Updated: May 15
All of us have habits and routines whether we are aware of them or not. The habit of watching television after supper and the routine of brushing your teeth before bed are great examples. We do tend to transpose the words ‘habit’ and ‘routine’ (guilty!) but they actually mean different things.
A habit could be described as a compulsive reflex to do something, usually after being triggered by some form of catalyst e.g., dinner is over, so we sit down and grab the remote. If you want to change this habit (watching television), you have to be aware of the trigger (dinner is over) in order to change it. Although there is a lot of gray areas overlapping the two terms, the real difference is that a routine requires intentional, deliberate practice on your part. So, to break this habit, you decide that instead of grabbing the remote after dinner, you take a walk instead. You have now consciously created a new ‘routine’ and if you do it consistently, you create a new ‘habit’. For more information about habits and how to change them, please see the blog.
Just as the words ‘habit’ and ‘routine’ are used interchangeably, so are ‘routine’ and ‘ritual’. A routine can very easily become ordinary and commonplace and therefore has the tendency to become something we do on autopilot. Whereas in a ritual, you are engaged in what you are doing. You are fully present, focusing on the experience and not simply the completion of your tasks within the routine. In a ritual, the motivation is more internal - how it makes you feel, instead of seeing the tangible results of the external. It's like routine meets mindfulness.
Instead of living on autopilot, a ritual is like a mini celebration of what you are doing. You are fully aware and a willing participant. Rattling off affirmations every morning because it is part of your daily routine, is very different than being fully present in a space created to receive that ritual. You can turn almost any activity, or part of your routine into a ritual, even something as mundane as brushing your teeth or washing your face.
What you do before bed, sets you up for a good or a poor night’s sleep. We all know how crucial a deep, solid eight to nine hours of sleep are to our overall health and an evening ritual can help prepare your body, mind and spirit for that fundamental renewal. Please note that I do recognize that this by itself is not a solution to anyone who has serious challenges with getting regular quality sleep. If you are continually exhausted and/or sleep deprived it may be time to visit your physician or alternative health care practitioner. There are many medical reasons why you may be having issues and whether physical, mental or emotional, they should be looked into further. For anyone interested, I have found the book The Sleep Solution by Dr. W. Chris Winter an incredibly valuable resource for my own personal struggles with quality sleep.
“Sleep is the best meditation”
– Dalai Lama
So when it comes to your evening routine, what habits have you developed, or not developed, to tell your mind and body that you’re beginning to wind down the day and get ready for sleep? Start by reviewing your current nighttime routine. As you go over it in your mind, write it out as you currently believe it to be. Then over the next couple of evenings, pay attention as you prepare for bed and follow along with the list you have written out, adding in the little details you forgot – there is likely a hidden trigger or two in there somewhere. Did you realize you check your email three times in the thirty minutes before lights out?
Now, set aside five or ten minutes of pure quiet, away from any distractions. Sit comfortably and relax, breathing in as we covered in the Breathing - your new BFF blog. Close your eyes and envision your ideal bedtime routine. Picture yourself present and fully aware as you move consciously through the motions, calm and unhurried. Sense your body beginning to relax as your brain receives the message that it is time to settle in for the night. Notice the clock. What time do you see in your ideal routine, compared to when you usually go to bed? What is the lighting like? What is your state of mind? Have you showered? Do you collapse into bed, or crawl under soft sheets that smell ever so slightly of frankincense? Do you see yourself journaling, or reading the book that rests on your nightstand? Do you close your eyes and drift peacefully off to dreamland?
To move from your reality towards your ideal imagery is likely not going to happen overnight. It takes time to create new habits and routines. But before we can begin to turn your evening routine into a ritual, here are a few recommendations:
The blue light that radiates from televisions, kindles and even your phone, signals your brain to stay awake. The effects of artificial light, especially blue light, on melatonin production is very well researched and published. Get them out of the bedroom completely. Watching TV before bed is a hard habit to break. Start by not watching in the bedroom. And then work on turning it all off at least thirty minutes before going to bed to give your brain a chance to shut down as well.
As discussed in the blog May is for Mornings, a successful day begins the evening before. So, prepare everything you need for the morning in order to set that day up for a successful start - this includes updating your to-do list and goals. What this process does is allow all the thoughts competing for your attention down on paper. This is the quickest and most efficient way to quiet the thinking brain. With your mind already getting calmer, this is not the time to catch up on the news. A distressing broadcast will trigger your fight or flight response, gushing your system with cortisol, as if you just slugged back a Red Bull.
Complete all you need to do for everyone else before you actually start your own routine. Whatever responsibilities you personally have – small children, pets, connecting with your partner etc. For busy parents, the evening routine may be the only me-time they get throughout their day. So, protect this time if at all possible. Speak to the members within your home and let them know how important this is to you and set some boundaries.
Make your bedroom your sanctuary: a soft place to land for the body, a calm oasis for the mind, and nourishment for the soul. There are numerous resources available on décor when designing your slumber retreat, and everybody has different styles and budgets. However, stick to muted tones and textures. You may need to save up in order to invest in some of the pricier purchases such as high quality pillows and linen sheets. Keep the bedroom clean and uncluttered. Also keep in mind your preferred sleeping temperature. The National Sleep Foundation recommends approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (13.3 degrees Celsius). If possible, allow fresh air in by keeping a window slightly open. Obviously if you share your haven with a partner, this is an invitation to collaborate. P.S. I am assuming the first recommendation.
Now let's get to the fun part: creating an evening ritual. You’ve put the little ones to bed, walked the dog and kissed your partner goodnight. It’s your time now – your sacred time.
"A daily ritual is a way of saying I'm voting for myself;
I'm taking care of myself."
- Mariel Hemingway, American Actress, Mental Health Activist
Turning any part of your routine into a ritual can be very motivating and can turn any bad habit trigger on its head. Now is the time to eliminate or reduce any part of your evening routine that you’ve been wanting to change, but just haven’t been able to for whatever reason. Take the ideal vision of your evening ritual and begin to incorporate it into your current routine. For sure you can scrap the old and start anew, but from personal experience, I find it tends not to stick. By slowly, consistently and consciously introducing a ritual into your current routine, you will create a different trigger and a new and improved habit – see what I did there?
Let’s say your current habit is watching TV, and then going to bed. If your ideal vision sees you reducing (or eliminating) television, then slowly shut the TV off earlier and earlier every few days or so. Then start using the 15 or 30 minutes you no longer watch TV and replace it with something from your ideal vision, such as reading, or journaling or meditation.
If you’re not sure where to begin or want to proceed even slower, take one task from your routine and ‘up it’ to a ritual. Let’s take brushing your teeth; this is a good one to start with because you do it at least once a day. What else are you doing when you brush your teeth? Are you checking your email? Going around the house and checking the locks? Returning to watch more television?
To turn brushing your teeth into a ritual, you need to be fully present. Observe the colour of the toothpaste you apply to the toothbrush. While brushing, fully taste the cool mint flavour. Feel the sensation of the bristles as it connects with your teeth and gums. Breathe evenly, taking your time to ensure you give them a good cleaning – don’t forget the tongue. You get the drift. You can make anything you do into a mindful experience.
"Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."
- Vincent Van Gogh, Painter and Artist
When you're ready, slowly add into your current routine the little details that announce to your mind it’s time to settle in for the night. Note the changes when you sprinkle in such pleasurable and gratifying ingredients. Even if you have no issues falling asleep after a long day, would it not be amazing to have it become a more spiritual experience? Here are some suggestions:
Take a walk before bed, or add some gentle stretching.
Enjoy a bubble bath or warm shower.
Aromas are powerful, and the right scent such as lavender can help initiate a sense of deep serenity and calm. Light a sandalwood candle, diffuse an essential oil, or spray on a light-scented linen spritzer.
Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea or warmed milk.
Have a dedicated cup or tumbler for that must-have glass of water during the night or in the morning if you’re lucky enough to sleep all the way through.
Tell the people in your home “I love you.”
Write three things you are grateful for in a Gratitude Journal.
Have some soft rose smelling hand or foot lotion on your nightstand to apply once you’re in bed.
Reflect on the day through journaling.
Read – for the pure pleasure of it – not for work or any other ‘have to’ reason.
Before you turn the lights out, perform the deep breathing exercise.
“Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace”.
Spirit says, “Find peace, and then everything will fall into place.”
– Marianne Williamson, Author, Spiritual Leader, Peace activist
Whatever your current evening routine is, you can turn part, or all of it into an evening ritual. Whether you live among a bevy of little people, a partner, four-footed fur-friends, or alone, tailor your evening ritual to enhance your every day, and thereby enhance your life.
Happy Evening Rituals!