Habit, Routine + Ritual.

Routine and Ritual

“We are what we repeatedly do. Success is not an action but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

Whenever autumn rolls around, I find myself drawn back into that back-to-school mode. Since I am long out of school, it’s a time of year when I turn inward and really look at how I am spending my time. By then, I’m coming off a summer of loose routines, fun and spontaneous adventures and I’m ready to dive back into a structure that feeds my creativity.

This year I’ve been thinking about the differences between habit, routine and ritual. Habits—good and bad—are those things we do automatically without too much thought: brushing our teeth, taking a shower, a walk after dinner. Routines are a set of habits that lend structure to your day. So a set of habits such scraping your tongue, drinking a glass of warm water with lemon, gentle yoga and meditation become a morning routine. Nighttime routine might consist of a cup of tea, turning off all electronics, setting the alarm, reading a book before going to sleep. I think of routines as safety nets to our days.

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ~ John Maxwell

I knew I had to change something about my morning routine. My habit was to eat breakfast while watching a show on Hulu that I had missed the night before. But that became a slippery slope and before I knew it a whole morning could be wasted in front of the TV and on my phone. So, my one change was to eat breakfast at my desk. I make some toast, fruit and tea, go into my writing room, close the door, light a candle, read an inspiring writing book while eating my toast then write my morning pages while sipping my tea. Then I set a timer for 30 minutes and work on my novel. I’ve started doing a freewrite based on a card drawn from “The Observation Deck” then I move onto my draft and start knitting together what I have, cutting what doesn’t work, asking myself question. I keep a writer’s notebook specifically for this project where I keep my freewrites, notes, questions, timelines. After the timer goes off I’ll go do some small household task like wash the dishes or put in or fold a load of laundry then set the timer again.

“If you want your day to be organized, develop a routine. If you want your day to be meaningful, create rituals.” 

This one small tweak of a habit—moving where I ate my breakfast—cracked open my morning routine and helped me create a ritual that sustains my creative process. Lighting the candle, reading an inspiring book, drawing a card from the “Soulful Woman Guidance Deck” all weave together to create a ritual to nurture my creativity. When I start my day immersed in the creative process, it sets the tone for my day, it adds meaning to my life.

The Art of Being a Resolutions Junkie

the desire map

I admit it—I’m a New Year’s Resolution junkie.

I love a clean slate. It can be my birthday,the first day of the month or week, the new moon. But the first day of the new year holds a special place in my resolution-craving heart.

I’ve tried all kinds of resolutions. The usual vague lose weight to the specific lose 20 pounds to the very specific lose 1 pound a week. I’ve set intentions instead of goals regarding my writing life, typing them up with a pretty background and hanging it above my desk.

I’ve taken workshops that use hypnosis to help us keep our resolutions. That was incredibly successful. One year I wanted to take my writing to the next level. (Not very specific, I know.) That was the year I participated in the Elephant Journal Apprentice program, stayed on as a volunteer editor, finished my novel-in-stories, and published pieces on line.

This year I am working with Danielle Laporte‘s “The Desire Map.” Instead of resolving to DO things, first I am figuring out how I want to FEEL this year.

Desire tends to get a bad rap in spiritual circles.Wanting something can be seen as coming from ego or from a place of attachment. But really, our entire life is based on desire. Every action we take from the grand to the mundane comes from our desire to feel a certain way—we want to feel good.

Even our so-called bad habits make us feel good in some way—which is why they can be so hard to break.

As a writer, I don’t have a story or character until I know what that character wants. What do they yearn for? What do they desire deeply? Once I know that, I’m on my way to a story.

So, desire is not a bad thing. Getting in touch with how we want to feel, what LaPorte calls our “core desired feeling” is essential. She says, “Small, deliberate actions inspired by your true desires create a life you love.”

I’m well on my way to discovering my core desired feelings for this year. I have over twenty hand-written pages exploring what is and isn’t working in all aspects of my life. Once I find the three or four feelings that deeply resonate with me, then each action or goal I set needs to make me feel that way. It ends up being a way to strain out all that doesn’t serve me. Does saying “yes” to that party make me feel how I want to feel? Does walking around the lake? Starting a website? Taking another client? Having that glass of wine? Each thing I want to do must pass the core desired feeling test.

Along with “The Desire Map” I just read “Better Than Before”
by Gretchen Rubin which is all about habits—why we make them and why we don’t. After reading it I realize that I love to track my progress. Even If I am accountable only to myself, once I see all those “x”‘s or gold stars piling up, I feel motivated. It’s why I drew this chart (see below) on my dry erase board. It’s great book to read to help you identify the best way for you to go about creating new habits that truly nourish you.

writiing chart

So, that’s my approach too New Year’s this year. As always, I approach all of it with a bit of lightness. It’s not life or death. I don’t want to enter the new year with this heavy burden of obligation or expectation.

Instead, I want to enter the new year with a lightness and a gentle framework supporting me that allows me to live the best life  I can, day to day, moment to moment.

How about you? What’s your approach to New Year’s Resolutions? Share in the comments or with a link to your own post on the subject. 

Five on (Black) Friday

1. Very excited to be taking part in this challenge. It’s a great way to end the old year and start the new year:)

2. A writer gives thanks.

3. Pretty sure I’m an obliger. Love studying and learning about habits.

4. Love this essay!

5. Totally in love with this bracelet!

Five on Friday

1. I can’t get enough of Dani Shapiro lately. Here’s an interview in which she gives us a new perspective on self-doubt in writers.

2. Really looking forward to Gretchen Rubin’s new book on habits.

3. Finding and creating poems within a page of text is a fun way to play with words. maybe use it as a warm-up before the work begins.

4. This may be my favorite essay ever on having the heart of a writer. I could quote the entire piece but here’s one that really spoke to me: “We occupy a kind of border country, focused on the details that speak to us. Ask those who marry us, or those who don’t: we’re too intensely involved, yet never quite present. Perhaps we’re difficult to live with as adults, but often we were precocious, overly-responsible children — not in what we accomplished, necessarily, but in what we remembered, in the emotional burdens we took on.” (Italics are mine.)

5. I kinda fell in love with this print as soon as I saw it. Good thing Christmas is coming up:)

Enjoy your weekend!

The Art of Habits

I’ve been thinking a lot about habits lately. I recently finished a 21-Day Cleanse with a group from my yoga studio where we omitted all animal products, gluten, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I happened to get majorly sick smack in the middle of it so that contributed to the eight pounds I lost. And I admit, I started off doing it for the weight loss possibility but it ended up being more about becoming aware of my habits. Habits like snacking while I make lunch or dinner, “needing” a piece of chocolate after a meal, having that glass or two of wine at the end of the day. Once I noticed these habits then it became about figuring out what feelings were hiding under the habits and you know, feeling them. Crabby, bored, tired, frustrated? Then it was about replacing it with something else. I think that was the key that helped me stay on it for the full 21 days and I still don’t feel the need to go binge on chocolate or wine. Sure, I gave up a lot of things, but I also tried out many new recipes and the food was real, filling and delicious. Many of my replacements involved tea. Instead of wine I’d have a cup of Bedtime Tea. Instead of snacking while I cooked, I had a cup of Lemon Ginger tea. But it wasn’t just about replacing wine with tea. More importantly, the tea didn’t numb me or disconnect me. Instead, it gave me moments to be really present to my life, to my Self.


So, these are all habits around food but I am also looking at other habits and hoping to bring the same kind of awareness to them and find more nurturing replacements. Watching TV while I eat? Checking Facebook way too often? Most of my bad habits are really just ways I distract myself. From what is the big question, right? That’s what I hope to uncover. And instead of labeling habits “good” or “bad” I am trying something new. In fact, I used this whole theme when I taught my yoga and journaling class, “Write Into Yoga” earlier this week. I love the idea of identifying your top five values then listing habits that move you toward living those values, those that lead you away from them and future habits that you want to implement that will help you live the values you chose. For example, if I value health I might include practicing yoga in the first column, procrastinating on scheduling my physical in the second and incorporating more cardio into my week in the third. With that in front of me, I see what works, what doesn’t so I can make a change and what other habits I can welcome into my days. As Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” How do you want to spend yours?