. And I started to talk to myself about the habits I’m building – becoming a person to follows through, who does things that aren’t flashy, who steps fully in to each piece of her role even if it isn’t fun. I knew that’s the kind of woman I wanted to be…so I became it. And now every time I wash dishes I’m reminded of those thoughts and that purpose…and I start to enjoy it. And I’m faster at it, because I’m not looking for distractions from the work.
And because I’ve used the time to remember what my most important work even is (which looks like raising strong + capable kids while providing space for my husband’s work life to flourish in this season), I can step into that role prepared for it rather than simply worn out by the never ending task list.