Focus On This Podcast

83. The Life-Restoring Magic of Daily Rituals



You are in a season of change and instability. Maybe you’ve moved, started a new job, or had a baby, and you’re feeling disoriented, struggling just to get by. You need something to anchor your days. But what can you do in the middle of, well, life? 

In this episode, Verbs and Blake welcome Courtney back from maternity leave and discuss how you can shift from being at the mercy of your life to purposefully setting the tone for your days. They show you how to leverage the power of rituals so you feel successful and energized—even in the middle of life’s inevitable chaos. 

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Why rituals provide stability when everything else is in disarray
  • The value of intentionality as seasons shift
  • The benefits of seeing rituals as a part of your job for the day
  • How to design rituals that reduce stress

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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 am Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and, for the first time in a long time, ladies and gentlemen, our old friend, our dear friend, our dear old friend, Courtney Baker.

Blake: So dear and old.

Verbs: I caught myself, Courtney. But welcome back.

Courtney: Thank you. Yes, I am back. Obviously, y’all have noticed the biggest news I have to bring, because we’re on video. I’m growing my bangs out. That’s what I have to bring after three months of maternity leave.

Blake: I’ve been dropping hints for a long time. Our listeners know. So I’m glad you’ve been growing that out. Looks great.

Courtney: The secret is out. The bangs are going away. No. I am so excited to be back with you guys. I was kind of a little jealous when I would listen to the show, especially the one with y’all’s spouses. I was like, “Yes.” That episode, I was like, “I really want to be on that episode.” It was really fun to listen to. There were several that I was like, “Ooh, I want to say something.” Actually, I have a bone to pick with you two out of the gate.

Verbs: Uh-oh. I knew this was coming.

Courtney: I texted both of you while I was on maternity leave because our show got this huge shout-out.

Verbs: Wait, wait. You texted who, Courtney?

Courtney: Both of you.

Verbs: No. I did not receive a text from Courtney Baker.

Courtney: Verbs, are you saying there’s another Verbs in my phone? I don’t think it’s possible.

Verbs: Hey, it’s a common name. It could happen.

Courtney: I texted both of you because I was so excited. I heard through the grapevine that this guy on his podcast, a huge podcast, was talking about his three favorite podcasts, and our show was one of them.

Verbs: Get out.

Courtney: He was like, “I love the people on it. I use the Full Focus Planner.” I was so thrilled. The only person who responded back was my assistant Elizabeth. I was like, “What’s up with these guys?” I thought maybe y’all were just really trying to protect my margin.

Verbs: That’s exactly what was going on. I’m about to go through my text roll to see if I’m lying to you right now.

Blake: I’m looking back at my texts. Oh, you know what? You’re in my phone as “Former podcast cohost,” so I probably just didn’t…

Courtney: I see how it goes.

Blake: I thought it was maybe a spam.

Courtney: I see, I see. Well, anyway, I was really excited about that. I’ve been jazzed to get back and be here with you guys.

Blake: Well, it’s good to have you back, Courtney. Thank you for coming back to us. People were not stoked when it was just me and Verbs.

Courtney: That’s not true. I listened to the podcast. I so enjoyed some of the guests you had. It was really fun and, I think, brought a lot of freshness. But, guys, I have a lot to say. I did a Facebook Live last week, and for anybody who is part of our community, if you saw that Facebook Live, I was like, “Guys, this and this and this…” I was spewing a lot of things.

Verbs: You reloaded.

Courtney: Yeah, I reloaded. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen on this episode, so prepare your hearts. I’ve said jazzed. I’ll probably say legit a couple of times, so get ready.

Verbs: Legit is still a legitimate term.

Blake: You have that added “mom” strength now. You have extra hip mom energy, that fun mom energy.

Courtney: I’m not sure we can call… Are people who say legit hip? I don’t know anymore. I don’t think so.

Blake: I think if you say hip, you’re outing yourself as not hip.

Courtney: It’s like if you have to ask if you’re cool. Okay.

Verbs: Courtney, I’m sure we’ll hear some more about mommy life in the past season that you haven’t been here on the podcast. I do want to ask this question. If you’re listening, or maybe even Blake and Courtney, have you recently ever felt whiplashed by life in general?

Maybe your life does a 180 almost overnight, like a move or starting a new job, starting a new degree, or having a baby, or, like we’ve obviously all experienced in 2020, there’s a pandemic that happens and there’s a huge shift and you’re a little bit disoriented. What do you do when you need something to anchor to? That’s the conversation we want to have today. How can rituals be the anchor you need?

Courtney: I feel really passionate about this. Partly it’s because I just came off a season like this, but we all just came through the pandemic. That really did, like you said, spin us off for a 180. Frankly, with my first child, my daughter Kit, who is about to be 5… The first time I was out on maternity leave, it was a train wreck. I did not have that anchor yet. This time, I really wanted to do it differently. I think there is something about having that stability, those things to anchor, even when everything else seems chaotic or like you have no control. Who can control a pandemic or a 2-week-old? It’s just impossible.

Blake: Should I say something now?

Courtney: Usually that’s how these podcasts work. You know, one person says something, and then the other person says something, and then the other person. But you don’t have to. I’ll just keep talking.

Blake: All right, cool. Well, I’ll jump in. I’m passionate about this too, actually. I think rituals are massive to regulate you and how you show up to your life or your work, your family, so you can be like a rock, where the waves may crash against you, but you will be firm. That’s what the ritual is like.

Courtney: I love that very dramatic analogy. I feel like usually we throw rituals out when the storm comes, or the waves, to continue your analogy. When they start crashing, you’re like, “Forget those things. Forget working out. Forget the meditation I did. Forget trying to have a regular system for winding down at night. Forget those. I have to just kick it into all gears. Everything else is out the window.”

Really, it’s the exact opposite. I know this is true for myself. I have to fight that urge to throw it out the window and be like, “No. This is actually exactly what I need. I actually need to double down on these rather than throw them out the window.”

Verbs: So, Courtney, we have some questions for you today. We’ll give you a chance to speak since you’ve been absent for a while. We appreciate you being willing to talk about what you’ve personally been learning about rituals in the past few months. I know we talked about optimizing rituals just last week, but we’re excited to make that even more practical in our conversation today. So, can we ask you a few questions, ma’am?

Courtney: Yeah. This is going to be interesting. We’ll see how this goes.

Verbs: How did you know you needed to pay attention to your rituals after Ellis was born? Because for you, that’s the whiplash moment, even though you knew she was coming.

Courtney: Yes. I did know she was coming. One thing I’ve learned in business over the last several years is thinking about how I want to feel, how I want things to be on the flip side of something. We use this a lot with our Project Vision Caster form. When it’s like, “Hey, I have this project I want you to do,” part of that exercise is envisioning what you want it to be like on the flip side of that project being completed. You literally take yourself and think, “Okay. How do I want to feel? What do I want it to be like?”

I really used that with my maternity leave. I thought through, “Okay. What do I want it to be like after these three months?” Frankly, after my first child, my first year… She had some medical things, so we had a lot of things we were dealing with, and it was very, very difficult. I think I thought of it as survival. “I’m just going to survive the next little bit.” Going into having Ellis, I really wanted to come out of it and feel… Knowing I can’t control a baby at all times.

There may be nights I’m up more than I want to be, and the schedule may be fluctuating, but I really wanted to think through how I wanted to feel. I came to realize that rituals were going to be key for that, setting up those rituals for myself and for my family, so when we got to the flip side of my maternity leave being over, I was energized. Even though it would be hard, and I probably am still sleep-deprived, there would be a source of energy. I got that from rituals. It has been a great three months, and truly, I credit a lot of that to establishing those rituals.

Blake: I’d be curious to know a before and after. What did the ritual look like…? I’m realizing as I say this… A lot of times when I talk to people about rituals, Courtney, the first thing they bring up is their morning ritual. The morning ritual gets all the love. We actually teach four rituals that are critical to that regulation, to contributing to your energy, and living life as you desire to.

But for the sake of limiting the start of the conversation, maybe we just start with morning ritual. I’d be curious. When you have a newborn, there are 12 mornings, it feels like. You’re kind of sneaking in a little bit of sleep. I’m curious. What did the morning ritual, the beginning of a day, look like before Ellis and how have you adapted? What does it look like now, I guess, a few months in, versus what it used to look like?

Courtney: Well, now what it looks like is a very, very early morning. I work out first thing in the morning, which is at 5:00 a.m. It’s very early. Frankly, there are some times where I have to be up at 4:00 a.m., and I’m like, “You know what? My body just needs more sleep, so I’m going to push the workout back later or I’m going to do it in the middle of the day.” One thing I learned with my rituals was I have to have grace with them sometimes. They have to be able to flex with life. They’re not always perfect.

But now I’m getting up really early. Something I found with this maternity leave… Again, the last time I was on maternity leave, I was like, “I’m literally just surviving.” This time, I was all about, “What are the things that give me energy? Even though I am not sleeping very much, what are the things I know will give me energy so when I do come back to work I’m ready?” One of those, for me, was I want to start working out as soon as I am cleared by my doctor to.

I did that, and honestly… You brought up the workday startup and shutdown. While I was on maternity leave, I made working out part of my job during the day. There were some other things that were my job, which was doing laundry and prepping for dinner and those kinds of things. For anyone who has been on maternity leave, especially when you’ve been in a career for a really long time, it is such a shift. You’re like, “This is just hard and weird.”

It is whiplash. You’re like, “I don’t even know how to function.” It did take me awhile to get into that rhythm, but even throughout my maternity leave, my rituals kept having to flex with me and be updated. That first month, I was getting up so much in the night that the time I would actually get up for the day was much later than it would become the next month.

So, I was cognizant of saying, “Okay. It looks like it’s time for a shift in her schedule, which means there needs to be a shift in my rituals to accommodate that.” Honestly, every time I got up to one of those impasses I would get a little nervous, like, “Is this going to work?” and it always did. I’m really thankful for that intentionality now on the flip side of it, because it has been really helpful going back into work.

Verbs: Question. First of all, that’s a great hack you mentioned, where you saw working out as part of your job, along with other things you organized throughout the day. I think that little shift would help people know “This is part of what I do.” It pushes you a little bit more to actually want to accomplish it and do it.

Courtney: Yeah. Actually, doing that was one of my hacks. In addition, every day I would pick one thing… For those of you who know the Enneagram, I think I’m an Enneagram Three. This is where that becomes very apparent.

Blake: “Think.” I think you are too. I think.

Courtney: Every day, I would pick a project for myself to do, and that was one of the other things that was part of my job. I spent a lot of time redecorating my house. You know, those kinds of things that I decided early on, “Oh, that’s going to give me some life throughout this process.”

Verbs: That’s great, even with some of us who are still working from home or working remotely who are trying to figure out how to establish or shift their morning rituals or even their evening rituals and thinking about that as, “Hey, I’m thinking about this as part of my job, and it’s going to help me do my rituals as I lay them out.”

Courtney: We are talking about rituals, but also I should say that these rituals were part of my goal for the first quarter, you know, establishing these for myself and for my family to the extent that when I came back to work I would feel successful and energized and ready to go. It’s really a combo of a lot of things we teach on this podcast that I utilized while I was out.

Verbs: Were there any worst moments from maternity leave where everything went wrong?

Courtney: That is a great question. Yeah. There were definitely some worst moments. I think I’ve blocked them all from my memory, though.

Blake: Like a good Enneagram Three. Just shove that right on down. Shove it down.

Courtney: “We don’t need that here.” I think probably they were mornings where my daughter was back in school.

Verbs: Already? I’m just kidding.

Courtney: My older daughter Kit. I had Ellis right at the beginning of December, so there was a whole month where my 4-year-old was also home, because she was out of school for Christmas. So, there were some moments like that. It was like, “Oh, this is a new thing…two children.” Actually, it became harder when she went back to school, because there were way more logistics to handle. If Chase had an early meeting at 5:00 a.m.… Oh, this is it. Guys, I’m sorry. I remembered the worst moment.

Verbs: Yes. Recall. Let’s go.

Courtney: I cannot believe I didn’t think about this. Here it goes. I was in this season where I was waking up and going to… You know, I was up a lot at night, so I actually didn’t get up for the day until closer to 8:00. So I’m like, “8:00. I fed the baby.” Chase was in a season where he was getting our daughter up and getting her ready for school, so I was just asleep.

I woke up at 8:00 ready to go, and I realized Chase had a meeting that day and that my sweet daughter had just been sitting out there playing with her toys all by herself. I did not even know. I was appalled. I was like, “Oh my gosh! We have to do a better job of making sure we’re all on the same page.” That was a rough morning. I did not feel like the best of mothers or the best of parents that day. But I was pretty impressed that my 4-year-old can hang out solo and occupy herself.

Verbs: What about the best? Was there a great morning that you woke up and you were like, “Yeah. We’ve nailed this ritual routine. Everything is working in sync. It’s going to be a fantastic day.” Was there a morning like that?

Courtney: I don’t know that there was a singular moment like that, but I do think there was that sense of… Once I got into a rhythm with what I was wanting to accomplish and how I was wanting that ritual to go, that really gave me a sense of “Okay. This is going to work. This is happening.” With rituals, if you do your rituals one day, there is a sense of accomplishment, but it’s really when you get into that rhythm of it that it becomes very natural and you’re not having to think about the ritual so hard. It’s part of what you’re doing during the day. That’s when I was like, “Okay. This is awesome. This is really great.”

Blake: I’m going to return to this, because you sort of answered it and you sort of didn’t. When you were gone, I became more of a stickler even on this podcast, Courtney. I know there are some parents out there, moms and dads alike, and even non-parents I’m sure are interested in this… I don’t want to necessarily use the word chaos, but sometimes having a brand-new baby can feel that way.

Give us some specifics. What are you doing that’s producing good results? Obviously, stuff changes based on the circumstances, but… This is kind of a two-part question. The second part of the question is: Have you ever changed something that was a “should” in your ritual, like, “Oh, I should do this because my theory is this is going to produce energy in me” or “This is going to produce happiness,” or whatever that end result was. “This is going to make me feel more productive.”

Have you ever adjusted something because you were like, “Actually, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference; I think I’m just going to stop doing that” or “I’m going to replace that activity with something else”? Give the people some specifics. You mentioned working out, but is there more to it than that? Is that all it is? And have you ever had to adjust based not just on the circumstance but on the result that an activity was producing?

Courtney: I know you said the evening ritual doesn’t get much love. For me, it was really, really important in this season. My inclination is to sit down and just watch a show and then maybe watch another show and… You know, “I don’t know. When do we turn this thing off? I don’t know.”

Verbs: Finish the season. Just finish the season.

Courtney: Yeah. Let’s finish it. We’ve got to find out… So, I was really adamant with myself of the order of events that needed to happen at night. For me, that was… Once I got Ellis down, I got ready for bed. Do y’all ever do this where you get so…? You start watching a show, and you get so tired that then you’re like, “I just don’t even have the energy to go get ready to go to bed.” Is that just me?

Blake: Yeah, that’s just you.

Verbs: Yes. No, absolutely.

Blake: No, just kidding.

Verbs: No, no, it’s not just you. I’ve definitely done that before.

Courtney: There have to be people out there.

Blake: The cozy blanket on the couch feels so nice.

Verbs: You’re all the way downstairs.

Blake: “I could sleep out here if I really had to.”

Courtney: I need to go to sleep, but I just cannot get the energy to go do it. Part of it was getting ready for bed then, and then I was so firm on what time I was going to sleep, because I knew if I didn’t, I was going to be up during the night. I didn’t think, “Oh, maybe this will be the magical night that she sleeps all night.”

I was like, “I am going to be up. I may be up so much that if I don’t go to sleep right now, it’s going to be a train wreck tomorrow. I’m going to feel terrible.” So I really tried to set myself up well, so much so that I had Alexa alarms for “It’s time to go to bed.” I love when Alexa tells me to go to bed. Does that answer your question, Blake?

Blake: No. Tell us specifically what you do.

Courtney: Oh, you want my whole ritual.

Blake: Yeah.

Courtney: That feels so…

Verbs: Invasive.

Blake: Too personal? Are we getting too close?

Courtney: It feels kind of personal, but…

Verbs: Maybe the types of things you do.

Blake: You’re talking to an Enneagram Four. We’re going to be authentic, we’re going to be deep, and then we’re going to cry about it, but that’s okay.

Courtney: So, in the morning, 5:00 a.m., I have one hour to get ready and work out. Then from 6:00 to 7:00 it is all things me getting myself ready for the day. Literally getting ready, but also, if I want to take 10 minutes to have a quiet moment or do meditation, or whatever that thing is, that is in that hour. The next hour is all about the girls. It literally says that in my ritual. It’s all about the girls. That’s when I’m feeding both girls, just having fun at the… My goal is to be totally ready. Again, that 6:00 to 7:00 hour is for me to be totally ready.

Actually, Chase and I have an agreement that we are both ready at 7:00 before the girls get up. That changes how we go about the day dramatically. If we aren’t ready, we’re just not present with them in the morning. Breakfast time becomes fun when everybody is ready. You can laugh. But when it’s chaos and we’re trying to get ready in the midst of getting them ready, it’s just not very fun. So, from 7:00 to 8:00, it’s all about the girls. From 8:00 to 8:30, that is time for me to… Usually I eat breakfast, have time with Ellis, and then at 8:30 I start my workday startup. Is that specific enough?

Blake: Yeah, I’ll accept that.

Verbs: I’m pretty interested in how you and Chase came to this agreement that both of you be ready at the same time before the girls get up. What was that conversation like? That’s ingenious.

Courtney: I was in this process of trying to set up rituals to be successful. It made me examine some things, like, any moment that had previously felt chaotic or stressful… Like, “Okay. What would it take for that not to be chaotic and stressful?” For that one, it was “Why is breakfast time in the morning so chaotic and stressful?”

My conclusion was “It’s because we’re trying to get four people ready at the same time, and it’s not fun. So, if we can get us ready and then focus on them, maybe we can have this time in the morning where it feels like, ‘Oh, we were present, and we laughed about the funny thing somebody said,’” or whatever it is. That’s what helped me: identifying what things were stressful.

Verbs: That’s great.

Blake: What else didn’t you get to say, Courtney, about rituals that you need the people to know?

Courtney: Maybe you’re not about to go on maternity leave or parental leave, but maybe you just found out a bad health situation or something you’re dealing with with your aging parents or with a spouse or maybe work is really, really hard. Maybe you’re not hitting your revenue goal and you feel like the stress is on. My encouragement for everybody listening is: Don’t be like the Courtney from five years ago who’s like, “I’m just surviving. If I just make it to tomorrow, it’ll be good.”

I think, a lot of times, we forget to take the tools we learn in business and apply them to our personal lives. I know that’s what we’re all about on this podcast and what the planner is all about. I would encourage you to use those and really think about what you want the future you to feel like and then design that. Again, something we talk about all the time. Don’t just drift into it, surviving each day, but really take the time to design it so you’re successful on the flip side.

Verbs: So, the good news is you don’t have to feel swept away by the chaos of your life. When you cling to your rituals, you can create stability even in the most turbulent seasons. Courtney, it was great having you back. Welcome back once again. Do either you or Blake have any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Courtney: I feel like I said all the things, Blake, so…

Blake: I’ll give a final thought. I think sometimes we wait for life to calm down until we pay attention to our rituals. I would just say the opposite is how it works. Don’t wait for your emotional state to become more stable or your life to become more stable until you get intentional with how you start and end your days. Get intentional with how you start and end your days and you’ll notice more emotional and tangible stability and calm in your life.

Verbs: I would add, as you mentioned before, Blake, as the morning ritual gets most of the love, not to neglect the evening ritual and what that may look like as it sets you up for that next morning.

Courtney: So good.

Verbs: All right. Courtney, full disclosure, as we like to say here. This ending has been a little choppy since you’ve been gone. So, what I’m trying to figure out is can we bring some type of order back to our closing right here?

Courtney: Let’s do it. I like it.

Verbs: All right, Blake. Are you ready?

Blake: I’m ready. I’m planning on my usual lack of participation until I awkwardly hit the last part.

Verbs: I knew that. I saw it on your face, and I wanted to point it out. Thanks for joining us on Focus on This.

Courtney & Verbs: This is…

Verbs: We should have choreographed this ahead of time. Go ahead, since Blake is outside eating lunch. Let’s just go back and forth.

Courtney: Verbs, you and me. We’ve got this.

Verbs: All right. Here we go. Thank you for joining us on Focus on This.

Courtney: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends and remember to use #focusonthispodcast.

Verbs: We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!

Blake: See? I came in there at the end.

Verbs: From the parking lot.