Habit and Rituals – How they Change the course of life.

Habitual (Habit + Ritual):

Habit: As the philosopher ( no it’s not Aristotle ) Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Our entire day, from waking up to sleep ( including sleep) is all a series of habits. Good habits and bad habits. We are so used to them that habits have become our second nature. ‘Habits’ are actions. Actions have a trigger. And triggers are a response to contextual cues. For example, Opening the fridge (action) after entering the kitchen (contextual cue). Or, putting on a seatbelt (action) after getting into the car (contextual cue). Research shows that the repetition of simple actions done in a context builds habits. We call it as associative learning. The initiation of action is now on external cues. There is no need for conscious attention or motivation. Thus, triggers are likely to persist even after conscious motivation or interest dissipates. Habit is about: What to do? Ritual: Here we bring in the daily rituals (some weekly/monthly) to follow the habit triggers. This is about doing things mindfully. Rituals ensure that the habits once triggered does not get automated. We stay mindful of the activities we do. This helps us focus on the task at hand and the entire process becomes rewarding. Being present about the rituals gives us the opportunity to be creative. This helps get better results, faster. Thus Habitual (Habit + Ritual) is the foundation of this robust health management system. Ritual is about: How to do? Cues and how to use: A 5W’s approach.
  1. When: A particular time in a day is a cue for a certain set of activities. For example, bedtime. There are a certain set of activities you do in a loop to wind down your day. For example, put the phone on the charger, set-up your alarm, make the bed, switch on the AC, take your medicines, go to the washroom switch-off the lights, etc.
Use of this Cue: This cue can be used to do the daily rituals you want to set for yourself. Taking the same example of bedtime, I have designed a ‘Sleep Ritual’. Sleep Rituals: Dinner Time → Wind-down → Digital / Social Media off → Set alarm → Sleep Music →Skincare – moisturizers →Lights off → Good Sleep
  1. Where: You wash your hands every time you go to a bathroom. You put something into your mouth every time you enter the kitchen. All these are examples of ‘where’ or location-based cues. These are the cues based on the environment.
Use of this Cue: If opening the fridge on entering the kitchen if my cue, then I can choose what to keep in the fridge. Changing the content of the fridge. Pastries, icecreams to fruits, salads, etc work great. Also when it comes to developing good sleep habits, a bedroom can be used as a cue for the sleep ritual to begin. Kitchen as a Where cue: Enter → Open Fridge → Find Fruits/ Green Salads → Eat healthy→ Stay fit
  1. Why: Many habits are a trigger to something else that happens in your life. Your phone buzzes, so you pick it up to check what’s it about. The little notification bar lights up on WhatsApp, so you click it to see who is it and what is it. These are examples of habits that are triggered by an event. These habits happen because something else happens.
Use of this Cue: I get a daily morning call from my team member. Instead of jumping at the phone on the first ring, I allow the phone to ring 5 times. During these 5 rings, I focus my attention on my breathing. This small act of mindful breathing gives me the required clarity to start my day in a calm and composed way. Call from team-member → Wait → Listen five rings → Focus on breathing → Take the call → Start a calm and composed day.
  1. Who: There are some personalities in our life with whom we have certain cues associated. Gym partner, reading club members, party buddy, etc. So we behave in a certain way when we are close to these people. Imagine people who share most of their bad habits and addictions with their best friends.
Use of this Cue: I have a friend who is a strong believer in continuous learning. Every time I interact with him, I get to know about new books to read, new podcasts to listen or new courses to do. Of course, once you start getting such help from a friend you tend to give it back. Thus entering into a positive spiral of learning and growth for both. Friend → A Learner → Conversations on books/courses/information →Positive spiral → Learning and Growth.
  1. What: Things that bring the craving. Looking at a chilled, flavored soda gives people the motivation to buy and have it. Electronic gadgets, food packets, mobile app icons, posters/ pictures on magazines and websites, are all such triggers. These Cues are due to our current emotions associated with these things. Every time a smoker feels anxious, he goes for another cigarette. These cues are associated with bad habits.
Use of this Cue: Every time you feel anxious, or every time you see a soda bottle you can use it for breathing practice. Taking 5 deep breaths. Bringing your attention to the flow of air inside your body. Following it till the end of that breath. This gives you the benefits of deep breathing. Also, it makes you aware of your choice, thus giving you an option to let go of that cigarette or that soda bottle. A chilled soda bottle → Do the 5 breaths activity → Relaxed → Choice point → Option to say NO → Health and Happiness.  

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