Some people prefer a spark of spontaneity in their lives and dread the thought of anything becoming too predictable and mundane. Routines are often lumped into these categories because they bring to mind a lackluster existence. But if you think of a sobriety routine as more of a valued ritual, the practice becomes full of purpose.
What Do Routine and Ritual Represent?
Psychologists, physicians, 12-Step sponsors, and other addiction specialists tout the benefits of routines and rituals for sobriety because, quite simply, they work. Dedicated habits that become part of an essential routine provide a foundation for quality wellness, as they:
- Keep us productive
- Provide grounding
- Help us understand our energy patterns
- Allow for peace and comfort
- Improve self-control
- Create a pattern of mindfulness
- Enable better management of stress and uncertainty
- Help prevent relapse
Habits, routines and rituals are similar, but different. The easiest way to think about them is that once you develop a consistent habit, it becomes part of a routine. Then, the more you create an intention anchoring the routine, that’s what makes it a meaningful ritual for you.
Habit to Routine
You change habits within a particular loop of behavior: cue–routine–reward. You need a cue to start forming a routine that becomes habitual, and then reward yourself for sticking with it.
Here’s an example: think about attendance at 12-Step meetings. If the support program offered a 30-day token, how did you feel when you first received it? Notice that the routine (daily meeting attendance) was prompted by a catalyst or cue (your support sponsor, your sobriety desire, requirement of treatment), and the reward after 30 days is a tangible acknowledgement of your effort—the token.
Now, you have additional reinforcement to continue your routine if ever tempted to ignore the cue. The token represents the success of your effort. If you waver, looking at the token signals the ability to attend a meeting one more day…and the one after that, and after that. Soon, you’ll receive a 60-day token, maybe a 90-day, and so on. This routine is taking root into your pattern of behavior, helping you stay accountable. Now, you see the routine as having an important role in maintaining sobriety.
Routine to Ritual
It’s pretty common for people to have a daily routine: shave, shower, make the bed, eat, and so on. Maybe even certain habits, such as walking the dog, enjoying a cup of coffee or tea in the early morning quiet, praying before work, or reading the news become part of a steady routine. So what makes routine a ritual?
Your intention. Although many people equate rituals with spiritual or religious beliefs, they exist outside of those definitions, too, often with the same reverence. The conscious, dedicated effort to which you apply yourself to a routine is how you assign meaning or value to it. No one else can make a routine ritualistic but you.
So let’s use the 12-Step meeting example again. You’ve attended meetings each day for a year. You’ve made amends and worked the other steps. Out of all the meeting options in your community, you feel most comfortable at this one. You know people here and hang out a bit afterward to share stories and a laugh or two. Through good days and bad, you trust that if you just make it to this meeting, everything will be better. The former reward of a token is nice, but it no longer adds to your motivation to continue attending. You go because you’ve elevated this routine experience to something more integral to your wellbeing.
By designating this routine with all these characteristics, you’ve created a purposeful ritual that aids your recovery.
Healthful Routines for Sobriety
Depending on your recovery stage, you might feel as though there’s a lot of “new” going on: different exercise and eating habits, changes in relationships and social circles, greater responsibilities to maintain health awareness—even dating sober isn’t like it was before. These are all positive, progressive things that help you continue to build a tremendous life.
So how can you embrace these alternative habits, formulate new routines, and eventually develop rituals that matter? Practice. The American Psychological Association recommends that you:
- Plan ahead. Write out what habit you’d like to make a solid routine, such as walking every day.
- Change one behavior at a time. Continuing with this example, you decide walking is one habit you’d like to develop over a certain period—say, two months.
- Start small. Your first daily walk can be 10 minutes after dinner. Do this for two weeks, then increase to 15 minutes, 20, and so on.
- Rely on a buddy. Invite a friend to go for walks so the two of you hold each other accountable and reinforce success.
- Ask for help. Talk to a footwear expert about better walking shoes, hire a personal trainer to guide you through the next phase of your walking routine, or consult with your therapist about ways to add to your motivation to stay dedicated to walking most days.
Use what you now know about cues and reward to create a reliable habit loop, and stay open to what routines might evolve into meaningful rituals for wellness. For example, you might eventually consider your daily walks as opportunities to clear your mind, enjoy nature, or develop more meaningful relationships.
We Have What You Need
One of the program components we’re most proud of is our continuing care. We want to stay connected with you and be a ready resource for whatever you need to thrive in sobriety. Learn more about our aftercare services, alumni gatherings, and outpatient programs.