Have you read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg? This New York Times bestseller provided me with a perspective on how to form and sustain wellness through habits born of rituals.
You see, just six months ago, I was stressed out of my mind. I was consuming a brownie and a bag of chips after a thousand-calorie lunch every day.
I am now 4 kilos or 8 pounds lighter than I was then. My limbs have a moisturized glow and my hairdresser has commented on how silky my hair feels. In short, I’ve been taking care of myself.
How did I change? I implemented what I learnt from the book. If you haven’t read the book (although I highly recommend you do!), I am going to distill its core essence for you.
How habits work
“If you believe you can change - if you make it a habit - the change becomes real.”
Habits work in loops. First comes the cue, which triggers automatic action, then comes routine. Finally, there is a reward that tells our brains whether or not this loop is worth remembering.
Over time, the loop becomes automatic. This means it plays itself out without much intervention from the brain, which refrains from decision-making. When the habit loop is in play, the brain can divert itself elsewhere.
In fact, habits exist because our brain is looking for ways to save effort.
How To Change An Old Habit
“It wasn’t God that mattered, the researchers figured out. It was belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a re-worked habit loop into a permanent behavior.”
Old habits can only be changed permanently when people believe in the change.
Take me for example. I knew I desperately needed to change my eating habits. I was addicted to sugary, processed foods and had utterly failed at curbing my cravings in the past.
All of my willpower was spent on parenting my rambunctious 6-year-old boy, executing at an intense finance job and as an entrepreneur. There was none left to reign in my poor food choices.
My cravings peaked right after lunch, when I would return to a long to-do list. Overwhelmed by the stress of having to make huge progress over a few short hours, I would give in to a sugary treat. It was a reward for immersing myself in what needed to be done.
So, I introduced a post-lunch ritual at work. One that I believed would bust my stress and help me change my habit. When my post-lunch stress hits (my cue), I get up (having typically scoffed lunch down at my desk), walk over to the kitchen area and make myself a cup of black tea.
While my tea is brewing, I do two quick Pranayama (deep breathing exercises) – the channel cleaning breath and breath retention. I then exhale deeply, do a forward bend and return to my desk to sip on my cup of tea, sans sugar.
How Rituals Birth Habits
Rituals are not habits – at least not at first. What makes them different is that they are conscious and deliberate actions, unlike habits, which manifest on autopilot.
Joseph Campbell puts it beautifully when he says, “By participating in ritual, you are put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
Pranayama helps calm and focus my mind. I believe in its ability to ground and relax me, which is why I am able to substitute my sugary snack for it. They both offered me the same reward of feeling happy and relaxed.
Rituals can give birth to habits. For example, my mother’s morning ritual begins with an hour of meditation before. Breakfast. It’s followed by an hour of prayer, and then a shower to get ready for work. She gets to her office by noon, which works because she’s self-employed.
The meditation and prayer are ritualistic in that they are conscious and deliberate actions. After decades, they’ve become her core habits. On days she needs to travel and cannot meditate or pray, she feels decidedly uneasy.
How habit makes the ritual sustainable
Of course, you can become irregular with wellness rituals even if you believe in them. Many of them don’t deliver instant gratification in the way a chocolate brownie or a bag of chips can!
The first step to create a habit loop for the ritual. The second is to reinforce the reward with belief-boosting affirmations.
Below is a list of my Ayurvedic rituals-turn-habits:
Cue: Running my tongue over my teeth in the morning and feeling the film (ugh!)
Behavior: Swishing oil around my mouth while I undress and then through the shower
Reward: Seeing how sparkling white my teeth look and how clean they feel afterward. Telling myself that the oil is cleansing my mouth of certain bacteria that are more soluble in oil than water.
Cue: Stripping down outside the shower area
Behavior: Dry brushing my body upwards starting from my legs
Reward: Seeing my soft, smooth skin afterwards and feeling invigorated. Telling myself I have helped boost circulation and eliminated dead skin cells/
Cue: Drying myself with a towel and running my hands over my bare legs
Behavior: Applying our Lime Vetiver Dry Silk Body Oil or Body & Hand Lotion on my skin with a marma (accupuncture point) massage.
Reward: Feeling my soft, smooth skin afterwards. Telling myself that I have nourished my skin with the moisture it needs,
Hair and Scalp Massage
Cue: Removing my hair clip when I get ready to go to bed at night and feeling the built-up tension on my head and neck
Behavior: Giving myself a hair and scalp massage with our Ultra Luxuriant Hair Elixir
Reward: Feeling my stress ease and sleeping much sounder. Telling myself that I have helped bring nutrient-rich blood to my follicles.
How habitual rituals automate your well-being
“Take the act of backing your car out of the driveway. When you first learned to drive, the driveway required a major dose of concentration….nowadays, however, you do all of that every time you pull onto the street with hardly any thought. The routine occurs by habit.” -Charles Duhigg
If your affirmations create a reward that’s impactful enough for you to establish habit loops for your wellness rituals, your wellness will be on autopilot.
That said, while habits are sticky, they can still be fragile. Belief is what keeps them going.
As Gandhi once said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts.Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions.Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."
So do your well-being research, find rituals you believe are right for you and push yourself to create core habits out of them!
How turning routine into ritual maximizes the everyday
What has been most incredible about my transformation is that I haven’t gone out of my way to achieve it.
Everyday rituals have transformed into every day habits. And that has resulted in an improvement in my overall well-being. I am so enjoying being able to maximize my every day!
Are you ready to begin?