Why do you focus on habits?
If you have been in the Self-Help world, or you just wanted to improve yourself, you have come across the most dreaded word of all: habits. So much so that it has been the subject of thousands over thousands of articles on the Internet.
Why is it so popular though? Why do we keep hearing about its importance? And why do people keep thinking it will, somehow, make their life 2790% better? Read further as I respond to none of these questions.
A subset of people, I would argue, are just looking to better themselves by either adding positives habits, removing the dangerous one, or both. They just need guidance and that’s fair enough. That’s honorable.
Another subset of people, especially the one obsessed with self-help, look at “successful” people in awe, trying to imitate them, with the hope of becoming like them. For the most part, it’s quite moronic, especially if you only focus on their behaviors. Their mindsets have much more to do with their “success” than the habits they practice. Practicing meditation, running, or others, might give you the energy you need to push further, but it won’t improve your life if you don’t do the work required.
And let’s be honest, habits are boring, repetitive, and boring. You knew that. Your life won’t change in a big way (like in any movie) by just by repeating a behavior every day. It might slowly change you, but the change won’t be instant.
Habits by design
Habits and rituals can be synonymous. No doubt about that. They offer a similar definition but as you might know, a ritual has a ceremonial (or religious) tone to it.
If you look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a habit is: “A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.” while a ritual is: “the established form for a ceremony; an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner”.
If you look at the inherent definition of these two words, there is no major difference, except that ritual is a more specific type of habit. The specificity brought by the word ritual is what’s important.
Habits are, mostly, just a series of unconscious events.
Rituals, on the other hand, come with an intention. Ceremonies don’t just appear from nowhere. They are created because you want them in your life. Forget about religious rituals. I’m talking about personal ritual. It’s about what matters to you, what practice you desire, and what is going to make your current day better.
A habit is waking up at 5 am every morning. A ritual is waking up at 5 am, showering, grooming, and making a coffee. A habit is smoking 3 times a day. A ritual is smoking occasionally a cigar, or a pipe, because you want to relax, think, or ponder.
A ritual is created. A ritual is designed. A ritual is intentional. But most importantly, a ritual is enjoyable, sustainable, and flexible. Habits are not.
The 5 am “miracle” morning
In my first year of discovering self-help, I stumble upon a post about why I should wake up at 5 am every day and how I can achieve that. It caught my attention and decided to test it. I failed to maintain the habit, as you might imagine. The idea was not necessarily wrong, I do enjoy being awake before everybody else, but I failed it because I wasn’t doing it with the right intention.
Fast forward to today, 5 years later, I’ve figured out what seems to work for me.
My first attempt was about waking at 5 am in order to be more effective, or something like that. I didn’t care at what time I would go to sleep, all that matters was the 5-am mark. Also, I didn’t have anything going on projects wise, so all I had for motivation was meditation, which let’s be honest, is not very exciting, especially right after wake up.
Now, I frame my sleep for an 8 hours period. I don’t need more and I don’t want less. So rather than being strick, e.g. 5 am every morning, what matters is sleeping 8 hours. I will vary depending on my priority for the day, but to wake up at 5 am, I’ll go to bed at 9 pm. For 6 am, it’s 10 pm. For 7 am, it’s 11 pm. So on and so forth. Not only I am flexible, hence sustainable and resistant to a chaotic life, but I also have a reason to be awake. Writing. Coffee. Reading.
Just as a quick example, my Christmas holidays was chaotic and I didn’t follow through my ritual most of the time. I didn’t do much about it. But when I came back to my regular schedule, I picked up my ritual straight away, without any worry or any effort whatsoever. I came back to it because it was a ritual I created for myself rather than some arbitrary habit I need fulfill.
You enjoy it; you sustain it.
One who knows it is not equal to one who loves it and the one who loves it is not equal to one who takes joy in it. – Confucius
There is this belief that, in order to have a habit, you have to do it every single day… well maybe for habits, but not for rituals. Let me explain.
Let’s assume, in order to have a successful habit, you need to practice every single day. One hundred percent without failure.
What if something happens? What if you can’t practice it that day? How do you feel? A failure? Probably. At least, I did. And too often for that matter.
Usually what happened afterward was a gradual diminishment of interest toward the particular habit I was practicing. Without any notice, I would be back at square one with the same old, not so helpful, habits.
But what if you allowed yourself to “fail”? What if doing your habits 90% of the time or 80% of the time was enough? Would you still continue that habit? Probably. At least for me, it seems to be working. If I allow myself to be flexible and remove the worry about “not doing it”, I find it easier to maintain it.
Of course, a ritual should be practice every day, but if you don’t, it still acceptable, because what’s important is that you do the ritual the majority of your time, not all the time.
To illustrate my point; in a month, if you eat healthy 29 days but one day you don’t, you are still eating healthy. If you avoid drinking alcohol 29 days out of 30, not a problem. If you smoke one day out of 30, still not a problem. Occasional “bad” behaviors are not bad for you (useless you go in excess that one day), the chronic behaviors are. It’s the same with habits. If you do your rituals for 29 days, but for a day you don’t, that’s not a problem.
When you practice a ritual, you don’t it because you have to complete a 30 days streak, you do it because you want and enjoy it. What this means is, once you leave, or take a break from that ritual, you are going to crave and need it. If you miss a day, or two, or ten even, you are not going to worry about “not having a perfect streak”; you are going to worry about it because you just enjoy and desire the practice.
In fact, being away for a few days, taking a break from it, is going to give a lot of information about the importance of your ritual. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t care about removing it. If you take joy with your ritual, you’ll be back straight at it without any difficulty whatsoever.
This is why you should forget habits and move on to rituals.
I hope this helps you. Please, I would like to know about you? Do you have any ritual? or a habit you would like to shape into a ritual?
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