Do you find it hard to start new tasks or to switch from one task to another? I do.
It’s not that I don’t WANT to do the next thing. It’s that if I am already doing something it feels incredibly hard to stop. And then it feels hard to start the other thing. And all of that creates a lot of static around the task I plan to do.
I imagine that this happens to everyone sometimes. Especially if you are enjoying (or are committed to) the task at hand or if the task ahead is poorly defined.
My ADHD brain has been known to get caught in a task switching loop for ages. I might keep telling myself that I will do ‘just this last part’ of the task at hand. Or I may know that I need to start something else but I can’t quite make myself do it. The task ahead could be something I love doing or something that is very important to me, and I still struggle to start it.
Whether or not you have ADHD, I’ll be that something similar comes up for you, at least sometimes, when you are trying to practice your new habit.
Your habit may be important to you. Your action may be relatively easy. You may not even be enjoying your current activity. But you are still a victim of inertia, you still feel unable to get started.
That’s when a ritual* can come in handy.
A ritual gives you somewhere to start, an on-ramp, and it lets you see the path ahead as a series of steps instead of sheer drop into (insert ominous voice here) THAT THING YOU MUST DO.
Your ritual doesn’t have to be complex and it doesn’t have to involve anything from beyond the veil (but feel free, if that’s your sort of thing), it just has to give you a way to get started.
Let me give you an example.
One day last week, I was caught in a can’t-get-started loop about one of these posts. I knew what I wanted to say. I was interested in writing about it. And I knew that it had to be posted that day at 2pm EST. My brain wasn’t having it.
I tried logic-ing my way out of it but still no go. And since I couldn’t write this, my brain wouldn’t let me write anything else. So, I went to my back-up back-up plan and started to draw.
I drew a gold star, of course.
And then I realized that I could use the drawing as the star for my post.
So I took a photo and uploaded it into a draft post. And I gave the post a name. And I set up the tags and categories. And did an image description.
And, as I sat there, looking at a screen with all of the detail-oriented bits already done, it was suddenly much easier to start writing.
The next day, I started by drawing and then I went through all the same steps. I’ve used this same little ritual for 5 out of the last 6 posts. (My post for Saturday was about going easy on yourself and it was pretty easy to write, I didn’t need the ritual.)
Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk to write but instead of actually writing, I was putting pencils away and tidying all the stuff on my desk. Instead of just trying to push myself to start, I actually said aloud “Oh, right! I start by drawing!” and I grabbed one the half-index cards from the box on my desk and drew a gold star and surrounded it with lines. Once that was done, I knew the next step was to take a photo.
Having the ritual doesn’t remove all the challenges of getting started but it does reduce them and there is momentum built into the process.
If you have trouble getting your practice started, having a ritual could really help.
Today, I’m inviting you to prepare for a time when it is hard to get started on your practice. Even if today isn’t particularly hard, it can be useful to use the ritual so it becomes part of the momentum of your practice even sooner.
So, what kinds of things could help you get started?
Could you play a specific song (or part of one) as you set up or as you do the first parts of your practice? Or could you have some specific phrases that you say to get you started?
Is there a specific piece of clothing you could put on or furniture that you could move/close/open/cover that could signal that you are getting started? Would it help to write out your practice like a checklist?
Could you make a ceremony out of putting out your mat? Or maybe light a candle or turn on a specific lamp? Would it help to tell someone else you plan to do your practice? Perhaps your ritual could involve putting on a specific TV show or podcast?
The details of the ritual will differ from person to person, of course. The important thing is that you have something that prompts your brain to accept that *this* is the time when you do your practice.
Here is your gold star for your efforts today, no matter what they were.
Please be kind to yourself about the things that feel hard and celebrate the work that you have put into everything you did today.
(My ritual for writing these posts includes drawing. It doesn’t include worrying about whether the drawing is perfect. Please apply that to your own rituals and may those rituals serve you well.)
*You might prefer to call it a routine and that works marvellously. I chose ritual because I like the connotation of invoking great power and because I like the idea that people might use ritual words or movements as a starting point.