Learning Lab

Routines & Rituals

By Amy Brann

How to Make Them Work for you Using Neuroscience

All people develop their own routines and rituals. Take for example the morning ritual, getting out of bed grabbing something that helps ease you into the morning. Each person’s routines and rituals are unique and serve the important purpose of setting the mood for the day. Anyone who has woken up late knows the unsettling feeling that occurs when one has to skip the pleasantries of the morning ritual and jump right into a hectic day.

For people who find life to be less than satisfying the first invitation they could receive is the opportunity to look at their daily routines and rituals. There are times when the things humans do for comfort are not in their best interests and are not geared up to deliver them their desired goals and lifestyle. It is at this point that we take a deeper look at routines and rituals in order to better understand the purpose, what works and does not work about them, and finally offer ways of thinking about routines and rituals using neuroscience to think about the best use of this powerful part of the human experience.

What are Routines and Rituals?

Routines and rituals are behaviors that a person will participate in virtually without fail on a daily basis. These are behaviors that bring comfort and fulfil what the person perceives as things that need to be done. Some of what has to be done is imposed by society and outside influences of family, church, and state. Some are self-imposed activities that a person has developed over their lifetime. These are activities that have been discovered to work for a person to obtain feelings that are satisfying on some level and make them feel that life is going as it should be to the person’s own unique set of standards.

Why do we Have Routines and Rituals?

As we have discussed before in previous blogs, humans often are seeking out a pleasure-reward response. This kicks in all of the happy brain chemistry that gets a human though their day. Additionally, a routine in particular is a set of behaviors that has been determined to assist a person in fulfilling the responsibilities and desires that they wish to fulfill in a day. For example, Sally has a routine that includes feeding her dog, grabbing a cup of tea and a grapefruit in the morning, taking her dog on a jog with her for exercise, she is ready by 8:30 am to leave for the office where she leads her staff meeting on Monday morning to set her staff off for a week of productivity. The afternoon is set aside for one-on-one meetings and client phone calls. She is ready to leave the office by 7:00 pm, meet friends for dinner and then she is off to watch a movie while doing some light housekeeping at home and she is ready to fall asleep by 10:00 pm. This is the routine that allows Sally to accomplish all that must happen on a Monday. We develop our routines and become comfortable in them because they are a set of stepping stones of success and reward that people build to feel more at ease with life’s demands.

Rituals are almost automatic and are internally driven by our needs and desires. Desire for self-connection and for connection with the outside world. That feeling that certain things need to happen during the day or else there is a deep feeling of unease and irritation. Our rituals can define us because they are how we spend our time and they define what is important to us on a very deep level. When we learn a person’s rituals we learn intimate information about them. That is why many people may be reluctant to share this information. It can often be very personal. Therefore, we can only invite them to take inventory of the daily ritual to see whether the activities that are present there are positive or negative to the person’s health, goals, and desires for themselves.

Neuroscientifically Good Routines

We know lots of the old school advice seems to benefit both our brains and bodies. Value sleep, good nutrition and exercise. Building routines and rituals into your life that support these could be considered good advice from neuroscientists. Also consider things like meditation, learning a new skill like a language or musical instrument. Laugh frequently. Connect to other people and animals. Spend time relaxing. Smile and be grateful.

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