Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

Rituals: Resources and Links - #MindfulPhD Roundup


I'll admit that I was a little nervous when we threw out "rituals" as an idea for a #MindfulPhD chat. I didn't have any rituals that I kept to strictly, even on a monthly basis. I certainly didn't have anything that I do daily, or that puts me in a specific state of being. But as I prepared for the discussion, I realized that I did have sequences of behaviors that I (unconsciously, loosely, or most of the time) stuck to before certain actions. I came to use the word "cue" in my head - what things did I do to signal to my body and brain that X activity was about to happen? When I framed it like that, it became much easier to see the patterns, and the ways that rituals can help support an existing habit, or start a new one. And luckily for me, the #MindfulPhD community was generous and smart about how ritual shows up in their lives! 

First, a big shout out to my co-hosts Rebecca (@EnderbyYoga) and Natasha (@nlindfield) who were discussing rituals (and where we think we could use a few new ones) all day! I am lucky to have such smart and open collaborators to help set the tone of inclusion and growth. 

Rebecca shared this intriguing article about "deep work", or being massively productive in shorter bursts of uber concentrated time - which also insists that setting up routines is the key to training your brain to focus on command. 

In a different vein, I wrote about how quick routines for starting, and then stopping, my writing sessions helped me make the most of short, unpredictable writing days. 

Several chatters mentioned Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega as a go-to voice on all things writing habits. This piece mentions several activities that make up his writing habit, and also mentions that he uses classical music to cue his brain that it is time for academic writing. 

Sleep (and lack of it!) came up as a barrier to many "ideal routines" - Natasha, Rebecca and I all expressed that lack of sleep can quickly turn best laid morning routine plans upside down. This recent piece from the New York Times and countless other studies have shown that lack of sleep impairs brain function, but also that the ideal 8 hours is not a great fit for everyone. I've noticed a big shift in my sleep quality when I charge my phone away from my bed (to stop myself playing Kleptocats until I nod off) and shutting off the computer at least an hour before bed, but others mentioned tea and journaling before bed as a good cue that sleep is coming. 

As the seasons change and some of us head back for a new semester, many mentioned "new year" rituals like new notebooks or other stationary, or planning sessions to map out the semester, or even the whole year! Sometimes, you need to add something back in to your routine as the seasons shift, and chatter Chris shared a sun lamp that he uses on winter mornings to help soothe winter blues. 

Coffee (or tea) seems to be a big part of many writing (and living!) rituals, and it might be more than just the caffeine. Research suggests that scent cues can be quite powerful in triggering memories and reinforcing habits. So take a minute to savor the smell of your coffee, or consider lighting a candle or diffusing oils in your work space (providing you check with your neighbors!) to build in another sense cue to your rituals. 

I found this article about building a sustainable exercise habit to be applicable to writing as well - both are complex habits that can require quite a bit of planning and set up to execute (compared to say, brushing your teeth) and thusly need more complex cues. This article walks you through how to make cues and rewards that appeal to you - and thus, will help the habit stick in your specific brain. 

I've been experimenting with making my morning ritual a little more formal - which for me means enforcing loose boundaries (maybe I'll check email while I drink this tea, maybe I'll surf Twitter and do my morning pages at the same time) much more strictly. I'm still in the uncomfortable phase of habit implementation, but I'll be sure to report back if this cuts down my morning time (it can take me a LONG time to get rolling and productive in the morning!) 

And make sure you join us on September 18th when we talk about meditation!