The #1 ritual to do every day.

coffee, introverts, and extroverts

I love reading about other people’s rituals. I’m a sucker for blog posts about the morning routines of interesting women, short guides on what the most successful people do before breakfast, and books about how diverse artists ritualize their days.

If you start exploring people’s daily rituals, you’ll quickly discover how much they contradict each other.

Some people won’t do anything until they check their email; others swear by not checking their email until after lunch.

Some people can’t concentrate until they take a walk; others reward themselves with a walk after concentrating on their work for the morning.

Some people hate to exercise until they’ve gotten some work done; others can’t work until they’ve gotten some exercise.

These conflicting behaviors aren’t as puzzling as they first appear. Researchers are finding that the power of the ritual is the ritual itself. It matters very little what it is.

If you want to embrace the power of ritual, you don’t need to find the perfect ritual. You need to use more rituals.

After years of resisting rhythm and routine, I now have several of my own cherished rituals. My keystone daily rituals revolve around food, drink, and books. (Shocking, I know.)

• Every morning I wake up, make a cup of coffee, sit down at my desk, light a candle, and write. (According to The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg, this “savoring ritual” doubles as a “personal starting ritual.”)

• Every day at 2:00, I turn off my computer, make a cup of coffee, grab a book, and read.

• Every night we’re all home, we eat dinner together as a family.

• We read to our kids before bed; then I read before I go to bed myself.

These rituals have become such an enjoyable (and apparently beneficial) part of my life that this article has me thinking about other rituals I could embrace, or at least try. It wouldn’t hurt to adopt a new savoring ritual; maybe I could dub a favorite pen my “lucky” one. (Not that I can see myself doing this….) I’m sure there are all kinds of possibilities that haven’t occurred to me yet.

Whatever I try, I’ll take comfort in knowing it doesn’t matter so much what ritual I adopt, as long as I actually use it.

I’d love to hear about your daily rituals. What are they, and do you feel like they work for you? 

P.S. A few of our weird and accessible family traditions, and 7 ways I’m minimizing decision fatigue in my daily life.

the #1 ritual to do every day

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  1. Andrea Cavanaugh says:

    Most weekday mornings, now that I have a one-year-old little boy keeping me busier than before, I get up 45 minutes before his typical waking time so that I can enjoy some quiet reading. I have a teamaker that brews my tea and keeps it warm, so that’s ready when I get up. I love having the quiet house to myself before my husband and son get up.

    I also usually have a cup of tea in the afternoon, and my husband and I always read in bed before turning out the lights. Your post has inspired me to try to add some more rituals to my day!

  2. Marie says:

    I leave for work very early in the morning, and my ride is filled with rituals. I put my coffee travel mug beside me, listen to all-news radio for traffic reports for a bit, and then at 6:30 switch over to NPR for the remainder of the ride. I particularly look forward to “The Writer’s Almanac.” About halfway into the commute, as I approach the bridge, I get in the far-right lane so that I can ever so briefly peek over to see the river at dawn. It’s a tiny moment, but that and the daily poem from “Writer’s Almanac” really ground my day. (On some serendipitous mornings, they occur at the same time!)

  3. Jamie says:

    For me, the ritual itself matters: prayer first thing. This took a long time to develop, but now I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going without it.

    • Victoria says:

      What you said about your most meaningful habit taking a long time to develop, really encouraged me this morning!!! Thank you for sharing that! Prayerlessness is something I battle and yet, it’s something that I so want to be overcome! The key: STICK WITH IT! Thank you for the words I needed. 🙂

  4. Katie Fox says:

    Anne, when you’re writing first thing in the mornings, is that a writing for work, personal journaling, or something else? Are you using a pen or a computer? Just curious. 🙂

  5. Janet says:

    My routine has definitely changed since we retired. Sleep as late as we want, set the kitchen up for breakfast, do a 2 mile walk and breakfast in front of the computer reading blogs. The rest of the day is pretty free-form.

    • Alison says:

      Like Janet, I am also retired. My husband is not but he works a very flexible part time schedule from home, tucked away in his office most of the day. I love my mornings with tea and kitty care, my journal, then some choice blogs. This week it’s been the Plum Village blog in memory of Thich Nhat Hahn. At first I loved my retired, free form days but lately I want some structure. I’ve needed to create habits to dress before the second cup of tea and eat breakfast at 11. (I used to skip breakfast during working years.) I appreciate some of the afternoon ideas here like a 2:00 phone (iPad for me) reminder to make green or herbal tea and read a book. I prefer a midday walk but too often let the day slip away. I need to somehow make it a ritual that I love…

  6. Katia says:

    My rituals:

    Mornings: 5 a.m. wake-up to work out and/or practise yoga and meditate.

    Lunchtime: A walk after I finish eating. I truly miss my walk on rainy days when I’m stuck in the office.

    Evening: Reading to my children before putting them to bed; Ayurvedic oil massage before slipping into cozy pajamas and heading to bed with a book or my knitting. Lately, I’ve been going to bed earlier and haven’t had as much time to read, but sleep is my No. 1 self-care priority these days.

  7. MelissaJoy says:

    Lighting candles before we homeschool has been my ritual in that space for a few years. A few weeks ago we ran out of tea lights and it was so unsettling. I noticed my children had a similar look in their eyes when they looked at the candle holders. We pressed on but I will do my best to keep stocked up in the future. It’s so neat that this ritual has developed into a family one.

  8. Emily says:

    I’m actually about to write my own blog post on this. Ha! But I love the idea of turning off the computer at 2:00 and reading! I’m going to have to add this to my day. Previously, I’d been taking tea at 4:00 but that always gets cut short because I’m thinking about dinner and a million other things. But tea and book at 2:00? Sounds perfect!

  9. Kendra says:

    I love this topic. I have to take a shower before my kids get up. It’s my morning coffee, it wakes me up/clears my head and I’m out of sorts if I don’t get it in soon after waking up. Recently I’ve added morning and evening tea. For awhile I had a reminder set on my phone to go to bed. The only habit it encouraged was me ignoring it. When I changed the reminder to “sleepy time tea” I was able to make it a habit and now I’ve added reading to that habit as well.

    • Anne says:

      “The only habit it encouraged was me ignoring it. When I changed the reminder to “sleepy time tea” I was able to make it a habit.”

      I love this. Brilliant.

    • That’s a really good idea! My partner and I both struggle with the dry air overnight during the winter (because of our heating system) and it’s been worse for me as a pregnant and now nursing mom, but I’ve noticed I have less trouble when I drink plenty of water right before bed. As fall comes on, we’re trying to adopt a habit of drinking herbal tea before bed.

      • Liz says:

        This is totally off the main topic, but I had to respond to you. I hate the dry air at night also. We’re going to try a whole house humidifier this year, partly because I’ve read that having the correct humidity levels can actually cut down on illnesses, partly just for comfort’s sake. I have horrible issues with my lips drying out; the dry air makes me stuffy, so then I breathe through my mouth, and wake up with dreadfully chapped lips. As a fellow nursing mum, I discovered that using lanolin on my lips at night is the only thing that will keep them properly moisturized. Dunno if this is even a problem for you, but it helped me so much I try and share in case anyone else is suffering needlessly!

        • 'Becca says:

          We can get decent humidity by placing a pie pan of water in front of the heat vent. The trouble is that that’s the sort of thing a toddler gets into, so it’s not a good solution for this winter, but we’ll be able to do it again next year!

          I like Bee Folks lip balm. The beeswax keeps it from evaporating. As long as I remember to put it on before bed (instead of forgetting until I’m too cozy to get up) it works very well. It tastes better than lanolin. But lanolin is definitely the right stuff once lips have gotten horribly chapped and cracked!!

  10. Kimberly Locke says:

    We’re homeschooling. I make a chai latte, light a candle,
    and begin Morning Time. I’ve been listening to podcasts from Pam Barnhill about the idea. We read our children’s Bible, Church History (Rescue & Redeem by Mindy and Brandon Withrow), and a novel. Right now it’s Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic. Then my son reads aloud. Then we start what I call “Skill Work” aka more school-ish. This routine has been a real game changer for me. The kids build with Keva, draw, or play with dough while I read.

  11. Victoria says:

    I crave routine and do best when I have a system of order. I allow myself to be flexible and rework this routine with each new season (sometimes the seasons of the year and sometimes the seasons of my life). My most helpful ritual is to get out of bed, have a glass of water, and read Scripture for at least 30 minutes. No stopping, just reading Scripture in the same way I do a novel. (I should clarify that when I do that, I also have a time later in the day for actually studying a small section of it.)

    From there, I put a load of laundry in and have breakfast. Getting the laundry going is pretty key for me and I’m not exactly sure why, but I guess every ritual doesn’t have to make perfect sense.

    I almost always get into the kitchen by 4:45 to make dinner and I often listen to a podcast while I’m in there working.

    After dinner and catching up with my family, I love to plunk myself down onto the couch for a little while to read. Putting my feet up in the evening is a real treat.

  12. Alicia G says:

    Feed the cats is first here b/c they are need bombs in the morning, even though their bowls usually still have some food left from last night. Toss in some laundry. Make coffee. Make and have breakfast with 6 year old. Load dishwasher & wipe off tables. Read a chapter with her (Wizard of Oz right now) and a chapter alone for me (the new Stephen King). Check out a few videos on Daily Curiosity (which we LOVE and just found out about from a friend.) I take a shower while she listens to an audiobook. Prep a snack tray & any dinner food stuff. Homeschool. Glance at clock and wonder where the day went b/c it’s almost lunchtime. Lunch. More homeschool. Run errands or fun stuff with friends or classes or NEVER-ENDING home repair appointments tossed in there somehow. What? It’s dinner time now?! What happened?!? Dinner, dishes, read aloud, off to bed for little one, my evening chores like look up stuff online, prep stuff for next day, Netflix, reading, bed!
    That’s our day. 🙂

  13. Christine says:

    My #1 ritual has been starting each day with a warm glass of lemon water. Resisting the urge to check emails or social media until I’m out the door has also been helpful in staying present. Instead I focus on affirmations and gratitude. Great post!

  14. Darla DH says:

    Get out of bed and turn on the coffee (which was made ready to go the night before) Go take a shower to wake up. Feed the dog, then sit down with my coffee, dog on lap (little dog), and write, read, or pray or all of the above for 45 min. or so on work days and a couple of hours on weekends. THEN, I get up and do hair and make-up, breakfast, get ready etc. I feel totally out of sorts all day when I get cheated out of this time. I live alone so I have the luxury on weekends to spend a lot of time “sitting” but I HAVE to regroup after the week and reassess where I am inside.

  15. Danae says:

    Every Monday, I take an hour to reset the house from the weekend. I pop in earbuds and listen to an audiobook while I fold laundry, put clean sheets on the bed, and tidy the main living areas. This has a profound effect on my productivity for the rest of the week.

  16. I could not agree more with the idea of a ritual. When I know exactly what I need to do every morning, and I am able to do it, my day goes so much better.

    You are right, that the same strategies do not work the same way for everyone. And in all honesty, rituals can change for an individual throughout the course of their life, depending on circumstances. What works for me in the morning now would not have worked five years ago and is unlikely to be useful “as is” five years from now.

    Thanks for the post!

  17. Melanie says:

    When I get to work I turn on my space heater (no matter what time of year it is), scan through work emails, scan through personal emails, read the Washington Post headlines (clicking on any articles that are particularly interesting), read the Carolyn Hax and Ask Amy advice columns, and scan through the posts on a blog related to my profession, all while eating a giant, healthy, homemade muffin for breakfast. This usually takes about 30 minutes. On days when I need to jump right into a meeting or a project I feel unsettled and unrelaxed.

  18. keely says:

    I turn on the under-the-counter lights in the kitchen, make coffee from the French press, and say a prayer using The Valley of Vision. I try to write in a journal a section of the prayer that stands out to me.
    Honestly, those first 45-60 minutes of the day are often the only sacred and mindful moments in my day. I tend to forego ritual once my three kids wake up, often neglecting my own breakfast. I’m encouraged to incorporate more rituals in my days and love how closely related these can be to self-care.
    Good discussion, as always, Anne. 🙂

  19. Katherine says:

    First thing after waking, before my mind wanders to other things: prayer. Then to the kitchen to prepare herbal detox tea with lemon–two cups worth. Then scriptures, meditating, maybe more prayer, for about an hour ( I have called it my happy hour). I keep pencil and journal in hand to note anything that comes to me: inspiration, thoughts of family or friends who may need some encouragement or service from me, goal setting or personal course correction, a review of upcoming appointments or events, etc. The times I have not done this, I find the day often fills up with trivial or needless things and I look back regretting spending wasted time.

  20. My son and I sing “This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made” every day as we walk up the block toward his school or summer day camp. I love the reminder that each day is special, even if the weather is awful or I’m not feeling so well. I stopped walking him all the way to school after 3rd grade, but we still walk the first block together so we can have our ritual. 🙂

    I also do a bedtime prayer with him. If I don’t manage to work any other moments of reverence into my day, at least I have those two!

    When I get to work, I always make a cup of hot peppermint tea. In winter, it warms me up after walking from the bus stop; in summer, it helps me adjust to the air conditioning. Even if I think I really need more coffee, I always make myself drink the mint tea first; often, what I really need is water, so I perk up and can wait until after lunch for more coffee.

  21. Kristen says:

    I’ve just been talking about this with friends and would like to start a morning ritual in an effort to begin the day on a less stressful note.

    However, I think my problem thus far is that I struggle with the discipline to actually stick with the routine. Either I hit the snooze for some extra Zzz’s (this is most often the case) or find something else that I feel like I should be doing to fill the time (like getting ahead on work/emails).

    How do you stay focused on your ritual and keep it intact? What do you do if you miss your ritual one or many mornings?

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