The hard truth about habits is that the deck is always stacked against you. Bad habits are frequently rewarded immediately. The next episode, the extra sleep, the bag of chips…they give you immediate short-term rewards in exchange for long-term losses that aren’t immediate or easy to sense.
So making bad habits is really easy, and breaking them is hard. But good habits are exactly the opposite. Because you have to focus on the long-term reward that may take weeks, months, or even years to experience, making good habits is really hard. And because the short-term gain for not doing whatever that good habit requires is immediate, breaking good habits is quite easy. Especially in the beginning.
So to start good habits and make them stick, it helps to have a hack. You’ll want a cheat code, a psychological helper to make good habits last. And that’s my gift to you today.
The value of rituals.
Many people equate the term rituals with religion. And many common rituals are based in religion. But whether yours are or not is up to you. Rituals are simply things you do because they have great meaning in your life. That may be spiritual meaning. But it can also be physical, emotional, relational, mental, or any combination.
When you set out to form a ritual instead of a habit, the rules are a little different. With a good habit, you want to do something that benefits you (especially long-term) without having to think about doing it before, during, or after. With a positive ritual, you want to do the same sort of thing, while honoring and respecting the reason or purpose behind the action the entire time.
So if you want to exercise regularly for your long-term health, you could form a habit of running two miles every morning. And every morning you would have to push against the momentum of previous habits of sleeping in or getting work started. And you’d work against unpleasant weather or temperature issues on occasion. And you’d struggle with the whole momentum thing, actually moving from rest to motion. And you’d think about the stresses of the day, and how you could use that time to deal with your most urgent problems.
But if you were to instead form a ritual, the result would be the same: You’d run two miles every morning. But you would do it while acknowledging the reverence or respect you have for your health, the value you place in your personal performance, and the opportunity you have for optimal fitness.
You would center your mind around your ‘why’ of running each morning. You would express gratitude for your ability to run, and you’d find new factors to appreciate and savor with each daily experience. The turning of the leaves, the crispness of a cold winter morning, the fragrance of spring, the first warm rays of sun would each be a cause of internal gratitude and celebration in their seasons.
You would center your focus on the time at hand, push out the struggles and stresses of the coming day, and be fully present in the moment as you pushed your body to full efficiency and felt immense gratitude for the time, energy, and capability to do so.
The entire experience would become a daily expression of who you are, a powerful personal stand against atrophy and aging that would provide immediate emotional benefits as it also provided long-term health benefits.
The whole practice would take on much greater, deeper meaning. Meaning that would almost automatically make donuts and soda seem unappealing, even gross. And because of this holistic effect, the net result would be faster and more effective personal growth.
Chances are, as you read this post, you felt something emotional, even if you’ve never ran a mile in your life. For a fleeting moment, you could imagine running as a ritual, and it seemed pretty great.
That’s the power of ritual. Making good rituals creates immediate gratification to go with the long-term benefits of good habits, and keep you repeating them in the short term, and solidifying them in the long term.
And you don’t need to consider the effort of repeating good rituals forever. Just today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. And…
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The 9th Day - 7 Ways