Work / Life Balance: the importance of rituals
Words / Liz McLardy
When you think about rituals what comes to mind?
Chanting, peace offerings to exotic gods, weddings, full moon celebrations? Many of us think of something connected to religion. While this is true, rituals go beyond prayers and ceremonies.
They are more present in our everyday lives than we may have noticed and it’s our ritualistic nature that nurtures our wellbeing. We often overlook rituals and take them for granted simply because we do them mindlessly. However, rituals are incredibly powerful when performed on purpose. They allow us to experience everyday life with a deeper meaning and enjoyment.
Unfortunately, modern culture may make you feel that life needs to be constantly satisfying, happy and perfect. But rituals can help you to enjoy the ordinary elements of life and sprinkle them with magic. Rituals are quite different from habits and practices, but all three can be woven together to create a framework for living well.
Habits, practices and rituals
Habits are behaviours or actions that are repeated so often that they become automatic. For many of us they may have manifested as a morning meditation, writing in a gratitude journal before bed or flossing our teeth. They are great because they conserve energy by reducing our cognitive load, and become mindless action. Habits can have negative or positive effects on our wellbeing. So we can use our compassionate self-awareness to examine our habits and consider those that bring a greater sense of fulfilment and wellness into our lives. We can choose to regularly reflect on our actions and habits to make sure they are supportive.
Ask yourself, “Which habits support my health and wellbeing right now?”
Although habits can sometimes seem insignificant on their own, the very nature of continuously repeating them can impact on our health, productivity, relationships, finances and happiness.
Practices are a set of actions taken to acquire or improve skills. It’s through repeated practice that connections get established in the brain that support the new skill. Mindfulness, gratitude, optimism and a positive relationship with money are all learned skills. We can use practices strategically by considering what skills would bring greater fulfilment to our lives. Then we can create practices to cultivate these skills. Practices strengthen our wellbeing “muscles”.
Ask yourself, “Which new or improved skills would support my health and wellbeing right now?”
Rituals are symbolic actions that have a deeper purpose than just the actions themselves. They usually follow a system and contain a sequence of actions. You can use them to anchor and enhance your wellbeing experiences. Mindless rituals are just habits.
Ask yourself “what aspects of my life do I really love and care deeply about and would benefit from connecting with deeply? Know what brings you fulfilment? Then make it a habit. Need to improve? Create a practice. Want to connect deeply? Design a ritual.
Why are rituals so powerful?
Essentially, rituals are supercharged habits with heart. Naturally, most of us think habits are important. Most self-help books like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change will show you lots of examples of good habits. And, yes, habits are important, but rituals are more powerful as they combine multiple habits, follow a system and emotionally connect you with why you are doing what you are doing. They connect you to something larger than yourself.
The power of rituals doesn’t come from a particular belief or involve luck. It comes from what the rituals symbolise. They represent something significant to the person performing them, such as a professional athlete preparing before a game.
Rituals provide comfort
Most parents can attest to the power of family rituals and their ability to provide comfort to their children, particularly in unfamiliar circumstances. A simple song and a bedtime story can create a great sense of connectedness and belonging, and lets everyone know how important they are to the family. This ritual can help to provide feelings of security and predictability when you are travelling or working late.
Of course, rituals can provide the same sense of comfort to adults. Having your own bedtime rituals can help you to de-stress from work and can assist with sleep when you are working away from home and in unfamiliar places. Rituals give us comfort and a sense of control when life gets challenging. They support our need for structure and balance. When we embark on a new exercise regime we often begin to feel a greater sense of wellbeing and safety knowing that we are doing the best we can for our health.
Rituals transform the mundane into the sacred
The Japanese tea ceremonies (the “way of the tea”) are the perfect example of rituals imbued with the deeper meaning of inner quietness, purity and tranquillity. They allow us to find the magic in the mundane. In our own lives, rituals can allows us to pause, take a breath and reconnect with our inner needs. Whether connecting to the sacred means getting back in touch with nature or the divine, rituals are the perfect way of integrating that into your daily life through seemingly mundane acts.
Rituals don’t need to be elaborate or spectacular to be effective; what matters is that they are meaningful to you. The amount of time you spend conducting your rituals is not important; rather, it’s the intention you put into them. They can be really short and done anywhere, as long as they mean something to you.
Rituals foster a greater connection with ourselves and others
When we create a ritual to purposely fill our minds with loving kindness through meditation, write in a journal to connect with ourselves or sit around the dinner table and talk to family, we feel more connected with ourselves and those we care deeply for. It’s through rituals like these that we can experience how powerful they are at filling our days with love, purpose and meaning.
Rituals encourage self-love
Rituals can help to remind us that we are valuable and our needs are important. Most of us find it difficult to make time to care for ourselves among the busyness of everyday life, but rituals can remove us from the ordinary flow of life and place us in a sacred space. Whether it’s soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath, listening to your favourite music or painting your nails, these self-care routines don’t have to be empty. Infuse them with personal meaning and significance.