Daily Rituals–Are You Tapping into their Power?

Have you ever struggled to find a balance between doing meaningful creative work and earning a living? Do you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? Is it necessary to give things up to make time for all the things you wish to accomplish? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you and your kids face these issues. I know I do.

Man writing on paper and circling with red pen the quote "Your daily routine matters." Blog by children's author Don M. Winn.

In my own case, as a human with dyslexia, these questions are especially personal ones, because as I’ve mentioned before, dyslexia is a thief of time. For example, it takes me approximately ten times longer than your average person to read something and writing anything takes me even longer. Yet both of these activities are incredibly important to me and part of the fabric of who I am, so I do my best to make them a priority. Of course there’s plenty of room for improvement, so I’m always on the lookout for life hacks which can streamline the process, nurture precious energy and willpower reserves, or offer fresh perspectives on ways to get things done.

All of which leads us to today’s topic: a powerful book by Mason Currey called Daily Rituals, How Artists Work. Currey takes a novel approach: he examined the mundane routines and rituals of 161 of the world’s most creative, prolific, or seminal individuals to learn how they did the work that was important to them. Did they sleep less, forego housework or laundry, sacrifice income, or did they do as Currey’s dad always enjoined him to do, “work smarter, not harder?” Currey strove to answer the question, “are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?”

In short, this book offers much inspiration that will serve the needs of anyone striving for balance, but especially for a dyslexic adult or a parent of a dyslexic child. Here’s the thing: the power of ritual can be harnessed at any age, and the younger one can do so, the better. To be clear, this isn’t a “how-to” manual, but rather offers real-life examples of what worked well for others as they confronted the same challenges you and I face.

Currey states, “The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all), as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. William James, one of the subjects of this book, said we can “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action,” by forming good habits.

Bingo scorecard titled "Build Good Habits" with a winning line of Good Habit! squares. Blog by children's book author Don M. Winn.

Willpower is now known to be a very finite resource. All of us can suffer from what researchers call decision fatigue. If you or someone you love has dyslexia, willpower must be husbanded even more carefully, because everything we do around reading, writing, and sometimes math, isn’t automatic and requires much more effort. As quoted in the book, William James offered another nugget of wisdom that spoke to me, “the great thing in education is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.” The nervous system of a dyslexic is an already strained-to-the-max mechanism (voice of experience here), so the idea of making my nervous system my ally instead of my Achilles heel was an especially powerful reframe for me. What a great motivator for embracing more routine and structure!

The more things in our life that we can make the purview of automaticity, the more the higher powers of the mind will be freed up to do our best work.

Another quote, this one from composer George Gershwin, who said that if he waited for the muse, he would compose at most three songs per year. It was better to work every day, because “like a pugilist, the songwriter must always keep in training.”

Author John Updike’s words contribute to this wisdom, he remarks that he is careful to give at least three hours a day to the writing project at hand, otherwise “there was a risk he might forget what it’s about. A solid routine saves you from giving up.”

The last words of the book are, “Eventually, everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery is to crack you.”

Photo of creative people at work. Blog by children's book author Don M. Winn about harnessing the power of creativity through building habits of good routine.

This book is an invitation to observe how we each work best, how we are inclined to structure our lives, and to optimize those routines and make them as automatic as possible. Do we have a schedule, or is life a chaotic, seat-of-the-pants affair? How much time is spent on email, surfing the web, or scrolling through social media? Are there family routines and rituals in place? Family dinners together, complete with conversation, a time and place for homework, nightly bedtime stories together? Limiting screen time is especially important for the well-being and productivity of our children, and even more crucial for those with dyslexia. And they won’t have the discipline to do so unless parents help them establish other rituals in using their time.

Currey proposes four potential approaches and invites us to discover which works best for us. (And by extension, our kids.) Currey first describes the bimodal strategy: alternating between fully plugged-in and completely checked-out. The monastic model is one in which you have simplified your life to the point that you have minimal distractions and can live in your best work mode all day. The rhythmic approach is a daily structure of a consistent time every day when you do your best work, without distraction. Finally, the journalistic approach is one in which you snatch any time to do your work whenever and wherever you can (think new mom here). Whichever one resonates with you, or whichever combination seems to be a good fit, I’d love to hear how you embrace the power of rituals in your life, and how they are helping empower your child as well!

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