Habits are related to various aspects of life and are usually influenced by the way we are raised as kids and how we experience life as it comes, as per our own perception and intelligence. Habits are not always negative though. A habit for a daily jog of one hour is a real positive habit. In Positive Psychology, inculcating a positive habit is the stepping stone for attracting other similar habits and hence creating a sense of enhanced life state. Rituals are daily practices which we get used to. In a general sense, by rituals we mean religious practices but here what I am talking about is rituals for well-being. Let us look at Habits first.
Habits are formed for various reasons. People start smoking or drinking, for example, initially because the others are doing so and as part of growing up, these things are common (and at times perceived as acceptable by the society). Some people don't get addicted hence they move out of this loop of habit at an early age but others get used to it (and can't live without it!). On the other hand, people who have "positive" habits like appreciating people, having a healthy meal, exercising daily etc find a lot of meaning and purpose in life and are much more happier than people who have more of "negative" or unhealthy habits.
Let us see impact of negative habits like smoking and drinking, especially when we look at the economic scenario around us. Let us imagine two friends. One of them has a couple of drinks every night and is a chain smoker and doesn't exercise at all. And, coupled with that he is a spendthrift. The other is used to exercising, is not a smoker and drinks only when there is a family or office event (perhaps 4-5 times in a year). He also buys lot of things but limits himself to exclusive items, few times in a year. Now let is imagine both of them were effected by the economic downturn and lost their jobs. It will be more likely for the person who was a smoker or drinker to get frustrated and depressed compared to the person who has "positive habits". There will be a difference in inuring expenditure as well. If a smoker and a drinker was spending say $500 every month on his habits, he would still do so when he loses the job and will have a strong chance of getting dejected and drinking still more! On the other hand, person with "positive" habits would continue with them (there can always be exceptions, but generally they would) and would be more frugal in spending.
Is it easy to let go of negative habits? Absolutely not, otherwise we wouldn't be having Alcoholics Anonymous and other institutional support systems for various types of substance abuses.
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habits suggests a model of cue, routine and reward, through which an individual can look at the cue or the impulses of an habit (having a smoke in office breaks for example) and how the routine enforces the habits. He also suggests an experiment of "reward" wherein the individual has an urge to experience his/her habit but then rewards herself/himself with something else. For example, a person has a habit to go to a coffee shop everyday and drinking a highly sweetened coffee with creme but then one day she goes there, walks around the corner and comes back after a small walk. Or Alternatively she tries a cup of Green Tea, without Sugar, as a reward for something she achieved at work or at home. If she challenges herself with adoption of new habit, substantial transformation can happen.
This may work for people who can analyse their routines and the cues. Forming new habits are easier for people who already have "positive habits" as they can quickly adapt to a situation. New Positive Habits can include having a healthy meal everyday, meditation, empowering people at work, etc. People with negative habits may still possess positive emotions of love, empathy, love of learning etc but people with positive habits would essentially have more of well-being.
When we come to rituals, we can create new ones or modify the existing ones to make our lives more enriching. Writing a "Gratitude diary" is an example of a new ritual. We can buy a wonderful looking notebook and either at the beginning or end of the day, write at least one good thing we are grateful for. Some people write, "i am grateful that I am breathing" or "I got inspired by my college today". In religious rituals as well, depending upon your belief systems, you can create a diary of all positive things you find in your religion. Another ritual can be discussing about books, poetry or any other mutual interest with a friend or a spouse. A new or rekindled romance can also be a beautiful ritual!
It is said that if we practice anything continuously for 21 days, our routine turns into habits as the entire biology of our body changes in this duration, accommodating all new cells. Acquiring healthy and positive habits and slowly negating the negative ones help improve our focus and possibly can lead to rewarding experiences in life, at work as well as in relationships. People who can understand and self-contemplate and are willing to take up new "positive" habits can take assistance from a life coach or a friend to support their new goals. Tools like Mindfulness Meditation help people acquire new positive habits and support practicing new rituals.
Try writing a journal of Gratitude to begin with!
Sandeep Kulshrestha is a Human Resources Professional, Executive Coach and Positive Psychologist.