The power of rituals
Arianna Huffington famously follows an elaborate four-step bedtime wind-down every day. Tennis lovers will know the intricacies of Rafael Nadal’s 19-step court ritual before a game. But it’s not just celebrities who like a good ritual. More and more of us are using habits like morning runs or evening meditations to power our days – and the rise in best-selling books and apps on the subject speaks for itself.
Ritual vs Routine
Starting a ritual is a chance to introduce positive change to your lifestyle, says media psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘Unlike routine behaviours like brushing your teeth, they’re meaningful processes you do with intent. Rather than just going through the motions, you consciously choose to make a ritual part of your life.’ You don’t necessarily have to do them daily: ‘It could be something you do on the weekend, or at a certain time of year – like a spring clean,’ she adds.
While routines might have a neutral or even negative effect on our health (like an excessive wine habit), rituals are, by definition, good for us. Coaching psychologist Jessica Chivers explains, ‘Rituals are nourishing, whether that’s in a literal sense, like eating a healthy breakfast every day, or a psychologically enriching activity, such as keeping a gratitude journal.’
Far from just a 21st-century fad, the notion of ‘ritual’ has its roots in traditional religious ceremonies like the Catholic Mass. According to Kenny, wellbeing rituals function in a similar way: to give our lives a deeper meaning. ‘As we become more secular as a society, our personal rituals help create order and purpose. The difference is that we focus on ourselves as individuals, rather than as part of a religious group.’
Rituals are also closely connected to another growing macro-trend: mindfulness. Kenny says, ‘It’s a practice that’s full of rituals, from mindful breathing and eating to walking and gratitude – it’s about being in the moment. This helps us to feel as though we’re living with purpose, not just existing.’
Chivers agrees. ‘At its most simple, mindfulness is about focusing on one thing at a time. If you’ve committed to a ritual, you’re likely to be doing it in a mindful way,’ she explains.
Make your own rules
While there’s no shortage of highly publicised rituals to follow, Chivers stresses that it’s important to create your own: ‘Take celebrity rituals as your point of inspiration. But remember they have a different body, mind and set of resources. Choose something that works for you.’ (Check out her tips for creating your own rituals below.) Beginning a ritual is much like setting up a healthy-eating regime or an exercise plan, adds Kenny. ‘The biggest lie you can tell yourself is that you will start tomorrow,’ Kenny says. ‘Start small, but start now.’ And if you miss a day or two, don’t worry.
While rituals are, by nature, repeated behaviours, Chivers says a ‘degree of flexibility’ is important. ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself – the world won’t end if you miss it,’ she says. The trick, she explains, is to remember why you’re doing the ritual. ‘Say you’re learning to play the piano to bring some beauty into your life, and you can’t play one day. If you go to a concert, or listen to music, you’ve achieved your goal in a different way.’
So why not harness the power of a ritual this year and see what it can do for you?
Jessica Chivers’ tips on creating your own ritual:
‘A ritual can act as a counterbalance to a busy life. ‘For instance, if you’re a mother looking after young children, then a ritual might be based on self-care’
Think about the end goal
‘Ask yourself, “What outcome do I want?”. This might be joy or relaxation. Mine is the latter so, for 10 minutes a day, I listen to Tibetan singing bowls and breathe deeply.’
‘The “right” ritual is one you’ll want to do over and over.’