Rituals and Habits

When people say they want to start new “habits”, they mean to say rituals. Rituals, when done consistently, become habits over time. It’s essential that you choose the right habits to reach your goals. When you determine what those right habits are for you, then it’s a matter of doing them effortlessly in ways that are sustainable.

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit says that “40–45% of our daily activities are habits”, which means that “if you don’t get your habits right, you won’t reach your goals”.

A ritual is a highly specific behavior that you do at a precise time over and over again until it becomes automatic. When you no longer have to think about doing it, the ritual becomes a habit. So, in essence, a habit is the result of doing a ritual enough number of times without having to think about doing it. And it’s not just about the semantics either — we should be careful with our use of language.

Here’s the thing: if you can’t see yourself doing something in 5 years, it’s not worth starting today.

Habits could take anywhere from two to eight months to stick. Rituals are temporary, but habits can be permanent. Ritual is a temporary crutch till you’re able to walk, at which point it becomes a habit and the crutches are no longer needed.

What differentiates a ritual from a habit is that you have to think about doing rituals (it’s intentional/deliberate), whereas habits are automatic — you do them without thinking.

A ritual is something you choose, but habits are something you fall into. Ritual is a verb, whereas habit is a noun. Rituals lead to habits.

You don’t have to think about “doing” a habit, you just do it without thinking, which takes time. You do have to think about doing a ritual, however.

Starting a ritual begins with deciding or wanting to change. It begins at a point that you can’t imagine not changing because you can’t live with yourself unless you make that change. That’s what wanting means.

Once you’ve determined that you want to change, the next step is to figure out what habits you would like to have in the long-term that will take you toward that change. Then, you have to work backwards and make the commitment to yourself to create the necessary rituals by setting appropriate reminders and doing them consistently until the rituals become habits.

Let me illustrate with an example. I wanted to get into the habit of writing Morning Pages every day first thing in the morning. That started with me wanting to do that. So, I made a commitment to myself and scheduled it in my calendar, and every morning when I got up, I would go to the workstation in my home office and start writing in my notebook. I set an alarm reminding me to wake up and to start writing. Once I did it for a few weeks, I would naturally find myself writing first thing in the morning without a reminder, at which point it became a habit.

So, writing first thing in the morning started out as a ritual (which was intentional and deliberate) and over time became a habit. Now I do it every day without thinking, and when I miss a day of not writing due to travel (or for whatever reason), I know something’s gone amiss.

To summarize, a ritual is a specific behavior that you repeat enough times that it becomes a habit and you no longer have to think about doing it. That starts by you wanting to change. Nobody can make you change unless you want to. When 40% of our daily activities are habits, it’s vital that we choose the right activities for those habits in order to reach our goals.

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