This morning, I read a blog post by the author Steven Barnes, who was a teacher of mine at Clarion, many years ago. Steve is also a personal coach, spiritual teacher, and martial artist: the sort of person who is always working on becoming a better version of himself, and teaching others how to become better as well. Here’s the post: “Your Life Is Not a ‘Lemon.'” And here’s the part of it that really struck me:
“You need to have a daily ritual of thought, movement, and emotion. Tell me your daily rituals, and I’ll tell you your life. Exercise daily and keep a food journal? That’s one body. No exercise and food unconsciousness? Another. Daily meditation and journaling? One psyche. Allowing the cess-river of daily news, political debate, human negativity and existential angst to flow over you unchallenged? That’s another. Daily checking your Mint.com account to see your finances and net worth? That’s one financial path. Inability to balance your check book? That’s another. Re-writing your goals daily and being crystal clear on what a perfect ‘today’ would be to implement them? That’s one life. Vague or no goals, and hoping for ‘luck’ to bring your dreams to you? That’s another. Daily focus on goals, actions, faith and gratitude? That’s one life. Rooting in the trough of our unfulfilled dreams, betrayals, failures, fears, guilt, blame and shame? That’s another.
“It isn’t fair that we have to take control. It isn’t un-fair. It just ‘is.’ Stand on the beach and scream at the waves that it is ‘unfair’ your shoes are getting wet. Or . . . back away. Or . . . take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the wet sand.”
Basically, what Steve is getting at is that we can largely determine what our lives are like. Our lives are our daily lives: our experience of them is determined by the daily choices we make. And so we can make our lives good ones, healthy and happy and productive. Or we can make bad choices, and end up with unhealthy, unhappy, unproductive lives. It all depends on the small choices we make on a daily basis. Whether to exercise or not. Whether to eat the whole wheat turkey sandwich or the doughnut. Oh, not every choice has to be perfect! Not every choice can be. But our lives are better if most of our choices are good ones. And that happens if good choices are ingrained, and actually chosen automatically. If they are habits or rituals.
Steve talks about this as a way to deal with problems like depression, and I can speak to that, because I’ve been there. As readers of this blog know, I went through a period of serious depression when I was trying to finish my PhD dissertation. It was very difficult, but I eventually got out of it, with therapy and by building good habits. Now I try to maintain those habits, because I know that without them, I won’t be as healthy, either physically or mentally.
So what are my daily rituals? I have a healthy breakfast. Every day, I do twenty minutes of pilates, plus I walk a lot. Healthy lunch (cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, apple), healthy snack (nuts, fruit, dark chocolate), healthy dinner (whole wheat pasta or brown rice with vegetables). Every day, time to rest and relax. All right, that last one I’m not as good at as I should be, and I definitely haven’t had enough sleep lately! I need to work on that. Also meditation. But the point is, the way you live on a daily basis affects the larger aspects of your life. The daily rituals are what keep me healthy. They are what allow me to be productive.
Some people say that when you’re depressed, you can’t do those things. That’s what depression is all about. But as someone who’s been there, I say that you can try, and you can start, and they will make you feel better. And for people who aren’t depressed, this is the way to have a good life: develop good daily rituals. These are the things that help me in particular:
1. Eat healthily.
2. Exercise daily.
3. At least once a day, do something that clears my head, that allows me to relax.
4. Keep my space neat and organized. Make my bed, do the dishes; if there is a mess, organize it.
5. Write, so the ideas don’t start clamoring around in my head.
6. Put a list of the larger things I want to accomplish up where I can see it. You know, the life things. Make sure that every day, I work on that list. That I’m accomplishing the larger things as well as the smaller ones.
7. Get some sleep. All right, no, I’m not as good at this one as I should be! But I’m working on it . . .
What are your daily rituals? It seems to me that most people don’t have good daily rituals; they live haphazardly. But you who read this blog — I bet you have them . . .
This is a picture of my Christmas tree. Just because it’s so pretty! It’s a yearly rather than a daily ritual, of course. But it ties me to the year, to time. I think our daily rituals do the same thing, actually. They make life more real for us . . .
What a pretty picture, and such good advice. Maybe next year I’ll be that organized and determined, but , if not, I vow to forgive myself instantly and muddle on 🙂
Oh, forgiving yourself is an excellent daily ritual as well! 🙂 (I need to do that more often.)
I go out for a walk at least 5 days a week. If I don’t do it I feel “bad” and definitely miss it. Another rituals I practice are prayer and eating healthy and drink only water after lunch until late at night. Although this one might be hard but need to drink water every day!
I meditate every morning, for 30 minutes. It makes a huge difference; if I skip it for more than a few days both my temper and my patience grow noticeably shorter. Martial arts 2-3 times a week channels unproductive emotions to productive ends. Monthly devotionals and journaling make a big difference to me too.
Life isn’t always under our control, but I’ve always liked that Frankl quote, formulated in dire circumstances: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
I love Frankl, especially Man’s Search for Meaning. He’s one of the writers I return to again and again. 🙂
In a confusing childhood, I am a natural manager. At 13, I read that it is a good idea to get up earlier than anybody else, and write. Times changed and sometimes I
failed, but I have always found it fun to manage as well as I can. I write the week’s tasks and put them on the refrigerater.
I collect tricks and one I like very much is that when you go to bed, think of three things you did that make you feel good about yourself. It is surprising how calming
that is. No regrets or ifs. Just focus on the nice.
That’s a lovely trick, Phyllis! I’ll have to try it. 🙂
Love this post. I was never good at habits as a child and young girl. Oh, I read all the time, I painted, and later, I took care of three boys. But for myself (?) –no. I was last. Now I walk every day, eat right, try to sleep 8 hours, which I never do. But I think the best habit I have learned is to say no to things without feeling guilty. I also try to keep the same schedule every day. Habit has made my art better. Thanks for such a wonderful blog and Happy Holidays!
Happy Holidays to you too, Melinda! Those all sound like wonderful habits, and I also have trouble getting eight hours . . . There’s just so much a want to do! But then, I’m much less efficient when I’m tired.