Here’s the truth nobody ever told you: rituals are really hard to hold down. A lot of people like to pretend that rituals are made with a snap of a finger or a switch flipped in the mind. Snap! They’re magically in place. And while hearing about the daily do’s of the most successful people of today can be inspiring (“I meditate every day”, “exercise is a daily non-negotiable”, “I drink a big glass of water first thing in the morning”), it can also make you feel pretty shitty if you’re struggling to nail down your own.
For the longest time, I definitely felt like a bit of a failure when it came to rituals. Why was it so hard for me to develop daily/weekly/monthly rituals that stuck? Why is it still hard for me to have daily consistent practice of anything besides brushing my teeth?
Well, after studying rituals closely for a very long time, I’ve realized that we all make mistakes in how we approach and think about rituals— from the time we set them to how we relate to them after we “fail.” What I’m proposing is a key shift in our orientation and relationship to rituals in a way that promotes self-compassion. I also believe it to be a more feminine approach that honors all that is fluid and cyclical.
As part of a series of articles on rituals called the Magical Effects of Morning and Evening Rituals (MEMER), here are four key reasons why most people fail at developing rituals that stick.
Not knowing yourself
Self-knowledge is the key to any sustainable change. Your unique set of life experiences, culture, and DNA will lead you to relate to “rules” and “expectations” in various ways. At the end of the day, a ritual is a way to structure our time and attention at a given point in time. How do you relate to self-imposed rules and structures? Gretchin Rubin has a great quiz to help you figure out your tendency. After taking her quiz, I scored as an “obliger” – an orientation that requires a lot of external accountability to get things done. This made a lot of sense since to me, as a “recovering good girl” who always excelled in school (a.k.a. surrounded by clear rules and expectations, often imposed by others). Instead of fighting this part of myself, I decided to create accountability structures that would help me thrive. For my daily writing ritual, this meant enrolling in an online writing program and hiring a private writing coach.
This reason is an obvious extension of the above. When we don’t know ourselves well enough, and we aren’t clear about our intrinsic values and desires, we naturally begin to set rituals that are less aligned. The most helpful tool and resource I’ve used for this is Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map. Being super clear about how I want to feel every day is really the backbone for fulfilling my daily rituals. But oftentimes, our inner critic (or we can call this “resistance”) will get in the way and whisper what we “should” be doing with our time and attention instead. We should be “productive” instead of practicing yoga. We should be “helping others” instead of helping ourselves. When we dig deeper, we realize that these voices are needlessly antagonistic, and use ‘Either/Or’ logic instead of ‘Yes, and’ logic. Another great resource on choosing true desire over “should” is Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.
Being all or nothing (perfectionism)
Perfectionism is the enemy of action and rituals are basically a set of actions. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you might notice that you either do the rituals 100% or not at all. And rituals really do lie on a spectrum! Depending on your level of motivation at a given point in time, you can always give yourself permission to adapt a ritual instead of abandoning it altogether (more details on this in this wisdom article).
Failing to recommit
You will fall off the wagon again and again. Life’s curve balls will change your relationships to some rituals, while others may just naturally decline. So it’s super important to (1) be self-compassionate and accepting of where you are in each new moment in time and (2) recommit (which often means adapting) the ritual for each new moment in time. There’s nothing wrong with recommitting. It is not a sign of weakness or flimsiness. I would argue that it’s an inherent part of developing rituals, because we are always learning and re-learning our relationships to them. Just like a baby learns to walk, falling a hundred times in the process, you will learn how to walk in the way that is true and best for you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which of these traps have you fallen into? Comment below in this post.
And as a heads up: I’m starting a series of articles on rituals called the Magical Effects of Morning and Evening Rituals (MEMER). I’m so excited to share this with you!
Once a month, a wisdom article will focus on helping you develop morning and evening rituals (MERs) that you love, including:
- why most people fail at developing rituals that “stick” (you’re not alone)
- how to align rituals with your core motivations (the foundation)
- The key steps to designing your MER
- how to evolve your ritual as you evolve (because you’re not a robot)
- how to develop a “reset” mindset when your ritual decays
Photo by Jaclyn Le.