To make real change, you have to be well anchored – not only in the belief that it can be done, but also in some pretty real ways about who you are and what you can do.- Twyla Tharp
American dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, author of ‘The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life‘ states that “creativity is about establishing habits & rituals, not some god given ability that only a select few can have”. For years, she has used the same ritual to start her day and increase productivity.
“I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours.
The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual”
Establishing rituals isn’t just limited to creatives. Your fitness ritual isn’t performing the sets of squats or walking into the gym—it’s the behavior of starting the entire process of going to the gym—the small, overlooked, but important action at the beginning.
What’s a ritual & why is it important?
A ritual is a habit that is triggered by a specific behavior you perform. Establishing a ritual eliminates the option of you deciding if you want to do this activity or not.
A ritual “is a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it—it makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about” states Tharp.
Tharp states “It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”
Just as creatives need a ritual to keep themselves align during their work sessions, it’s vital that you develop a ritual to ignite your exercise habit. There will be days where you don’t feel like working out nor cooking healthy meals.
As Tharp states “First steps are hard; it’s no one’s idea of fun to wake up in the dark every day and haul one’s tired body to the gym. Like everyone, I have days when I wake up, stare at the ceiling, and ask myself, Gee, do I feel like working out today? But the quasi-religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”
We know rituals are powerful, but how can we go about the process of establishing a ritual from scratch. Let’s take a step by step run through of establishing an initial ritual.
The process of establishing successful rituals
“The most productive artists I know have a plan in mind when they get down to work. They know what they want to accomplish, how to do it, and what to do if the process falls off track. But there’s a fine line between good planning and overplanning. You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work.”- Twyla Tharp
At the beginning, your main objective is to get going, no matter how ugly or awkward it might feel. Develop a simple plan and then go from there in terms of making adjustments. Something is better than nothing and starting is everything. Here’s the ‘Nuts’N’bolts‘ method to starting a ritual.
1. Start small and lower your expectations
The worse thing you can do is overload yourself with steps and expectations of an outcome.
Instead, make these beginning steps easy. These steps should almost feel effortless. Be easy on yourself for any slip ups. Decide where you are in life with your habits and start from there. Run away from the all or none mentality.
Aim for small day to day victories. Small actions add up to become large wins. These small actions build daily momentum, allowing you to carry momentum onto the next phase of your rituals. Confidence comes from doing.
2. Develop a process for your desired behavior
The tougher the barrier of entry, the less likely you are to stick with it for the long term. The tougher the barrier, the more reliance on willpower (a brief and fleeting asset).
Make the process of entry into your ritual simple and concise by limiting the process to 3-4 steps for activation.
3. Schedule and commit to your ritual to condition your behavior
Anything of importance to your life needs to be scheduled into your calendar. If you ‘play your goals by ear’, they’ll never become a priority and you’ll consistently land mediocre results. The high achievers in fitness, art, and music make their work a priority in their lives.
If you don’t make yourself a priority, don’t expect anyone else to make you one.
4. Know what’s your signal to trigger your ritual
When does your ritual begin? What’s the ignition to you getting into your activity?
For Twyla, the ritual was the cab itself—telling the driver where to go. For me, I set my timer, have a bottle of water, coffee or tea, & hit play on my playlist—now I automatically understand its time to write.
A ritual for waking up in the morning would be the ringing of your alarm clock. Deciding what your ritual for exercising, sleeping, reading, cooking, or anything else is going to be is entirely up to you.
5. Experiment with different methods of preparation until you find the magic combination
First and foremost, have fun with the process. There’ll be some bumps along the road at the beginning when establishing a ritual. You’ll only find the perfect steps by doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Let’s take a look at some example rituals
I highly recommend that you experiment with your own methods to find the perfect combination.
Working out– The best way to set up an exercise ritual is to place it around a time with the least amount of resistances. Try setting up a fitness ritual first thing in the morning before any work related material is given attention. Alternatively, pack your gym clothes and exercise after work or during your lunch break. If you’re lifting in the afternoon or evening, place it on your schedule so nothing sneaks it’s way onto that specific time slot.
Sleeping– Start a preparation ritual 60-90 minutes out. Here are a couple ideas…
● Eliminate caffeine hours earlier (Ex. Zero consumption after 2pm)
● shut off the PC an minimum of 1 hour before bedtime. (I recommend this software(flux) for nights this isn’t possible)
● No tv or playing on the phone 60 minutes before bedtime
● Keep your room dark as possible
● Eliminate as many electronics from your room as possible
● Meditate for 10-15 minutes
● Have sex
● Invest in tinted shades if you have to use electronics at night
Waking up– Besides having the alarm clock, try these options.
● Have a morning wake up song (I wake up each morning and dance for 5-15 min before doing anything else. Here's a couple favorites, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Skipworth & Turner (listen to extended play if you really want to wake up, Jamiroquai)
● Do a couple of pushups and squats to wake yourself up
Don’t overload yourself and attempt an overhaul on all facets of your life. Choose one area and focus on it for a bit until it becomes easy peasy.