We have habits (good and bad). We have routines (intentional and non-intentional). But rituals? Maybe not so much.  Setting and implementing goals can be pretty stressful. Anxiety often rides along on any journey to a goal – especially those goals involving growth (personal or business). If it is causing growth, it is causing you to push and stretch. That almost always means stress. So, if we opt to set growth goals (and you know I do), how can we increase the happiness and reduce the anxiety that comes with those high goals?

Assuming we set SMARTIES goals, we can focus on the implementation of them. If we see them as homework, we likely won’t wring as much happiness out of it as we could. Try to enact a mind shift about how to go about achieving goals. We often hear about self-discipline when it comes to goals. But what if we shifted from a focus on the discipline aspect to something else? What if we focused on the act of acting and the why? What if we got rid of the guilt of not acting and instead moved towards setting ourselves up to act? That’s where rituals come in.

The word “rituals” brings to mind candles, robes, and maybe some chanting. This time of year is chock-full of rituals. While a ritual can include those things, there is no requirement that it must. A ritual is repeated steps of behaviors or actions – just like a habit or a routine – but with a very important difference. A ritual is a set of repeated behaviors done with intention, done mindfully. Rituals aren’t meant to produce a practical result externally, but rather they are meant to produce an internal state. They are very precise behaviors performed in a specific way at a specific time and best if motivated by a deeply held belief. They are a set of intentional actions that get you ready to act at the next level.

Habits are repeated steps but usually the “thinky” part of the brain (the neocortex) is absent. That’s what we like about them. I don’t have to spend much brainpower brushing my teeth or making my morning tea. It just gets done while I am figuring out my day. Routines have a bit more thought process. I have a reason for them (often to reach a goal). Going for a run or going to a yoga class doesn’t happen without thought (and often a pep talk for many of us). And often, it is done by going through the motions – not precisely, specifically, or with much motivation other than to get it done.

But a ritual requires you to be engaged. Each step is prescribed. By following a ritual, the same steps get done in the same order with the purpose of paying attention to each step as it is being done. Rituals require precise behaviors that are motivated by belief and desire. You don’t ask later “Did I remember to do it?” like you might do with a routine or a habitual action. You must be present for a ritual.

By doing this, by connecting action with meaning, these repeated actions can get our thoughts aligned with our action. It prepares you for action, but also gets action started. There’s no punking out once the ritual candle is lit. By creating a ritual, you think about what it is that you want to achieve, why you want to do so, and what you need to be ready to do it. Then each time you perform the ritual, you remind yourself of each of those things, and it sets you up to act upon them. They can be big or small – just as long as they are mindful and prime you for action.

Think of your holiday rituals. They are fulfilling while they are happening and help ensure the next step is what you need it to be. So hang your stockings with care. Light the candles each of the nights. And realize how each of those little rituals set you up for the bigger, harder stuff. Now go into the New Year ready with all of these tools (whether new or old) in your box ready for deployment. Then go!