Never assume that you’re stuck with the way things are right now. You aren’t. Things can change if you want them to, at any age. Life changes every single moment, and so can you.
As I watched a re-run of the Academy Awards last night at a friend’s house, I noticed an obvious commonality between many of the speeches actors and actresses make when they accept an award. It goes something like:
“This means so much so me. My whole life has been leading up to this moment.”
The interesting thing about this sentiment, I think, is that our whole lives have been leading up to every moment. Think about that for a second. Every single thing you’ve gone through in life, every high, every low, and everything in between, it has all led you to the moment you’re experiencing right now.
This means that you are exactly where you need to be to get to where you want to go. It’s just a matter of taking one new step in the right direction, and another, and another.
Start with a simple question: What do you want to change in your life?
Are you hoping to someday be in better physical shape, a runner, a writer, an artist, a graphic designer, a programmer, a teacher, a better parent, a successful entrepreneur, or an expert at something specific?
How do you get to where you want to go? Do you write your intention on a note card, and place it in a bottle and cast it out to sea, hoping the universe reads it and manifests it in your life? No. The universe isn’t going to make your desires happen. You are.
Do you set yourself a concrete goal to complete within a year, or within three years? Sure, but that alone doesn’t get the job done. In fact, if you think back on previous examples in your life, setting lofty, long-term goals probably hasn’t worked for you very often. How many times has this strategy led you to the outcome you desired?
The Importance of Rituals
Here’s the truth: Goals don’t make positive changes happen, rituals do.
What’s the difference between goals and rituals?
- If you’re a bodybuilder, your goal is to win a bodybuilding championship. Your ritual is what you do to train your body at the gym each day.
- If you’re a fiction writer, your goal is to write a novel. Your ritual is the writing schedule you follow each day.
- If you’re a parent, your goal is to be a great role model. Your ritual is the time and energy you commit to setting a great example each day.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a successful business. Your ritual is your daily work ethic combined with your marketing and sales process.
Now think about this: If you ignored your goals for a while and focused solely on your rituals, would you still get positive results?
For example, if you were trying to lose weight and you ignored your goal to lose 20 pounds, and instead focused only on eating healthy and exercising each day, would you still get results?
Yes, you would. Gradually, you would get closer and closer to your goal without even thinking about it again.
I’m going to lay down the law here, based on over a decade of experience helping our coaching/course students achieve the changes and results they desire, what I have learned is this:
Nothing will change unless you make a daily ritual that reinforces your goal.
I’ve tried weekly action steps with people, things they do every other day, big monthly milestones, and dozens of other variations and combinations of strategies. None of them work well in the long run except daily rituals.
If you’re not willing to make it a daily ritual, you don’t really want to change your life as much as you say you do. You only like the idea of learning to be fit/writing a book/building a business/selling your art/etc. You don’t actually want to do it, every day.
Bottom line: If you want it as much as you say you do, make it a daily ritual.
How to Turn a Goal into a Daily Ritual
Let’s look at a few super common goals:
- Lose weight
- Write a book
- Stop procrastinating
- Fall in love with the right person
- Be happier
- Learn a new language
- Travel the world
- Save more money
- Read more books
How do you turn those lofty goals into daily rituals? Think about what you could do every day that would get you closer to your desired outcome, even if it were only the tiniest imaginable step forward. Of course, this is not always easy to figure out, but let’s look at some ideas:
- Lose weight – Start walking every evening before you eat dinner, for 10 minutes at first, then increase to 15 minutes after you’ve completed a month, then 20 minutes after another month passes, and so forth. Once you are walking for 45+ minutes a day, make another change – drink water instead of soda/sugary juice.
- Write a book – Write for 10 minutes a day for a month straight, then step it up to 15 minutes a day, etc. Eventually settle into a daily ritual of 1-2 hours of uninterrupted writing a day.
- Stop procrastinating – For most of us, our minds operate at peak performance in the morning hours when we’re well rested. So obviously it would be foolish to use this time for a trivial task like checking Facebook. These peak performance hours should be 100% dedicated to working on rituals that bring you closer to your goals. A possible daily ritual: Set a ‘most important task’ each morning, then work on it for 10-30 minutes before opening your web browser/smart phone/etc.
- Fall in love with the right person – You have to put yourself out there. Go somewhere each day and meet and socialize with like-minded people. Here’s a good read on meeting the right people.
- Be happier – do something small each day to make the world better, to help people, and to love yourself.
- Learn a new language – Study your chosen foreign language using Livemocha or listen to Pimsleur audio for 10-30 minutes a day.
- Travel the world – Save money (see the next point). Or start selling your unnecessary belongings, so you can carry your needed belongings in a backpack. Learn to live with less. Then book budget-conscious travel arrangements with the money you made from selling the non-essentials.
- Save money – Begin by cutting out smaller expenses (like $7 Starbucks lattes). Start cooking and eating at home. Sell your car and bike/walk/take the train. Downsize to a smaller (or less expensive) home. Enjoy simple pleasures and free activities, instead of buying stuff.
- Read more books – Read every morning for 10-15 minutes and every evening again for another 10-15 minutes before you go to bed.
You get the idea. Not all of these specific rituals will work for you and your unique situation, but you could come up with something similar that works better for you. In any case, the principle applies: Create a ritual and live by it daily.
How to Create and Implement Daily Rituals
This 7-step process is fairly simple and, if you diligently stick to it, basically infallible:
- Focus on one (and only one) positive change at a time. – You can break this rule, and sadly most people do, but don’t be surprised if you fail because of it. If you try to do too much, nothing gets done right. Implement one positive change and make it a ritual for a month before considering adding to it or starting a second. Only build upon your ritual if you were successful, otherwise stick to it until it feels like second nature to you.
- Start small. – I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but again no one ever does it. Start with a daily ritual that lasts 10 minutes or less. If you feel incredible resistance and fail at 10 minutes, drop it to 5 minutes, or 3 minutes, and then stick to it for a full month.
- Create a trigger that automatically initiates your ritual each day. – A mistake lots of people make is trying to complete their ritual at the same exact time each day – like 8am sharp. The problem is life’s scheduling conflicts often get in the way of a rigid schedule, so on many days the ritual ends up being pushed back until tomorrow. To mitigate this, use something you automatically do every day as the trigger to start your ritual. For example, after you eat breakfast, after you brush your teeth, after you arrive at the office, after you turn on your computer, after you return home and walk through the front door, etc. The exact time doesn’t matter.
- Make a sincere verbal commitment to someone (or multiple people). – Make sure it’s with someone whose opinion you respect. For example, I made a commitment to workout for 30 minutes every day to Angel. I’ve also made commitments to my parents, to close friends, to my son, to readers of our blog, to coaching/course students, to companies I’ve done business with, and more.
- Set up an accountability system with an accountability partner. – Taking my workout example with Angel … each day I have to update a shared Google calendar showing how many minutes I’ve worked out, and she can (and does) check this calendar daily to make sure I’m on track. Your accountability tool of choice doesn’t matter – you can post to Facebook, email someone, or have a 5-minute face-to-face accountability meeting. Just make sure someone is holding you accountable each day, not each week, or each month. And make sure the person is actually checking in with you. If they don’t check in with you, you need to find a different accountability partner.
- Create consequences for slacking off. – The most significant consequence of not following through with your daily ritual is losing the respect of those who you have made a commitment to. But you can create other slightly more fun consequences: Recently I made a promise to a group of friends that I would donate $100 to a political campaign I’m not fond of each time I didn’t follow through with my commitment. I haven’t missed my commitment yet. I’ve also made a promise to eat octopus sushi if I slacked off (and I won’t , because eating raw octopus is repulsive to me – like eating a rat). I’ve promised to sing embarrassing karaoke songs in front of strangers if I failed. The consequences can also be positive – a reward each week if you don’t miss a day, for example. Also, make the consequences more severe if you miss two days straight, and even more severe if you miss three, etc.
- Review and enjoy the daily progress you’re making. – Taking two minutes to reflect on your daily accomplishments each evening is a healthy way to raise self-confidence and contentment. It’s also an effective way to motivate yourself. If you don’t do this, you’ll likely lose track of the fact that you’re moving in the right direction. So keep notes and write down at least one thing you made progress on each day and why it mattered. Do this consistently for a month straight and watch how it affects your happiness and productive output.
That’s it. Ritualize these seven steps, and you’ve got a changed life. I challenge you to put them into action today.
And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to make positive changes, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track. This is precisely why Angel and I built “Getting Back to Happy.” The course is filled with time-tested steps on how to do just that. We’d love to work with you directly, if you’re up to it.
What’s one change you want to make in your life? What’s one new ritual you’d like to begin? Tell me about it. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Mallory Varnum