Routines and Rituals: Mindfulness as a Tool for Mastery

woman looks out at montains and trees

“Repetition is the mother of transformation.” —David Magone

Years ago, there was a story in National Geographic about the amazing health and longevity of nuns. One of the conclusions was that living in a stable community of like-minded people predicted a long, relatively stress-free life. Feeling safe, protected, and having a set routine probably added to the nuns’ stamina and resilience.

Routines help develop and maintain self-discipline, which leads to feeling greater agency in life, while repetition engenders a sense of mastery. Mastery leads to a feeling of accomplishment and ego gratification, imbuing life with meaning. Whether a nun is tending a garden, teaching school, or running a hospital, there’s no doubt she is contributing.

Rituals can also be thought of as routines, depending on how frequently one does them. They, too, can lead to a sense of mastery. Rituals imply practicing something again and again until it is steeped in meaning. Whether it is making time to write in your journal, taking a 15-minute break after work to meditate before embarking on the next activity, or simply listening to your favorite music as you dress for work, rituals anchor you in the moment while creating a sense of comfort. They are the very essence of mindfulness, a practice touted for its many body-mind benefits.

If you decide to make time for meditation, prayer, contemplation, silence, or music, all the better, as those activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and create calm and inner peace. The more stressful your life, the more important it is to relax in these soothing practices.

What routines and rituals do you have? Take a few minutes to investigate as many as you can recall—and not just the healthy ones. If they don’t readily come to mind, walk yourself through a typical day from waking to sleep.

What routines and rituals do you have? Take a few minutes to investigate as many as you can recall—and not just the healthy ones.

For most people, some are beneficial and others not so much. Take an extreme example of heroin use. It certainly has aspects of routine, as all addictions do. It also has rituals. Many users claim to be more addicted to the rituals of procuring the drug than shooting it. You do not need to be addicted to heroin to understand the compelling aspects of habits, both negative and positive. After a while they become second nature, and not doing them feels weird. The same is true when you have a positive routine or ritual: not doing it feels wrong. This helps cement good habits and their salutary effects.

Look at your list. Which items help you feel nurtured, healthy, and more balanced? If there are any that deplete you or create anxiety, tension, or a low mood, find others you can substitute.

Perhaps you have been thinking of adding a new activity to your list. You know, taking that beginner yoga class, reading, spending more time with good friends, cooking rather than grabbing fast food, pausing to look out the window, etc. These are also routines and rituals. Once you get started and find yourself enjoying the benefits, your enthusiasm will provide the energy to continue until the behavior feels more like a ritual.

By adding just one positive new ritual to your day, even five minutes of conscious breathing, you will likely feel safer and more in control of your life. Who doesn’t want that?

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • danni

    danni

    April 8th, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Great suggestions, thanks!

  • Adam

    Adam

    April 9th, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    I would say that the more times you do something and the more you see yourself doing these things successfully, there is this thing in you that does begin to believe in your own power and strength and you have this feeling of pride in all of this that you are accomplishing merely by repetition and practice.

  • Davida

    Davida

    April 10th, 2015 at 1:34 PM

    The hardest part is recognizing that we have just as much power over the unhealthy ones as we do creating the newer and healthier things that we do in our lives/ but there has been so much repetition over and over again even with the things that we wish to eliminate that sometimes it feels like breaking those habits is something that is unattainable

  • Sofie

    Sofie

    April 13th, 2015 at 5:48 AM

    I am always challenged for making the time to actually practice being mindful and do the things that I know are good for me. Somehow I always find time fr the bad things but the good? Not quite as easy.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 14th, 2015 at 5:36 AM

    Hi Sofie,

    I know what you mean.
    Try doing whatever it is for just five minutes a day.
    For example, meditate for five minutes.
    You will be amazed how much of a difference that can make.

    Another practice is to simply pay attention to whatever you are doing as you do it (mindfulness). In the shower, petting the pet, eating something delicious, etc.

    Good luck!

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