I hate the word routine. It is so sterile and stiff and speaks to a practiced monotony of life. I think it is counterproductive when people speak of establishing routines in their life to create or reinforce habits. No one wants to think of their life as a series of routines that you simply repeat over and over. We want our lives to have substance, depth, and character. We want our habits, not to be something we do, but a strength we gain, and that is why we should look at out the ways to create them, not as routines, but as rituals.
Routines are void of meaning and gravity. They are simply a mechanical sequence of actions – rote motion after rote motion – that you slough through to get to some future result. Routines are hollow things that you do on your way to doing other things. They do offer some value, as we feel we have finished something when we are done with them, but they do not bring with them an excitement in doing them and a new character identity achieved, which is valuable in sticking with a new habit or change.
Rituals, however, are solemn, spiritual experiences that build character in a person. The value of a ritual is in the doing as much as in the result, and because of that, they are actions that take on a larger meaning. Rituals are approached with reverence and devotion and are looked forward to because they bring something deep to the person who does them. Rituals are what we should make of our routines to change the way we build our habits and to better appreciate the things we do in order to make our lives better.
How do we make routine into ritual?
Your habits should embody a quality of character you want to create inside yourself. Whenever I am working to establish a new habit in my life or to destroy an old one, I ask myself what the creation or destruction of this habit will make for me regarding my character. If I want to create a habit of working out, I would fashion the ritual of working out around the idea that I want to embody a warrior’s strength and stamina. If I want to reinforce the habit of reading and writing, I look at the ritual surrounding these practices as a chance to embody a sage’s wisdom. Seeing the creation of my rituals as an opportunity to embody and capture some larger quality to my life, helps me to stick with the habit and see the ritual of it as more than just actions to be performed, but as opportunities to shape and define my character and to become the embodiment of those things I most want to become.
See your routines as rituals; something solemn and prescribed by a higher divinity than just your tiny desires and wants and give it all the proper pomp and circumstance.
Embody the outcomes of your rituals. Your workouts become supplications to the warrior that lives inside you. You set your intent, you put on your soundtrack and you go into that fucking gym and you do battle with every enemy soldier of self-doubt, pain, tiredness and excuse that comes before you. You do that and you haven’t just gotten through your workout routine. You have created a ritual that appeases your warrior spirit. That is something you don’t get used to or complacent with. That is something you look forward to and that strengthens you in more ways than a routine because it gives you something to take with you for the rest of the day.
Defining your archetypes
I see my life as a pursuit of the archetypes I want to embody. I have taken the time to define the character I want to have and the habits I would need to get that character and that has helped shape my daily rituals. My archetypes are the warrior, mystic, and sage. These are my own inventions based upon the qualities I see in these archetypes from stories, myth, and history. You don’t have to create your own. If you are not sure what sort of archetype you might want to embody, here is a link to get you started.
The warrior in me wants to be strong, courageous, healthy and fit. He wants to be able to physically conquer anything that comes his way and to do this I must have a ritual of working out, pushing myself to the physical limits, strengthening my body and eating properly to be the fittest version of myself I can be. These rituals make the warrior in me happy. The mystic in me wants to appreciate the magic of life, he wants to see and relate to the beauty of life and all people in this world. He wants to approach the divine and surrender to the truths of the world. He is appeased by quiet contemplation and reflection and my ritual of meditation and other spiritual pursuits are the only way to satisfy these desires. Lastly, the sage in me values learning. He demands knowledge and understanding and the constant pursuit of moral and general wisdom. The sage requires the rituals of reading and writing and is appeased when a new thing is learned or practiced and my life is made better because of it.
The point in defining my archetypes, and how I use them to shape the habitual rituals of my life, is to give you a starting point for defining your own archetypes and using those to drive the ritual of your life. Who do you want to be seen as and who do you want to be? Decide those and you can begin to create the rituals to get you there.
Deciding on the rituals
Once you have decided what archetypes you want to embody in your life, then decide what rituals you can bring into your life to make that archetype a realistic part of your being. Look at what you are trying to create for yourself and decide what habits someone like that would have and then do those things. If you want to be a warrior, then workout, eat right, be courageous and strong. But do these things, not as a routine to get to a result, but as a ritualistic extension of the warrior spirit that lives inside you.
For example, I will wake at 4:30 am every morning. I take my pre workout and set my intention to destroy those god damn weights as though they were enemies lined up to cut me down. I put on my music and I lift hard and heavy, channeling the warrior in me. Then, to cap off my workout ritual, I take an ice cold shower! Yes. I will not go into the benefits of cold showers here, but I do that every day and it is brutal and beautiful and it makes me feel like a warrior. I never shirk my duty to that ritual because it brings me more than just a workout routine. It brings me an undefeatable state of mind that I carry throughout my day!
When I am channeling the sage in me, I will light some incense, make some tea, and settle into a quiet area of my house to read and write without distraction and with a mind intent on a depth of understanding and mental clarity. Now, these are the rituals I have established for myself for the archetypes I want to embody and they do not have to be your rituals. These are just examples of how to turn a routine into a ritual to get added benefits.
You have a lot of freedom in defining what things would make for the true embodiment of your archetypes, but, whatever you decide, make sure that you find the depth and meaning behind them that is important for you. Do not follow them blindly because they seem reasonable. Follow them because you know that they truly shape the character you are trying to create. That will make all the difference in being able to stick with the rituals that create new habits and never allowing them to feel like cold, empty routines.
The true difficulty in making any lasting change is our ability to stick with that change and maintain the momentum of action in our lives after the initial shine wears off. We can avoid the drag of trying to establish and persist routine changes by instead seeing the opportunity for establishing deeper and more meaningful rituals in our life. These rituals are the building blocks of lasting character changes. They can be made stronger by tying them to an archetype that you are trying to create in yourself and reproducing the habits that we see in those archetypes. As with most things in life, it is all about perspective, and looking at new habits as opportunities to create a new person inside yourself in the strongest way to stick with it and the easiest way to see habits this way is to surround them with rituals.