Home All Try a New Year Routine, Part 2: Habits, Practices, and Rituals

Try a New Year Routine, Part 2: Habits, Practices, and Rituals

written by Jan Stanley 15 January 2016

Jan Stanley, MAPP '10, was a director of learning systems and leadership development before leaving the corporate world to create her own map of a road less taken. Jan's focus is now squarely on her passion of applying positive psychology through the use of poetry, mindfulness, collaboration, and ritual, woven together into ceremonies of well-being. Jan served as a facilitator for the U.S. Army Master Resilience Training program. She is a faculty member of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, where she teaches others about the beauty and benefits of ceremony. Full bio. Jan's articles are here.

What could you accomplish if you devoted a small amount of time each day to establishing beneficial routines? Sometimes inching forward is the key to success. Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer found that making small daily wins in meaningful pursuit was the single biggest motivator to accomplishing larger goals. Routines are one way to cultivate small daily progress.

Routines serve a key role in helping us to accomplish goals and to tend to priorities in our lives. As I described in part 1 of this series, routines help us stay on track by positively constraining choices, reducing distractions, and providing momentum. Although routines are often seen as repetitive or robotic, they needn’t be boring. We can leverage the power of routines by personalizing them to meet our needs and to match our goals. Using a design thinking mindset, three elements to consider when crafting a routine are habits, practices, and rituals.

Before we jump into definitions and uses, consider this. Most would agree that routines can help us get things done. Can routines also help us to become better people? Happier, kinder, more authentic? Can we design habits, practices, and rituals for better social connection, for example? Read on and adapt the ideas to any alternative goal of your own.


Habits are behaviors that have become automatic. Up to 40% of our time each day is devoted to automatic behavior such as driving to work, getting dressed, or washing dishes. Once we have successfully automated a behavior, we are likely to continue to perform it. Past behavior predicts future behavior once habituated, which is great in reaping the benefits of regular performance. It means, however, that we should carefully plan the behaviors we habituate.



Psychologists Wendy Wood, Jeffrey Quinn, and Deborah Kashy found that when people engage in habits, it is easier to think thoughts unrelated to their actions. In other words, people can perform many habits somewhat mindlessly. This finding was in contrast to the performance of non-habituated behaviors in less stable contexts, where Wood, Quinn, and Kashy found that thoughts generally corresponded to the task at hand. While this may not seem favorable if your goal is to be mindfully aware of all that you do, it does give your mind a chance to be less focused and to wander even as you perform tasks that help you live the life you most desire. In some situations, automaticity trumps mindfulness.

Be intentional when you design a habit. What habits would help you to accomplish an important goal, to become the person you’d like to be, or to live a fulfilling life? There are many good books and articles to help you design a habit into your New Year Routine. Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before helps you assess your style when it comes to changing or creating habits. Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit helps you to understand specific components of habits and how to change or create them.

For example, consider what habits you’d need in a routine to eat nutritiously? Here are a few activities that might come up in your brainstorming about possible habits for your morning routine.

  • Eat fresh fruit for breakfast.
  • Pack fruit and vegetables for lunch.
  • Fill water bottle.
  • Set out recipe for a healthy dinner each day.
    • Check for needed ingredients.
    • Thaw any frozen items needed.
    • Set out cooking equipment as a reminder.


Wouldn’t our lives seem stagnant if everything were automated? To keep some freshness, design practices into routines. A practice is a behavior that involves learning something new or improving skills. To contrast, the goal of a habit is to automate behavior while the goal of a practice is to learn and grow.

Deliberate practice can make quite a difference in competency. In their studies highlighting expert performance or mastery in elite athletes, Anders Ericsson, Raif Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer found that performance once believed to be solely the product of innate talent could be largely attributed to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. If it works for high level performers, deliberate practice might work for you, too.

Leverage curiosity and imagination in your practices by adding new or novel behaviors to routines. Be creative in learning and growing.

To continue with the nutrition example, what practices could be designed into a morning routine to eat more nutritiously?

  • Learn new food preparation techniques.
  • Improve planning proficiency by considering what obstacles to nutritious eating might occur in the day ahead. Develop a contingency plan for each potential obstacle. This can be a quick process once learned or mastered. It is based on the Wish Outcome Obstacle Plan (WOOP) model from Gabriele Oettingen.


Modern symbolic rituals are actions we take to anchor or fully embody our behaviors. Rituals need not be religious or solemn, but there could be a meaningful or sacred element. Rituals can provide us with a mindful pause in our routine, which can serve to connect us to enhanced pleasure, to our goal, or even to a greater purpose.

Recent studies on the effects of simple rituals have demonstrated findings like enhanced experiential pleasure and improved mood. In one study, wrapping chocolate bars in a formulaic way increased the pleasure of consuming the chocolate. In another study, performing mourning rituals was shown to lessen the effects of grief. One theory is that rituals seem to provide an added sense of control that enhances the experience.

What rituals might we design into our morning routine to anchor healthy eating behaviors?

  • Form an intention to eat nutritiously. Intentionally remember it at the start of each meal.
  • Take three deep breaths before eating to enhance bodily awareness and to bring mindful attention to the food.
  • Develop and perform a nutrition “power pose” to embody a person taking care of the body, for example, the pose of a runner in the starting blocks or a dancer in an arabesque.

Morning Routine for Nutritious Eating: Putting It All Together.

The table below shows each of the habits, practices and rituals identified above as potential elements of a healthy eating morning routine. One school of thought on making personal change is to start small with focused effort. Use these ideas to design your OWN personalized morning routine. Evaluate periodically. Changes and additions can be made as time goes on.

Habit, Practice or Ritual? A Very Brief Assessment

Already know what works for you?
Need to increase consistency?
Can do, but don’t do?

⇉ Design a HABIT into your routine!

A habit will help you

  • Automate the behavior.
  • Lessen deliberation angst.
  • Reserve energy and willpower.
  • Reap the benefits of repeated performance

Not sure where to start?
Need to learn something new?
Need to improve a skill?

⇉ Design a PRACTICE into your routine!

A practice will help you

  • Discover which behaviors work best.
  • Acquire new knowledge to apply to your goals and life.
  • Achieve performance improvement and mastery.

Want to add depth and meaning?
Tired of going through the motions?
Want to embody your mission or purpose?

⇉ Design a RITUAL into your routine!

A ritual can help you

  • Connect your actions to greater purpose.
  • Create a sacred pause.
  • Anchor your actions to specific goals.



Amabile, T. M. & Kramer, S. J. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review, 89 (5), 70-80.

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House.

Ericsson, A., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993) The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406

Norton, Michael I., and Francesca Gino. Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Loved Ones, Lovers, and Lotteries. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 43(1): 266-272.

Norton, M and Gino, F. (2014) Why rituals work. Scientific American.

Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2010). Strategies of setting and implementing goals: Mental contrasting and implementation intentions. In J. E. Maddux & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Social psychological foundations of clinical psychology (pp. 114-135). New York: Guilford. read

Rubin, G. (2015). Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Crown Publishing.

Vohs, K, Yang, W. Gino, F. and Norton, M. (2013). Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science 24(9): 1714–1721

Wood, W, Quinn, J., & Kashy, D. (2002). Habits in everyday life: Thought, emotion and action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(6): 1281-1297.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Designer courtesy of juhansonin
Habit courtesy of Elle Ko
Breakfast fruit courtesy of NatalieMaynor
Toast to the cook courtesy of thefuturistics

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Senia 15 January 2016 - 6:16 pm

Love everything about this article, Jan!
Especially love how habits, practices, and rituals build on each other.
Thank you!

Judy Krings 16 January 2016 - 6:42 am

Music to my ears, Jan. I made a habit this new year to stretch as soon as I get up. Even before I brush my teeth. A very short period, but I smile as I stretch knowing I know I am not getting any younger, but I am still in the game.

I now dedicate this stretch to you. I pause to think, “This one is for YOU, dear Jan!” Many thanks for a terrific article!

Jeff 21 January 2016 - 2:54 pm

New habit…don’t erase without reading Jan Stanley’s posted articles to LinkedIn…ALWAYS full of practical information and insightful.

Emily vanSonnenberg 21 October 2016 - 7:26 am


I loved reading your piece! You have an eloquent way of integrating what really are interdisciplinary themes. Thank you for the treat to read!

~ Emily


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