Rituals Replace Motivation

This morning,* I got out of the house very specifically to do one thing and one thing only. 

<Write>

Typically, I get a lot more writing accomplished in a coffee shop with headphones on than I do at home.

Writing and other deep work, (such as process creation, marketing, anything that uses those creative juices and needs effort and attention), requires presence, focus, and intention. Sometimes you have to force yourself not to be distracted so that you can actually think through the work and get something done.

For sure, there are times when the moment comes and I am motivated to knock out some content on a specific topic. But if I only wrote when those moments hit, I wouldn’t write very often. I definitely wouldn’t hit my writing goal for this year.

I wish I were like those writers that just cannot wait to put words to paper. But I’m not. 

It’s even the same for me in martial arts, which I’m passionate about! If I wait for the motivation, I’ll never go. It took the ritual of the drive and my thought process during that drive to find the motivation.

Rituals (and/or processes, whatever term you feel more comfortable with) are the cure for motivation and the path to success.

Michael Phelps had a ritual that he completed for every single swimming event. The same stretches in the same order, the same music in his headphones, the same visualization techniques.

Tim Ferriss has one of the most popular podcasts in the world. He’s constantly asking other high performers about their rituals and how they help them so that he can best use and modify his own. 

And that’s the thing! While a ritual is solely yours, you can still find inspiration for where to start from other people. 

I am still refining my morning ritual, and I haven’t reached the consistency I want yet. I’m a night owl who wants to be a morning person, so it’s a struggle. However, I do have mini rituals that allow me to get into the headspace I need to be in for pretty much everything I do. Such as my ritual for writing:

  1. Arrive at a coffee shop
  2. Buy a cup of coffee (don’t be the cheapo who sits at a coffee shop for hours and doesn’t buy a coffee)
  3. Noise-canceling headphones on
  4. Background music (i.e. instrumental, pop that has boring/repetitive lyrics, etc.)
  5. Look at unfinished content, feedback from my head of content, or check Pocket for inspiration.
  6. No drinking or eating until I’ve picked something to write about
  7. Write without editing/rereading, just get the words out
  8. Write 1k words minimum
  9. Organize what I’ve written in Trello

I used to spend a lot of time wondering what I was going to write about, if it was going to be good enough, and what happens after the writing is complete. Basically, I thought about all the things I can’t control or the things that don’t help me write.

Without a ritual, I’d never decide what to write about, much less find the desire to sit down and do it. If I let myself worry about all the other areas that I don’t have control over, I wouldn’t get anything done. Trust me, I am the guy who overthinks everything.

So now, instead of wondering:

  • Is anyone going to read this?
  • How bad is my typing?
  • Have I written about this topic before?
  • Do I have anything new to say?
  • Why should anyone listen to me?

I just write.

For me, just the creation of content is a win. Nothing else matters in that moment.

I do a lot more in my business than just write, but I plan out KPI’s for everything I do and the rituals kind of build themselves with time.

The harder the practice is, the more important the ritual is.

I am working on cementing some habits that are notoriously hard to build. I go through stretches where I’m consistent and stretches where I’m not. Those habits are:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Learning a new language, namely Portuguese

Meditation is difficult because the benefits start off so small that it’s easy to tell yourself that nothing is really improving. When you’ve put in a good workout at the gym, you feel it. That soreness reminds you of your effort. The benefits and effort of meditation aren’t as obvious, so it can feel pointless at first.

Journaling is a lot like meditation in the fact that you don’t see any improvement immediately. 

Of these habits, I am doing the best with learning Portuguese. I am using the DuoLingo app and my KPI is to do 3 lessons a day. The reason that I am doing the best with this specific habit is because I have built a little ritual around it.

It’s a ritual that would seem insignificant to most people, but it’s worked for me. My daughter is a very slow eater. So after I finish eating, I continue sitting at the table with her and start my DuoLingo lessons for the day. If I get up after I eat and go sit on the couch, I’ll get distracted with something else. Continuing to sit there reminds me that DuoLingo is the next task after eating. (And I secretly hope my kiddo is absorbing some of the language learning, as well.🤞)

 I think that is the biggest reason why I have completed 78 days in a row. 

For the other things, there’s no set ritual yet. I have my consistent stretches where I try to develop a ritual, but I can’t seem to nail them down.

What would my life look like if I had meditated for 78 days in a row? What about journaling? What about the other goals I’d love to hit; 78 weeks of meal prepping, intermittent fasting, doing jiujitsu 3 times per week, or working out 6 days a week?

I can’t say for sure, but I think it would be pretty awesome. Just need to nail down the right ritual to get there. 

Rituals, for me at least, aren’t just about personal development. 

I’ve been in sales most of my adult life, from selling websites to going door-to-door with perfume. I have had long stretches where I have done well and others where I have struggled a lot. 

Every time I’ve struggled, it’s been because I was just winging it. No goal, no process, no ritual. I was just waiting for motivation or being reactive to the role instead of being proactive.

So now, whether it’s a new sales venture or a new personal development habit, this is what I go through before I even start. 

First:

  1. Is this thing/habit important and why? What are my goals for it?
  2. What is my KPI for this task? What things do I have control over? (If you’re unfamiliar with KPIs, check out my podcast.)
  3. What can I do for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before the act that can serve as part of the ritual?
  4. When and how often do I want to do this?

Then:

  1. Build it and schedule it on the calendar.
  2. Build accountability or a trap that forces you to do the behavior if needed. …crush it.

The next time you are struggling with doing something that is hard or creating a habit that is important, try going through that process or one that is similar. Follow a general guideline of goals → KPIs → process/ritual → success! 

And yes, writing it out like that makes it sound easier than it is, but that’s your starting point. It’s your guideline for building the ritual and making it a habit. Sometimes you’ll struggle, just reevaluate and readjust, if needed. But everything starts with a process!

*This was written before the COVID-19 quarantine. And I haven’t adjusted to this crazy new normal we’re living with. Just like everybody else, I’m now in the process of creating new rituals, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully, it will be over sooner than later! Right now, the most important thing is staying safe and staying sane.

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