Ritual

The kind of rituals I’m talking about here are habitual activities I’ve created to make it through the week. I’m not exactly sure what this says about me, but right now, most of my rituals involve food.

For a while, my wife and I had takeout from my favorite Mexican restaurant every Wednesday night. It was the way we celebrated hump day. And, on Sunday nights, in the past, I would watch my favorite television show and drink a big can of Sapporo.

These aren’t exotic or sophisticated rituals. I mean, it’s not the same as coming home from a long day of work, slipping out of my suit jacket, and pouring myself a scotch. Or ending each evening out with a nightcap, but I don’t wear a suit to work. And I no longer live in a bachelor pad.

I’ve found it beneficial to have things to look forward to from time to time. And it’s possible that I don’t do it enough. Partly because there’s barely enough time to do what’s necessary on weeknights. Anything superfluous falls by the wayside

Weekends tend to offer a little more opportunity for luxuries, but obligations and responsibilities often get in the way then as well. So, even though I’d like to have rituals I perform each week (and sometimes I do), I also have some I enjoy only on occasion.

For example, whenever my wife goes somewhere, and I’m alone in the house, I put on one of my favorite albums. Then, I lie down on the couch and let Thom Yorke or whoever put me in a trance. (My wife and I don’t always like the same music.)

I tend to use rituals as rewards, but when they’re enacted to provoke certain behaviors, they come a bit closer to what they’re designed to do in a religious context. They have power—specifically, the power to motivate or to calm.

Often, calm is what I’m after—whether it be because I’m facing the week ahead or because there are still a couple of days left before the weekend.

photo: Dane Deaner

Snooze

The snooze button is a definite weakness of mine. I don’t have a typical alarm clock. I have a smart device that I turn off verbally, which may be worse. (Maybe because the alarm is soothing rather than a little bit jarring.) I’m typically asleep again before my alarm goes off the second time. Sometimes without missing a beat in my dream cycle.

I know snoozing’s not good for me, but I only snooze once per morning so it’s been a pretty low priority as far as making a change is concerned. However, my wife is the one who encouraged me to get up after the first alarm after I started disrupting her sleep.

I was convinced it wouldn’t make me feel less lethargic. And I was reluctant to give it a try. My thinking was that everyone needs an Achilles’ heel. Snoozing would be mine.

Okay, I’m kidding. My wife wanted me to stop snoozing, so I had to try. But I was more than a little skeptical about a lack of snoozing, decreasing my sleep inertia. I didn’t think my body was getting confused about whether or not it was time to sleep so much as I was suffering from exhaustion. Ultimately, there was no way of knowing without a little experimentation.

On my first day without a snooze, I woke up ten minutes before my alarm because of a crying baby. I’m not sure if I felt better or not, but I did get to the writing desk faster and without feeling like I needed a shower to wake me up.

I thought this was because a crying infant caused me to stir, not because of skipping a snooze. By just day three, I was ready to give up. I again tried to tell my wife that I needed to be deficient in some areas. But she disagreed, so I had to keep at it.

Almost a year later, circumstances have changed, but I never think about snoozing. This could be seen as an accomplishment or, at the very least, the elimination of a bad habit, but neither one of those things keeps me from feeling like shit in the mornings.

photo: Amanda Jones

Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in catastrophic levels of death and illness. Fortunately for me, the chaos and extreme loss of this illness have remained far away, at least for the time being. However, I have not entirely evaded the impact of this virus. Whereas I consider myself to be an introvert, I–like many others–have been feeling the strain of semi-quarantine conditions.

Although I consider myself fortunate to have escaped the worst of the pandemic, I have seen many of the good habits and practices I put into place start to wane or slacken. I can see how many might think that good habits are unimportant right now, but these activities tend to lessen my anxiety and lead to greater stability, which makes them all the more essential in times like these.

It might be clear why I’ve been unable to stay on track. Despite having more opportunities than ever to institute good habits and make the most of my days, I find myself overindulging in some practices and neglecting others. I’ve also miraculously revived a few activities that had lain dormant.

Whereas it has taken some time to feel completely out of whack due to my dereliction, I am starting to feel the need to get back to basics. Luckily, I have the opportunity to hit a reset this week because I’m going out of town. Whereas I’m going to do my best to make this a hard reset, I’m also going to make some changes before leaving. There’s no reason to wait, so I’m going to start doing good things before my departure.

Specifically, I want to reinstate my morning prep, which was abandoned, in part, because of starting to work from home and, in part, due to my recent move. Then, I want to get back on track with my weights and jumping rope. I haven’t given up these activities, but I have been somewhat less than intentional in their routine execution.

I mention in the introduction that I do not always achieve the aims outlined in my journal. These writings are simply a guidebook that helps me during times in which I need to remember my way and start walking it.

photo: Mika Baumeister

Cleaning

Keeping a clean house is a necessity for me. And whereas I wouldn’t say that I enjoy the process of cleaning, I am able to find satisfaction in the results. More than satisfaction, actually.

Cleanliness brings me a certain amount of clarity. I work and think better in a clean environment. Thus, I’ve been able to come to terms with the fact that it takes effort to keep a clean space.

I give myself both daily and weekly chores as well, as several tasks that occur only periodically. Staying on top of the daily and weekly cleaning is relatively straightforward, but I find that it helps to put the less routine tasks on a calendar.

Chores, like cleaning the refrigerator, straightening the pantry, and vacuuming and washing our vehicles, are performed every other month or so. (I clean the exterior of my car less frequently than the interior. It seems like a waste of water, but I believe it will help the resale value.)

My daily tasks include washing the dishes and some basic tidying (e.g., making sure things are put in their place.) I do the laundry, take out the trash/ recycling, sweep and mop, and clean the bathrooms on a weekly basis. I avoid procrastinating by doing these tasks as early on in the weekend as possible or even performing the chore on Thursday night.

I also make an effort to avoid approaching this work with reluctance. These tasks require a small amount of time and offer almost immediate benefits. It may seem mundane, but, for me, living in filth and clutter is entirely unacceptable.

Lastly, in regards to cleaning and tidying, I tend to give my house a thorough once over the day before I leave on a trip. I’ve found that this makes coming home even more of a relief and a pleasure. It makes where I live feel even more like home.

photo: Oliver Hale

15 Minutes

Last year, I signed a contract to ghostwrite the first draft of a short novel. It was on a tight deadline, and I have a day job. So I knew I was going to have to maximize the way I use my time both before and after work.

I did this by breaking both periods into 15-minute increments.

While I was writing the book, I woke up every day at 6 AM and spent 15 minutes eating breakfast and drinking a cup of coffee. Then, I took a quick shower. By 6:30, I was writing and doing so for one hour. The rest of the morning went to a workout and a bit of straightening up or reading before heading out the door.

When I got home, more often than not, I went to work on the novel. That left me with some time afterward to take a walk, eat some dinner, and unwind before going to bed.

The best thing about this kind of routine was that I knew where I was supposed to be at all times. In other words, I didn’t have to waste time figuring out what to do next. I’d written down, so I just looked at the schedule.

But all was not bliss. This kind of efficiency is burdensome. The worst thing about it was that the routine made me feel a bit like a robot.

Ultimately, I believed I could do just about anything for eight weeks and knew it would be necessary to have this kind of structure if I was going to finish the project on time. This schedule helped me finish early.

photo: Veri Ivanova

Wake Up

I wish I could say that I woke up like Bruce Lee. I read in John Little’s The Warrior Within that he was doing a set of exercises before he was out of bed in the morning (e.g., arching the back, stretching, leg lifts, and more). That’s not my routine. I roll out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, and then fill up on as many cups of coffee as possible. This is something I’ve worked on, but it hasn’t necessarily been effective.

In the past, I had my breakfast and coffee, spent a little time waking up by staring at the weather report, then proceeded to move into the office to write for an hour or so.

Periodically, I’d head straight from my office to the gym. It just depended on whether I was working out in the morning or the afternoon that day. This struck me as reasonably productive, which may have been the problem.

I slipped into some complacency over my morning routine because there were times when I’d schedule my mornings out in 15-minute increments, sucking out every possible bit of productivity possible by adding a little cleanup and 15-30 minutes of reading before going into work.

Granted, just writing that down makes it seem a little bit over the top. And I think that level of performance should possibly be reserved for special periods when my workload is high.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’d like to wake up feeling a little more alert and vibrant. There are ways to go about this, but most of them have had little effect on me. For a while, I took a shot of V8 every morning but there were no noticeable effects.

So far, the only healthy morning activity that’s stuck is a little hydration in the form of a 20 oz. glass of H2O. Most likely, Lee already has the answer (which shouldn’t come as a surprise). I’ll have to refer back to Little’s book and start waking up with his routine. Especially since after the birth of my daughter, a 3-minute workout is all I have time for in the mornings.

photo: Fervent Jan

Water

There are plenty of reasons to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. It’s been to shown to help regulate appetite, moderate the metabolism, keep you hydrated, and, generally, flush and replenish the system. That’s great if you can actually remember to fill the glass and drink it.

Once I decided I was going to have a glass of water every morning, I started thinking of ways to make it a routine or habit. This may sound simple, but it wasn’t for me. Mornings can get busy, and I found that I was often out of the house, having forgotten to drink any water.

So, I took action. I set a reminder of the voice-enabled device in my home. At 7 AM, a soft, soothing voice alerts me to the fact that it’s time to drink a little water. My device pings before it speaks, so I’m surprised it hasn’t had a kind of Pavlovian effect. When I hear a chime, I go directly to the faucet.

After I started taking a glass out of the cabinet and filling it with water on my own, I turned the reminder off. At that point, I was a little nervous it would eventually slip my mind, so I started setting a glass out on the kitchen table at night in preparation for the next morning (I do this while preparing my coffee).

I no longer forget to have a glass of water in the morning. And although I haven’t seen a direct impact, I know it’s there. Because, in general, I believe in science, even when the effects aren’t immediately apparent. Then again, it may be evident that my system is being flushed for other reasons.

photo: Joseph Greve

Hydrotherapy

Cold showers are something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my routine for a while. Because it’s summer, I thought it would be a good time to give it another try.

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find that there are many benefits to taking cold showers, including:

  • Increased vitality
  • Decreased muscle soreness
  • Stress management
  • Enhanced weight loss

I think I read a James Bond novel that described the famed spy getting up in the morning and starting each day with an ice-cold shower. It purportedly increased his alertness, which would be necessary for someone who is trying to achieve situational awareness.

I may not be worried about Goldfinger or Dr. No, but I would still like to reap the benefits of taking a cold shower. However, the endeavor continues to be more or less out of my reach.

I’ve found that the water temperature in my shower doesn’t go much below seventy degrees in the summertime. And that’s the upper limit (and then some) for true hydrotherapy. But, for me, a temperature of eighty degrees is pleasant and even preferable to a hot shower, at times. Seventy-five degrees, surprisingly, starts to get a little uncomfortable. More so than I’d like to admit, considering I’ve been in rivers whose temps are in the fifty’s. Granted, I was wearing a wet suit during those times.

How do you get the temperature down? (I’m not sure it’s worth asking if you get used to it.) I started by progressively decreasing the temperature of the water in my shower after a workout (when my body tends to be most overheated). This turned out to be a pretty effective strategy because starting with cold water was something I found myself resisting.

What I learned was that when it comes down to it, I’m not sure I need to torture myself with a freezing shower from start to finish. After all, there are benefits to a hot shower, as well. The heat can also help decrease muscle soreness.

I’m still going to work at it, but I think I’ve found a happy medium. When I’m already warm (e.g., after a run on a hot day), a cold shower could be beneficial. But when it’s cold out, and I’m sore after hitting the gym, a hot shower or bath might also do me some good.

Of course, if I become an international spy, this could be a problem.

photo: Andrew Neel