When my family takes a road trip and we cross a state line, we all do the wave and chant, “[State name], woohoo!” It’s corny, but we look forward to it. At the outset of our trips, our teenage kids ask how many state lines we will cross, and we all keep watch as we get closer and closer to a state line. We look for literal signs announcing a state’s proximity and figurative signs like increasing or decreasing mile markers. When we see a state sign approaching, we make sure everyone in the car has a visual, and we time our cheer when the hood of the car reaches the state line. We do this every time. It’s our ritual.
A ritual is a habit or routine laced with meaning and practiced with mindfulness. We all have habits, routines, and rituals but do not always recognize them. Habits happen so effortlessly, we barely realize we’re doing them. Much to my husband’s chagrin (I’m sure), I crack my knuckles as soon as I get into bed each night. I don’t think about doing it; I just do it. Routines, however, have intent behind them. Part of my bedtime routine is flossing and brushing my teeth. I must think about completing those actions; I’m not on autopilot, like I am with knuckle cracking. Reading is my bedtime ritual.
Part of my reading ritual includes my routine of flossing and brushing my teeth. I don’t curl up in bed to read without having done so. Once I’ve gotten into bed, I grab my book, which lives within arm’s reach on my dresser, and settle in to read. The act of reading carries meaning for me. As I prepare to read, I often think about the gift of literacy and how it was systematically denied to people who look like me. I thank God for the gift of books and the time to read them. I contemplate the power of the written word, and I think about how reading shapes who I am. I anticipate the story arc of my book and wonder what will happen next. I focus on my task, and I relax. I feel my breathing deepen and my taut muscles release. Then I immerse myself in the world on the pages in front of me.
Rituals play an important role in self care. They fill you with awe and expectancy. They allow you to consider your values and how you incorporate them into your life. They help you slow down and pay attention to the moment you’re experiencing, rather than dwelling on past moments or worrying about future ones. They signal your brain to switch into reflection and creativity, which can lead you into a flow state. They can also signal to others you’re experiencing flow. For example, I used to listen to particular music while studying my bible, and my husband knew to give me some time when he heard the music playing. Rituals help you place boundaries around the time and space you need for self care – boundaries both you and others will respect.
Not every habit or routine needs to become a ritual, but reading and journaling are good contenders for busy educators. They are easy activities to practice and to squeeze into tight schedules.
The first step is to make reading and journaling a routine. Some people can create new routines for themselves by the sheer force of their will. I am not one of those people. If you are, I applaud you. If you are not, I have some tips for you.
- Decide you want to read and journal. You get to choose how to spend your time and how you will take care of yourself.
- Tell people you are going to read and journal. They will cheer you on and hold you accountable.
- Experiment. Play with different times of day and different strategies to find what works best for you.
- Determine a trigger that aligns with the results of your experimentation. Pick some recurring event (like walking in the house after work) or habit (like walking on the elliptical) and tie reading and journaling to it. Keep a notebook by your door and pick it up on the way in the house to journal for a few minutes before launching into your evening activities. Decide that every time you go to work out on the elliptical, you will listen to an audiobook.
- Repeat and adjust. Repeat the process and revise as necessary until you have established a routine.
- Show yourself grace. Forming a habit can take anywhere from 8 to 250 days, with the average being 66 days (https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/science/how-long-habit). Don’t beat yourself up, if it takes a while to get into a groove. You are learning and growing in the process.
- Reflect. This step moves your routine to ritual. Think about why you’re implementing this activity in your life. Think about how it benefits you and your loved ones. Think about the gift of self care. Think about the activity itself, not your perceived failures of the day or your looming to-do list. Revel in who you are becoming as you partake in the activity.
- Get support. Sometimes going it alone is hard. When you feel isolated, it’s easy to lose resolve and drift back into habits that don’t serve you well and don’t lead you toward self care. If you want to practice reading and writing as rituals with other educators, click HERE to learn more.
Reading and journaling rituals are educator self care tools, not just diversions to slough off. Taking care of yourself as an educator affects all areas of your life. Choose to practice self care today.
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I am doing a 31-day series on reading and journaling as self care for educators. Each day of the series has bonus journal prompts. Click to join the LELA House family of educators committed to nourishing their reading, writing, and creative souls. You’ll receive a link to the journal prompts and gain early alerts for upcoming LELA House ideas, courses, and products. You only need to subscribe once. I will add a new worksheet each day to the access link.
Roshaunda D. Cade, Ph.D. is an educator, writer, and creator. She offers life coaching and writing coaching to educators, as well as other opportunities for educators to practice self care through reading and writing. Check out her LELA House website to learn more about her services. Roshaunda lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband and teenage children and enjoys reading, writing, dancing, and pushing her creative boundaries.