By nature, I am not a creature of habit, and routines grate on me. It took some trial and error for me to find a way to create morning rituals that stuck. For the last three years, I have had a morning rituals practice that works for me. I used seven steps to do this.
If I can do it, so can you! To help, I’ve created a free little tracker for your first two rituals.
I struggle with routines
I have an intense need for novelty in my life—I thrive when I am learning something new and doing new activities. Settled routines grate on me, and I hate it when life feels predictable. I think it’s why I love traveling so much—a new place, with no routines or expectations. Everything is possibility.
Of course, I do need some stability (interestingly, in some big areas in my life, I tend not to change things up as much as perhaps I should), but overall, I need to feel free.
This need for novelty and freedom makes me naturally curious and open to new experiences. However, the need to start each day with the world as my oyster means that I’m very much prone to getting overwhelmed with choices. And that results in a jumbled day. While I need variety, I also do have things I want to focus on.
So cultivating habits, good ones anyway, does not come naturally to me. I’ve had good habits around activities I love at different points in my life, but nothing that I’d sustained for a few months. I do now.
I’ve created a sustained morning rituals practice, and you can too
For the last three years, I’ve had a reliable, stable, morning rituals practice designed around activities that are most important to me.
If you don’t have a morning rituals practice yet, or your practice has flagged, what I’ve learned about what works for me might help you.
If I can do it, so can you.
I’ve cobbled this together from bits and pieces of things from here and there, tailoring it as I experimented. Most importantly, this isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. If I miss a day, and I do from time to time, then I just pick it up the next. Be gentle with yourself!
Seven steps to create morning rituals that stick
1. Pick one or two rituals at first and be clear on why you’re doing them
My initial rituals were reading and writing. Limiting the activities helps to make your rituals achievable. Add activities if you want to once your initial rituals have taken root. Write down why you are establishing these rituals, and put that someplace where you can return to it when you’re wondering why you’ve gotten up earlier in the morning.
Start small and clarify your why
2. Think “ten minutes”
You have ten minutes most mornings. So why not use it to do something that you really want to do? It’s a small enough chunk of time to be doable, but long enough to be significant and to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something with the time.
Remember when I suggested doing nothing for ten minutes a day? This is why. It’s doable.
I started with reading for ten minutes and writing for ten minutes each morning. Even when I was busy, I had the time to do this. Today I read for 35 minutes and write for 35 minutes (at least) each morning, but I worked up to that over a period of three years, with the biggest increases coming after I started working from home full-time. While I have only been Doing Nothing since the summer, I’ve already increased this to fifteen minutes.
As you increase times spent on a ritual, keep in mind the total time you need for your morning rituals. I’m actually not a morning person, and I probably have gotten to the max time I can spend on a daily basis on my morning rituals.
Think “ten minutes”
3. Make time for your rituals and get right to it
My rituals come first in the mornings. I set my alarm to accommodate my rituals (even though sometimes it hurts). After getting Ollie situated and making the coffee, I sit down, set a timer on my Forest app, and start reading. I’m not even awake enough to resist, and I find the time allows me relax into my morning instead of jumping right into work. This promotes a healthier work-life balance for me.
4. Stick with it—even when it feels weird
While you’re establishing your rituals, no matter how doable you made them, you will likely have some internal resistance to the change. Do your best to ride it out, reminding yourself of what you will gain by going back to your why. If you stick with it, it gets easier. For me, and my resistance to routines, I experienced a lot of resistance. I stuck with it, and now my morning rituals are often the best part of my day. I take time out for just me, doing things that are important to me.
Make time for your rituals and stick with it
5. Use a timer to focus your attention
There’s nothing worse than getting into something and getting nervous that you’re going to get so absorbed that you’ll forget to stop, and so you just keep checking the time. At least I can’t think of anything worse. Setting a timer helps you to focus on the ritual and not the time.
I’ve talked about the Forest app in other posts. I like it, because not only does it make it so that I won’t use my phone during my morning rituals, but also because it has a built-in reward system. Which brings me to my next point.
6. Celebrate your successes—and measure them
Have a way to track what you’ve achieved. If you have a writing practice, this can be as simple as the collection of your writing. For reading, I’ve revived my goodreads account, and I’ve set a goal of reading twenty-one books this year, a doable goal.
The Forest app tracks how long you’ve spent on activities, as you can create tags for your rituals. Over time, you grow a forest with your trees, so I have a record of the time I’ve spent focusing on activities I love.
Also, I added my rituals to my cards to give me a boost each day.
Celebrate your successes!
7. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself
Establishing morning rituals takes effort, and it might not take immediately. That’s OK. Progress, not perfection, as the saying goes. If life gets in the way, and it likely will from time to time, be gentle with yourself, and go back to your rituals.
This past autumn, the combination of the commotion after the election, combined with some family issues and one of the most intense work schedules I’ve had in my career resulted in my rituals suffering for a bit. It was OK (well, it wasn’t, but it was OK with regards to my rituals), because I had established a resilient practice.
I could have berated myself, but that would have made it far more likely that I would not have returned to my rituals. Instead, I just picked up where I left off.
Be gentle with yourself!
What works for you?
Do you have a morning rituals practice? How did you establish it?
Leave a comment if you have a tip to share, or let me know if you are going to give morning rituals a go!
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