Written by: Emily Madill
A planning ritual does not sound like a form of self-care. It’s not exactly bubble baths and meditation. The idea of planning and organizing can feel constricting. Or it can feel like a chore. If the sound of routines and rituals isn’t music to your ears, you’re not alone.
I happen to live for my weekly planning ritual—not because I’m super Type A but because, at some point in my life, I found chaos unbearable to navigate.
For years, I would power through the days and weeks, overcommitted, trapped in multitasking madness. I never felt further ahead. Instead, I felt scattered, depleted and eventually burned out.
My approach to the day made life harder than it had to be. Something had to give. A weekly planning ritual saved me.
I started mapping out my week every Sunday. At first, the idea was simply to get all of my to-dos out of my head and onto paper so I could make sense of how I was allocating my time, what I needed to scale back on, and ultimately what I needed to say no to.
But my planning sessions grew into a well-practiced ritual of tuning inward that has become my most treasured self-care habit.
In his article “How Are Habits Formed? The Psychology of Behavioral Change,” board-certified neuropsychologist Jeffrey J. Gaines takes an in-depth look at the neuroscience and psychology of habit formation. But he still sees the mysterious magic behind it: “Actions that are repeated over time gradually become habits, with a curious life of their own.”
That has been, quite literally, my experience with a weekly planning ritual. I haven’t missed a week in over 5 years. I’ve planned through international travel, my kids’ sports tournaments, the changing seasons of life, a global pandemic, loss, grief and everything in between.
It turns out planning isn’t a constricting burden but rather a gift that makes my days and weeks feel more spacious. Setting aside 15 minutes on Sunday to tune inward, allocate my energy, and set an emotional intention for the week is a form of self-care that has me coming back again and again. Even if I do nothing but set that intention, everything in my week feels more at ease.
If navigating your week feels like hacking through dense jungle without a map, here are 3 simple ways to get started with your own weekly planning ritual.
1. Set the stage.
Pick a consistent day for your weekly planning ritual. If it’s helpful, allow for flexibility around the time of day you pick. Committing to the same day each week makes it easier for this practice to become a habit you look forward to. I like to create a calming atmosphere before I design my week—but sometimes I fill in my planner while I’m travelling or on the go. It’s still a helpful way to set up the week with intention.
I’ve started a weekly planning group to support others in making this ritual a habit. Our community meets in a virtual space, and filling in our planners each week has been a joyful experience. There are many ways to make this practice inviting. Start from where you are and experiment with how you set the stage. It’ll help you design your week in a way that feels best to you.
2. Add an intention.
Create an intention that reflects how you most want to feel for the upcoming week. For me, it’s a power word or phrase, like grounded or calm accomplishment. Sometimes I use the same intention for an entire month or season, if it’s one that is serving me best.
Setting an intention is an act of self-care. You’re taking the time to listen to your own wise guide and then using that wisdom to care for your future self. It’s a gift that gives all week long.
And the emotional rewards of setting your intention are just that—rewards. According to Dr. Gaines, this is a key aspect of habit formation: “For an activity to become a habit, it helps if it’s not only repeated often, but also positively reinforced.”
3. Invitation to reset.
The weekly design you create during your planning ritual is also your invitation to reset through the week. There is a relief that comes from getting the big picture out of your head and down onto paper. It also creates an opening to see where your schedule is full and helps you maintain healthy boundaries around your time and energy. Saying no to those extra things is easier when you know how you are spending your time and how you want to feel.
When you head into the week with clarity and a word or phrase you can draw on, it’s easier to hit the reset button when life doesn’t go according to plan—and life rarely does! That’s the beauty of having a design and an intention. They direct you back to your inner wisdom, the wisdom that will prompt you to breathe, reset and restart from where you are. No matter how the week unfolds, the knowledge that you can reset effectively is empowering.
How we feel becomes our experience of living. We can either experience life flying by the seat of our pants, or we can create a container to cushion the falls and regroup as needed. Either way, life is an adventure, and it’s better when we practice a little self-care during the ride.
What about you? How might a weekly planning ritual enhance your adventure?
This was written by Emily Madill and originally appeared on Thrive Global.