Focus On This Podcast

82. 5 Steps to Refresh Your Rituals



The days are starting to feel a bit off. You’re not completely sure when it started, but there’s an undeniable disconnect. It’s hard for you to start up and wind down, and the boundaries of your days are beginning to blur together. The likely culprit? Your rituals.

Rituals are designed to be habitual, but they also need to be reexamined from time to time. Blake, Verbs, and Marissa will walk you through five steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most out of your rituals—so you can create rhythms that set the tone you want for your days.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Why it’s vital to clarify the end result you’re looking for
  • Questions for reassessing what’s working and what’s missing
  • 2 strategies for tweaking your ritual when it’s not working for you
  • The power of experimentation in creating the experience you want
  • When to do reviews to regularly optimize your rituals


Related Episodes

Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and Marissa Hyatt.

Marissa: What’s up, what’s up?

Blake: Marissa Hyatt in the house!

Verbs: Blake and Marissa.

Marissa: How’s it going, you guys?

Verbs: Welcome back.

Marissa: Welcome to myself, I guess.

Verbs: Yes. You’re here. We’re here. They’re here. The listeners are here.

Marissa: We’re all here. Welcome, everybody.

Blake: I’d like to welcome myself too. Thanks for being here.

Marissa: You know, Blake, you deserve it. I’m super excited to be back, guys. I’m excited to chat today.

Verbs: We are too.

Nick: What if this were the whole show, where we just talk about how excited…

Blake: We just said we are excited.

Marissa: We’re just so excited.

Blake: We, like, start losing it.

Nick: For the podcast listeners…

Blake: I’m so excited!

Nick: Blake just threw a book on the ground in his office. And that’s the show. Goodbye, everybody.

Marissa: That’s it.

Verbs: Thanks for joining us on…

Marissa: This is how to love Mondays again. Okay?

Blake: I am thrilled.

Verbs: So, guys, today we’re going to have a discussion surrounding rituals. This question is for either of you or the listener who asks to themselves as they’re driving or working out. Have you ever found that rituals you’ve attempted to set just aren’t working as well as you would want them to?

Marissa: Yes. I think we’ve all been there. I know certain rituals, specifically workday shutdown and evening rituals, for whatever reason, have been my most challenging rituals. What about you guys?

Blake: Yeah. This happens regularly. Rituals are not a “set it and always forget it.” The reason you want to be intentional with a ritual is because, cognitively, you can forget it. It can start happening automatically. I was just having a conversation a couple of nights ago with my wife about our evening ritual, because, “Oh, hey, this isn’t actually producing what we want. We feel rushed. We’re going to bed late. We’re waking up tired. Let’s talk about this. Let’s revisit this.” So, definitely, rituals are something… They’re always happening. It’s just whether or not they’re producing the results we want.

Marissa: Yeah. Or if you’re being intentional about it.

Verbs: It’s funny, because you establish rituals because you’ve realized there’s an inherent need to place a certain activity or try to install a certain habit that you do find beneficial into a certain segment of your day, but it’s just the maintaining and the nurturing and the sustaining of those rituals, where it’s almost like the first thing that comes to challenge that time is going to throw you off into a spiral, and it’s hard to recover from there.

Well, we have some steps today that we want to talk about and present that are going to help you continue to push through as you look to optimize those rituals. Now, we’re talking about optimizing rituals, but what does that actually mean? How do you optimize a ritual? How do you get past just jotting it down as a good idea or something you think you should do to actually getting into the nitty-gritty of optimizing a ritual?

Blake: I think the first step is to recognize that you already have rituals. Marissa mentioned a workday shutdown and an evening ritual. Maybe you think, “Oh! Well, I’ve kind of tried to do the whole morning ritual thing, but I don’t really have a workday shutdown ritual.” I would argue…yes, you do. You probably just haven’t thought about it. You definitely have an evening ritual, and you have a morning ritual. We operate the majority of our lives by habit. Our subconscious is driving that.

So, optimizing your rituals starts by recognizing there’s something that’s basically happening on autopilot already, and just pausing and going, “Okay. What does that produce? If I don’t have a workday shutdown ritual…” You probably do. Just start by looking at what is happening at the end of your workday. Is it just, “Well, I’m checking email until my eyes cross and I’m hungry, and then I close my laptop, stressed out and tired, and I eat a pizza”? That’s a shutdown ritual that’s accomplishing something. Verbs is laughing. Verbs, is this your ritual? Did I just list it verbatim?

Verbs: No. If you eat a whole pizza after work, you will definitely have a shutdown ritual occurring soon after that.

Marissa: Definitely. More than just your workday. No doubt.

Verbs: So, today we’re going to walk you through five steps to optimizing your rituals. Marissa, help us out with the first step.

Marissa: The first step is to clarify your vision. I think this is so important, because so many of us, like Blake was saying, don’t even think about what we’re doing. We don’t even think about how we want to feel in the morning, how we want to start our workday, how we want to finish our workday, and how we want to wind down at the end of the day, how we want to get ready for sleep, kind of rejuvenate. So, the first step is to get clear on what your vision is.

I would recommend that you try to pick two or three words for each ritual. Maybe you want your morning ritual to make you feel energized or your evening ritual to feel rejuvenated or connected. Maybe you want to feel connected with your family or your spouse. Have you guys thought about any words to choose for your rituals and your vision for your rituals?

Blake: I don’t know that I’ve actually narrowed it down that well, but that’s inspiring. I maybe could zoom out and just say… I used the example of if you’re not consciously creating rituals, you’re basically just living life on autopilot and getting a result. When you are intentional with your ritual and you set that intention, like Marissa said, to feel energized in the morning, you start moving your life in that direction. The power of a dialed-in ritual is immense. It really is. If I had to choose a word for my workday startup, it would be confident.

Marissa: Ooh, I like that.

Blake: And clear. I want to feel clarity that what I’m doing today matters and I know what I have to do and I know what’s coming, and I want to feel really confident, really powerful. I’m in sales, and I know my confidence creates safety for our prospective clients, so I really want to feel confident. When I’m disheveled and kind of running late or I miss some of those action steps, I also tend to miss out on the vision of that. I’m less clear. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants.

Or I’m kind of feeling insecure because I went to the gym earlier and there was a really buff guy next to me. It was Chris Hemsworth, and he asked me to spot him, and I was like, “Bro, I can’t. I’m not that strong,” and he was like, “Come on, man. You can do it,” and I was like, “No, I can’t, Chris Hemsworth!” And then you cry in the locker room and watch Thor instead of working out. Does that happen to you guys?

Verbs: Yesterday it did.

Blake: You guys can relate to that. Right?

Marissa: Never seen Chris Hemsworth at the gym, but next time…

Blake: Okay. Maybe that was too specific.

Marissa: Next time, let me know when he’s there, because I’ll definitely go.

Verbs: Blake, you may have been working out in front of your television while watching Avengers and that’s…

Blake: Yeah, yeah. That could have been it. I could be messing up that memory. But I love that. So, essentially, with this step, clarifying your vision, you want to clarify “What is the end result I’m looking for? What do I want to feel at the end of this ritual?”

Marissa: Before we go any further, I think most of our audience is probably familiar with what we refer to as the four essential rituals of the day, but it might be helpful to clarify those for our audience.

Blake: Yeah, Verbs. Why don’t you recite those from memory.

Verbs: So, you would have your morning ritual. Essential two would be your workday startup ritual. Essential three would be your workday shutdown ritual. Then, of course, round off the evening with your evening ritual.

Marissa: Amazing. Well done.

Verbs: All right. Step one is clarify your vision. Let’s move along to step two: identify your essentials. Now that you know what the rituals you want to accomplish are, reflect on what you’re doing now. Blake, I don’t want what you mentioned earlier to be missed. Chances are you’re already doing things that are part of your everyday routine and you can pull those out and install those into a ritual, whether it’s taking your shower, walking the dog, brushing teeth, making breakfast for yourself or your family, or what have you. There are things that already exist that you just would have to capture and continue to identify other essentials from there to build these out.

Marissa: One of the cool things that somebody once told me was your ritual, if boiled down… You might have more parts to it, but if it’s boiled down to just a couple of things that you feel like you cannot get through your day without those few things or you couldn’t get through your ritual without these couple of steps… Like, you wouldn’t consider your morning ritual complete unless you worked out and journaled or you showered and made your smoothie, or whatever it might be. That’s really what those essentials are and what you need to make sure are in those rituals. I thought that was so helpful.

I know, personally, I feel like a lot of times I will have a lot of pressure for adding so many different things in. You hear all of these great books or podcasts, or whatever it might be, and you’re like, “Man! That’s a great idea. Oh, I need to implement that. Oh, I need to add that into my evening ritual.” Before you know it, you have a four-hour evening ritual. And who has the time to do that on any given Monday or Wednesday or Saturday? Most people don’t. So, I think asking that question of what’s essential and what could you not do without in your day… That’s super helpful to me.

Blake: I think about workday startup. Part of that is going through my email inbox. I don’t particularly love doing that, but when I’ve done it, I definitely have a lot more clarity going into my day, which is one of the things I want to feel. Also, I may miss something really important that would affect the landscape of my day or have an impact on our team in some way.

So, yeah, identify those things logistically, and then don’t lose sight of the stuff that goes back to your vision. “What would be essential for that feeling I say I want to have? Beyond just the survival of my day, what’s essential for feeling energized? I don’t feel energized unless I step outside and get a breath of fresh air and walk around the block.” It doesn’t have to be a big thing or time consuming, but start there with the bare-bones essentials.

Marissa: So, question for you guys. My morning ritual is my favorite, and I’m curious to know… What of the rituals is your favorite, and what is at least one thing that’s essential in that ritual for you?

Verbs: Good question. I would say, for me, the evening ritual. My night is not complete… There have been times where I’ve actually gone to bed not doing this one thing and woken up or have gotten up and said, “Oh, snap! Let me go back and make this right.” I always at night with all three of my children… I put them in the bed, we pray, and then I shut off the lights, and then, boom. That’s when the night is done. They know the night is done when that happens. So, for me, that’s kind of like the end of a good, complete, full day: when I’ve been able to accomplish that part of our evening ritual.

Marissa: That’s awesome.

Blake: For me, my favorite ritual is the workday startup ritual. Usually, I don’t feel fully awake and energized until around the time I start my workday. So, my morning ritual is like… I feel like I’m half asleep through most of it. It’s truly on autopilot. The thing I think is the X factor in my workday startup is this review I do that connects me mentally and emotionally, kind of creates a through line between my identity, who I am and who I say I want to become, and my tasks for the day. That’s essentially what it is for me.

So, I’ll review “Okay. Who’s the person I want to become? What’s my vision for my career? What are my goals? What are my weekly objectives?” Like, literally creating that through line. I have a process of review, and by the end of that, I feel very connected to my work and very motivated, because I can see the dots connecting between the work that may intimidate me or did intimidate me when I sat down at my desk… Now I see it is directly connected to my vision for my life. Connecting those dots every morning is super powerful.

Marissa: Gosh, that’s so good. I do something similar in my morning ritual. I would say this is my essential for my morning ritual. I feel like if I do this one thing I’ve done my morning ritual. I have a recording I listen to every morning that I may have referenced in the last episode I was on with you guys. It’s a 7-1/2-minute recording, and I go through, basically, my vision for my life in the next year or two, all different life domains.

Very similarly, I feel like if I’m connected to that, I can accomplish anything in the day. There are a lot of affirmation-type statements that are in that, so it pumps me up. I feel ready to go. I feel confident, excited. That’s the last thing I do in my morning routine before I start my workday startup.

Verbs: All right. That was step two: identify your essentials. Moving along to step three: weed out what’s not working. I could share a little bit about this. I’m walking the line of becoming 45 years old. What I felt at the beginning of the year was stiff, and I didn’t appreciate the stiffness, because I was like, “Wait. If this is happening now, this is not good. I must do something about it.”

So, I started looking for a workout routine, and I tried that for about a week or two, and I realized, “You know what? I actually don’t like working out,” because I don’t like doing the moves that are attached to it. It’s just not fun. I don’t wake up excited to do it, even though I’ve deemed it as a necessity that I need to go out and move around and do something. So I pretty much decided I wasn’t going to work out.

At that same time, I found another workout program that was an app. It’s actually centered around more just movement and, actually, dancing. I was like, “Wait. I can do that.” It’s fun. It’s exciting. My wife and I enjoy dancing and that sort of thing. All of the movements are connected to a routine you eventually get to on week two or week three. So, I ended up implementing that, but I had to basically come down to the reality that “Yeah, you’re probably not working out because you just don’t like working out.”

Marissa: This is a good lesson in general that goes beyond working out. Don’t do something just because you feel like you should do it. Also, be willing to think outside the box. For you, Verbs, you felt like you wanted to do some kind of movement, some kind of exercise in your day. Rather than throwing it out and saying, “Well, that’s just not for me,” find something you do love that is inside of that.

We all probably have this in one of these four rituals, something we know would help us. We know it’s beneficial, and we just don’t feel pulled to it. The truth is there’s probably a way to think about that or a way to experience that in some kind of a way we haven’t previously thought about that might be somewhat outside of the box.

Blake: Verbs, I think it’s so awesome and generous that you are going to start posting these dance workouts to the Full Focus YouTube channel.

Verbs: Listen. I’m on week five right now. So, yes. Please know it’s coming. I’m going to do it on my birthday. I’m going to string all of the moves together and do the little routine. I’m going to post it just to say, “Hey, I’ve been doing something, y’all.”

Marissa: You heard it here first, folks.

Blake: It started out as a joke. Then it got more real as we talked about it.

Verbs: It’s now officially real.

Blake: I love it. This is huge. What’s not working could be a specific activity. It could also be timing. I mentioned earlier in the episode my wife and I were talking through our evening ritual. I was like, “Okay. We do this, and we do this and this, and then we’ll go to bed.” My wife was like, “Uh, I’m kind of stressed out just listening to this. If we want to do all that… I like that. I love the intention. We’ve got to move up the time for when we start that, because if we start all that at 9:30 or 9:00… I don’t want to be like, ‘All right. Lights off.’ I don’t want to feel rushed. That wasn’t one of the words I wrote down on my vision, Blake, so let’s change the timing.”

It could also be an activity. I did this last time I did a real ritual review. I remember thinking through, “Oh yeah. What do I do to unwind?” I recognized I can go to bed and… If you feel like you don’t want to go to sleep… You’re like, “I just want to watch one more Netflix show.” It’s probably because your evening ritual isn’t doing its job. If you’re engaging in unhealthy behavior, it’s because there’s a need that’s not getting met.

I remember I was like, “I want to stay up or watch a show or play an NBA game on my phone for another 30 minutes.” Something is not happening. I’m not actually getting rest or rejuvenation. So I went to the library. It turns out they still exist, which is amazing. I don’t know how.

Marissa: I was about to say, “Wait. What?”

Blake: I literally went to the library, and I got a bunch of biographies from interesting people who I think are fascinating. I just put a stack of them on my nightstand, and I was like, “I’m just going to pick up one of these and start reading.” I don’t have to read more than three pages and I feel calmer. I start getting an idea for something or an anecdote for something, and it’s fulfilling, and then I feel more tired and actually want to go to sleep.

Sometimes it’s just a simple tweak where you recognize what’s not working, and then you either just cut it out, like, “Hey, let’s change the time” or “Let’s just stop doing it” or like Verbs has done, “What’s a different version of that that would actually do the job?”

Verbs: I think, too, as we’re examining how we’re thinking about rituals… I’m going to pose this question to you guys. When you think of rituals, is this something that you actually have to do the same thing every day or do you guys mix your ritual days up and kind of have a blend of different activities?

Marissa: I never knew we were allowed to change things up.

Verbs: That’s why I wanted to double check.

Marissa: Yeah. That poses an interesting question, which is having a little bit of flexibility to your routines. For me, the one ritual, in all seriousness, that does not change is my morning ritual. That is my bread and butter. I have figured out the formula, found the keys to the castle, and I’m not going to tweak it or do anything, because it’s working. The rest of my rituals I do switch up. Like I was saying at the beginning of the podcast, my workday shutdown and evening rituals… Just to be transparent, I am still struggling with those.

I feel like I am, like you were saying, Blake, at the end of the night… It might not be another television show. It might be I’m just still scrolling on Pinterest. I just bought a house, so I’m trying to look at all of the new kitchen remodels and décor, or whatever. That has been preventing me from doing those things that I know would help me to relax and rejuvenate. So, I’m still figuring out what is not working and trying to figure out what I can replace that with.

Blake: I think there’s a little bit of give and take, and Marissa is kind of describing this. One of the benefits of rituals is that it reduces your conscious decision-maker. If every ritual you have requires decisions… It’s not that it’s not a ritual, I guess, but you’re losing some of the juice of even having one, because the advantage is you can automate the process of getting yourself into an ideal mental or emotional state without having the decision fatigue. My morning ritual… Like I said, I do it kind of halfway asleep. I end up at the gym, and I’m still like, “How did I end up here? Like, I’m here. There’s Chris Hemsworth, my guy.”

Verbs: It was that pizza from the night before.

Blake: Yeah. “How did I end up here?” What I’ve started to do is recognize that my feelings are indicators, and if I feel agitated, if I feel stressed, if I feel not tired or not ready to go to sleep, or whatever, or if I end my workday and I feel like… Sometimes I’ll do my workday shutdown, but my brain feels wired still. In that instance, I will reference one of the activities I’ve noted helps me calm down.

I don’t always meditate before I go home, but if I still feel wired after I’ve done those activities and my feelings barometer still says I can’t stop thinking about that client or this project, then I’ll reference something that says, “Okay. What’s an activity or a process that helps me get to that feeling state?” Sometimes, for me, that’s journaling. I’ll spend more time journaling through something, or I have certain questions I’ll ask myself. Sometimes it’s music. To the left of me is a keyboard I keep in my office. I don’t always play it, but if I feel like I can’t unplug or something is not there…

So, yeah. I guess I would say, keep track of stuff. When you feel good, reverse engineer. Like, “Why do I feel hopeful right now? This is one of the feelings and intentions I set for myself for a ritual. What’s producing that feeling?” It’s like, “Oh yeah. I called a friend and had some social connection, so maybe that needs to be part of the ritual” or “I played some music,” or whatever. You may have to go outside the lines sometimes to achieve what you want. At least that has been my experience.

Marissa: I feel like that’s such a good tie-in to our fourth step, which is to add in what’s missing. You’re going to identify what isn’t working and then figure out “What am I missing in my ritual?” Going back to and referencing that vision, those couple of words that maybe you set out at the beginning of this journey of rituals…

What do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? Ask yourself when you’re looking at what you’re doing, what is not getting you to that end result? What is not helping you feel energized or connected or rejuvenated or confident, or whatever those adjectives might be? Then determine what isn’t in your ritual that would help you achieve that feeling.

Blake: This is something you can experiment with. Treat it as an experiment. You may be like, “Well, Blake, that sounds great. I don’t know what makes me feel…” Well, try stuff. Verbs had a great example. “I’m going to try this app, try this new workout plan,” or listen to some of the suggestions we’ve made. Just try stuff and treat it as an experiment, and then just notate, “Okay. How did that go for me? How did that make me feel? Did that move me a little bit closer?” If it didn’t, no big deal. Try something else.

Verbs: Just adding into, as well, it’s important to not neglect the invitation to dream on these things. Like Marissa said, think about your vision and how you could create that experience you’re looking for. That’s step four: add in what’s missing. Step five is to go the extra mile.

Blake: This step is about improvement or enhancement. Maybe your ritual is working or you feel like it’s working. Something you want to do periodically is just ask, “How could I make this better?” When we say better… For me, what I think of is “How can I enhance the outcomes?” You know, “I feel even more confident. I feel even more rejuvenated,” or whatever those feelings are. Another way you could make it better is in terms of process. Like, “How could I make it easier so my consistency is higher?”

I feel like this is almost a cliché example, but in my evening ritual I realized, “Oh, I can save some time in some subtle resistance to going to the gym in the morning when I’m still tired if my shoes are out, my workout clothes are out, my bottle of water is already filled, everything is at the door, and I literally can sleepwalk to my car, basically.” That just makes it that much easier. So, how can I make it easier? How could I make the feeling better?

Marissa: Similarly, the recording I was talking about that I listen to each morning… Originally, I had that written out. I had printed that out, and it was something I read aloud every morning. Obviously, the resistance with that is a lot higher, because I can’t multitask. Everybody knows in the morning your time is usually limited. The great thing now is I ended up… One of my friends had told me they had done this. I was like, “This is brilliant.”

I just used the Voice Memos app on my iPhone and put on some nice calming meditation music in the background and recorded myself reading that. Now when I play that, I can do my makeup. I can be getting my smoothie together or doing whatever else I need to do while I listen to that. So, that’s another great way to enhance it.

One of the things I wanted to discuss as we wrap up these five steps is… Blake, you mentioned a ritual review. I think it’s so important to do this regularly. To me, the easiest time to do this is during our quarterly preview. So, as the quarter wraps up, you can kind of look back. We actually have this built into that process, that you can look back and ask, “Hey, are these rituals still working for me? Is this the best way I can do these rituals? Is there any way I can go the extra mile and optimize this even further?”

Blake: Yeah, absolutely. Do it at least once per quarter. I would add in…and/or when you have a season change. That could be… Marissa, you said, “I just bought a house.” Have you moved in, by the way?

Marissa: No. Two and a half weeks. Super excited.

Blake: But maybe when you move… Like, now I’m a different distance from where I’m going to… I don’t know if you’ll just be working at home, or whatever, but that could all of a sudden interrupt some of that flow of things. So, maybe you’re moving house. I remember I had to review my rituals every week about a year ago at this time because the pandemic had just happened.

Marissa: Because the world ended.

Blake: It was like, “Okay.” So, if there’s a season change or just the turn of the quarter, definitely review them and go through an after-action review, essentially. “Hey, what do I need to start, stop, improve upon in this process?”

Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to blindly maintain rituals that aren’t serving you. Optimize them instead by clarifying your vision, identifying your essentials, weeding out what’s not working, adding in what’s missing, and going the extra mile. Blake, Marissa, any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Blake: I’m going to need you to send me your nutrition and exercise plan so I can look like you when I’m almost 45 years old, Verbs. That’s what my biggest takeaway is.

Verbs: Actually, if you go to, there’s an app. If you enjoy moving and you enjoy dancing, you will definitely be pleased with this workout program.

Marissa: I love it. Well, I think this has been so great. My biggest takeaway, my final thought is just to keep trying. Keep figuring out what is working and what’s not working. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and switch it up. The more you can experiment and figure out what’s working, what’s not working… Just have fun with your rituals. Don’t do just what you think should be done, but do what actually works for you and what gets you to that end result you’re looking for.

Blake: Yeah. And if you’re not waking up at 4:30 a.m. to make it all happen, you’re just not trying hard enough. That’s what I’m taking away.

Verbs: Go the extra mile.

Blake: I’m just kidding. I co-sign that, Marissa. That’s huge to do what works for you, not just what you think you should do.

Marissa: We’re not here to ritual shame anybody. Okay?

Verbs: That is right. All right. Thank you for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember, use #focusonthispodcast, and we’ll be here next week with another great episode. But until then…

All: Stay focused!