The Power of Rituals: Why Meaningful Routines Improve Your Wellbeing

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 17 December 2018
  • 7 minute read
The Power of Rituals: Why Meaningful Routines Improve Your Wellbeing | The Health Sessions

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One of the reasons why people love the holiday season is because it’s filled with traditions. From getting together for Thanksgiving dinner to decorating the Christmas tree, December feels like one long series of comforting rituals.

Rituals are often associated with religious customs and the cultural ways we celebrate birth, marriage and death. But did you know that simple rituals like lazy brunches on Sunday and reading bedtime stories each night have powerful benefits for your wellbeing?

A ritual is a set series of actions that you perform regularly. But unlike routine behaviors such as brushing your teeth, rituals are meaningful acts you do with intent. Rituals embody what matters to you by putting your values into practice. That in itself will probably make you happier, but performing simple rituals has more perks for your wellbeing.

Have a look at 5 reasons why rituals have a powerful impact on your health and happiness.  

The Power of Rituals for Your Wellbeing

The Power of Rituals: Why Meaningful Routines Improve Your Wellbeing | The Health Sessions

1. Rituals translate your values into actions.

Of course you value qualities like self-care, creativity and being a compassionate person. But in between juggling your work and home life, it can be hard to actually make time for the things that are important to you.

Daily, weekly or seasonal rituals can help you carve out time for what matters most. That way, putting your core values into practice doesn’t have to be complicated. If you care about nurturing your relationships, you can turn sitting down for a family dinner each night or taking up a hobby with your best friend into a recurring ritual. Or maybe you’d love to rekindle your expressive side by planning an Artist Date every Sunday or having weekly healthy baking sessions with your kids.

Whatever ritual helps you focus on what’s most important, try to make it a regular part of your life.

2. Rituals provide structure and renewal.

By definition, rituals are nourishing routines. Whereas habits can be more or less (un)healthy, we perform rituals because they have a deeper meaning to us. And because we carry out those meaningful routines with purpose and awareness, rituals are like mindfulness put into practice.

In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz looked into the performance of top athletes. They learned that what made elite athletes stand out from the competition was the meticulous way they spend and recovered energy, through detailed rituals. According to their research:

The more scheduled and systematic these [recovery] rituals became, the more renewal they provided.”

By cueing us in on what we can expect, rituals also provide structure. Especially in stressful and uncertain times, recurring activities like going to the church on Sunday or visiting your favorite place can give you a sense of control and continuity. That’s why Loehr and Schwartz advise us to create recovery rituals before we need them. The Power of Full Engagement tells us:

 “The bigger the storm, the more inclined we are to revert to our survival habits, and the more important positive rituals become.”

So think about which meaningful routine brings you renewed energy. That way you build a strong foundation for tough times.

3. Rituals facilitate change.

People are creatures of habit. As much as our brains love exciting new things, we find actually sticking to new habits much harder. Rituals can help transition lifestyle changes by reducing your need to rely on willpower.

Instead of using discipline to exercise and follow a diet, you can also choose healthy behaviors that you like to do, because those actions have meaning to you. For example, if you want to move your body more but hate the gym, you could create a ritual that ties your health goal with other important values. You can go for long walks with loved ones on the weekend or  you could cycle to work because it’s also good for your budget and the environment.

Over time, your healthy ritual will become an automatic behavior, something you do without putting much thought into it. What’s more, on days when you don’t feel like doing it, a ritual will provide rewards, because it also taps into other values that are important to you, like spending time with loved ones or connecting with nature.

The Power of Rituals: Why Meaningful Routines Improve Your Wellbeing | The Health Sessions

4. Rituals help unlock your potential.

Tennis legend Rafael Nadal is notorious for his superstitious rituals to help him focus. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami sticks to a strict schedule when writing a new novel. And for good reason.

While studying the lives of top performers, author Mason Currey of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work discovered that the secret to nearly every masterpiece created was routine. Because if you want to be creative, you have to get into a state of flow day in day out. That’s where the power of rituals comes in.

When you regularly perform a ritual, those series of actions become a mental cue for what’s about to come. For example, if you put on some soft music and do some stretching before you get to work each day, that act tells your brain it needs to start getting focused. Or as Murakami described it according to Daily Rituals:

“The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

So unlock your own potential by creating rituals that help you concentrate and do your best work.

5. Rituals deepen emotional, spiritual and social connections.

In our fast-paced world, performing simple rituals helps us pause for a moment and reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones. When you’re tired and busy, it’s easier to take time for self-care when you’re used to going for a run in the park on Saturday or having a relaxing bath after a long day.

Furthermore, family rituals play their part in shaping your identity and making you feel like you belong. Some routines are so meaningful they are passed on from one generation to the next and become family traditions.

And of course rituals are widely known for deepening your spiritual connection. Whether you like to pray, chant, light a candle or practice gratitude, rituals help you honor forces greater than us.

How to Build Powerful Rituals

How do you want to feel? Which aspects of your life would you like to pay more attention to?

Rituals are most meaningful when they are self-chosen instead of enforced by your culture or religion. So first, take a moment to identify which core values you wish you could put into practice more. Next, think about how you can turn those desires into actions. Given your circumstances, which practical steps could you take to strengthen your body, boost your happiness or bring more adventure in your life?

Finally, be super specific about what you will do and when. You’ll be much more likely to create an empowering morning ritual when you plan to get up at 6.30 AM, drink a cup of matcha tea, do one series of sun salutations and read one chapter of a specific book than when you intend to “have a healthy breakfast and do some yoga before work”.

So what kind of rituals could you build to improve wellbeing? Here’s some inspiration.

The Power of Rituals: Why Meaningful Routines Improve Your Wellbeing | The Health Sessions

  1. Say grace before dinner or keep a gratitude journal.
  2. Practice sun salutations upon waking to stretch your body and centre yourself.
  3. Have screen-free Sundays. Go analogue for (half) a day of the week to reconnect with yourself and your family and friends.
  4. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a warm bath before bed, drink a cup of chamomile tea or wind down with a good book.
  5. Instead of meeting friends over drinks and dinner, why not go for leisurely walks once a month or go dancing?
  6. Practice meditation daily, mentally repeat affirmations while brushing your teeth or visualize the day ahead when you wake up.
  7. Take a leaf from the traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and mindfully make your cup of artisan tea or coffee in the morning.
  8. Go for a Morning Mile to get your blood and energy flowing and boost your mental clarity.
  9. Build your own family rituals. Often a spontaneous decision – like having a living room picnic or doing a ‘Yes Day’ – can become a fun new tradition.
  10. Light a candle when your thoughts go out to a struggling loved one.
  11. Schedule an “artist date” each week or month. Get your creative juices flowing by taking up a crafts project, visiting a museum or writing stories.
  12. Get (back) into a reading habit.
  13. Dedicate the first hour of your day to the Miracle Morning routine to fuel your body, mind and soul.
  14. Keeping (seasonal) traditions going. Traditions are periodical rituals that are passed on from one generation to the next. From baking your grandmother’s apple pie on birthdays to decorating Easter branches with family ornaments, there’s something comforting about having recurring rituals in your (family) life.

For more ideas of powerful routines, check out the daily rituals of famous artists or the renewal routines of top performers.

Lastly, make sure you occasionally change your rituals up a bit so they remain fresh and effective.

How do you benefit from the power of rituals? Which meaningful routines or traditions do you have that boost your overall wellbeing?

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