Years ago a friend of mine said to me about her former smoking habit. “It’s the getting up in the morning and having that first cigarette that I miss.” 

It wasn’t actually the cigarette that was so important, she learned after she stopped her daily habit, it was the “ritual” of it, she told me.

I’ve thought of what she said many times over the years. She’s gone now, but I learned a lot from her. And because of her I’ve come to understand the importance of rituals.

 
For instance, I used to grab a bowl of cereal in the mornings and sit down in front of the TV to watch the news. But I realized how truly unsatisfying that habit was. 

So now I sit at my little kitchen table for my first meal of the day. 

I typically have cereal or oatmeal. Maybe one or two pieces of raisin toast. I also like a small glass of apple juice. Then I have my cup of decaf coffee.

I may still turn on the morning news in the living room. But it is not the main event that I center my meal around. 

It is that ritual of setting my table for one, arranging my food and drink in front of me, and settling in to fully enjoy what is often called “the most important meal of the day.” 

I think that for those of us who live alone, rituals become even more important. 

Some, perhaps missing a loved one, cannot bring themselves to sit at that lonely table, and will maybe choose to just stand at the sink and eat. 

But remember: that first meal sets you up for the entire day. It sets the tone for how you will look at the hours following that meal.

As I wrote in The Single Woman’s Holiday Guide, it is vitally important to plan events for yourself, especially when you live alone. 

Many will simply let the holidays pass by without decorating or baking or planning a special meal. Maybe they will just put a TV dinner in the oven and call it good. 

And that’s an easy habit to fall into. 

But consider doing this until you have the habit ingrained: Plan every day with a day planner.  

Don’t just write down doctor’s appointments or a loved one’s birthday, etc.

I know it sounds very simplistic, but it can also be very effective. It is a way of making sure you are good to yourself each and every day. 

Maybe plan a walk in the park and then treat yourself to coffee or tea. 

…A drive in the country with your camera followed by a movie.

…A day of junk shopping followed by lunch. 

No matter how simple your plan is, write it down. 

Holidays come only a few days a year. It is the little every day things you do for yourself that make up your life.

The very act of writing down your plans will give you something to look forward to. And we all know how much happier we are when we have something to look forward to.

When you open your day planner for the day, but see your plans for the next few days in advance, you will think of those other days and feel anticipation for those future events.

So get in the habit of putting yourself first. 

Don’t rely on others to remember your birthday or an anniversary or whatever. Take control, right now, today. Time is of the essence, as we all know. Don’t put this off.

You alone have the power to take your life back and make it truly special. 

Start being good to yourself and plan on many simple but enjoyable events to look forward to.  

Every. Single. Day.


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  1. A great post Brenda and, as usual, well written. I love Alexandra Stoddard's books! I found Living a Beautiful Life in a beach-side gift shop at the beginning of our first real vacation and it has made a huge difference in how I've gone about making a home. I have all her books and have given many as gifts. Her emphasis on rituals was one of the things that appealed to me most.

    Your post is a good reminder for me to get back to some of those rituals after a lapse due to health issues and other challenges. Thank you for that.

    Sherry in Little Rock

  2. What great advice, Brenda. I do have a sort of routine after I haul myself out of bed in the morning. Can you tell I'm not a morning person?? First, I feed my animals–a dog and two cats– then I take my medications and supplements. Then I decide what to eat–Cheerios or oatmeal with toast or a rice cake with almond butter and honey. Then I fix my food and sit down at the table facing out onto the deck at the back of my house where I can see the birds or other critters or just the pine trees. I also pick something to read while I eat. Now I know that lots of folks say that you shouldn't read while you eat, you should just eat. Well, I enjoy reading while I eat and peering out into the yard between bites. It starts my day off right. That's the morning "ritual" and the rest of the day is mostly up for grabs. Depends on what has to be done and gotten out of the way. I sometimes just do whatever calls to me but most days after I have breakfast I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then I usually wash up myself and get dressed. Then…who knows?

    Not having a car I can't plan much in the way of getting out of the house or just-for-fun excursions. I have to do things like grocery shopping or other errands after my daughter gets home from work around 4:00pm. Then I can use her car. But lots of times by that time of the day I am too tired to even go out, especially in the dark and cold of this season.

    Much of the time I do feel frustrated that my coming and going and other parts of my life are so dependent on the availability of other people or their vehicles. In fact, I really hate it! I think a lot about getting another car but just don't know if I can really afford it. I also think about some kind of job I could do at home to bring in some extra money so I could afford it. Anyway, the car purchase is on hold for now. So I need to get more creative about planning my days, brainstorming things I could do at home. I'll give it a try. Time to make a list!

    Thanks for your tho'ts on this subject, Brenda. You have a lot of good ideas, do you know that??

    1. Naomi, I don't know about Brenda's area but in our area here in this part of North Carolina we have something called Haywood Public Transit. Anyone who does not drive or have a car can call them…the day before to schedule a pick-up time. You tell them where you need to go and what time you need to be there and they come get you. It's $2 when they pick you up and take you. And another $2 when they come back and get you to take you home. I have used it many times. Hope your area has this as an option for you…then you can go early and get back before dark. (you could probably call your local social services offices to see if there is one in your area.)

  3. This is a well written and insightful post. Over the years my mother devoted a lot of time taking care of people with health problems, such as my dad, my grandmother, and a couple of other relatives. After my dad died, she lost interested in cooking because it reminded her that he was gone, and she often just ate some popcorn or cereal for supper. She hated to go to bed alone too, so she stayed up late watching TV and that meant she slept later in the morning. The thing that kept her from getting completely out of whack was getting out of the house in the afternoons to go check on some relatives. She never lost interest in other people. This past spring my mom was diagnosed with cancer and went through five months of chemo treatments. As bad as it was, it was the catalyst that motivated her to start caring more about herself. She wanted to follow the doctor's orders, and that included getting better nutrition and getting on a good schedule so she could be up and ready to go to medical appointments and take her medicines on schedule and so on. She really was a remarkable patient. She's considered cancer free now, and she is sticking to her schedule and having better meals. She really did take a bad situation and make something positive come out of it in terms of making her wellbeing a higher priority.

    1. Yes, thanks for sharing this! We feel so much better helping others. But we can't forget to help ourselves. I truly believe we need to do the same and treat ourselves in little ways every day.

  4. I Love the idea of using a planner as you suggested. And I agree with the other comments regarding Alexandra Stoddard…..I have all her books and I love the pictures in her books as much as her words. Hint: the beautiful drawings are perfect for colored pencils. Thank you for this post. I'm really going to take this to heart.

  5. I think that rituals would be great for anyone suffering from depression as well. Giving themselves a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and doing something that serves themselves in a positive way might help to start off their day. When I lived alone I always got up and went for a run before coffee or breakfast. Rituals of so many kinds can be such a good thing in motivating and stirring positive emotions for anyone… xo Great post!

    1. There is a bit of beauty in each and every day. Leaves falling. Spring flowers emerging. There's something for every season. Nature's smart that way!

  6. Great minds think alike? When I saw your title I immediately thought of Alexandra Stoddard because she is the one who taught me the importance of rituals many years ago, among other wonderful things. She also taught the pleasure and joy of setting a table pretty even if it was just for yourself. I had all her books until we downsized and then I only kept Living a Beautiful Life and my favorite, Feeling At Home. But through the years I had jotted down highlights of her books in little notebooks and felt that it was time to pass along her inspirational books to others.

    One other thing she taught me was that everything matters, all the little details. And they do. I think in this post and others, Brenda, you have shown that you live out that philosophy. I applaud you for it, as well as for your always beautifully written words and expressive photographs.

    Wishing you a day where your everyday joys are many,
    Dewena

  7. I was given the Alexandra Stoddard book 'Living a Beautiful Life' like Vicki mentioned.
    it was given to me after Bob died and I have had my own wonderful rituals for holidays and just everyday living ever since then! I have read all the books she's written and they're wonderful. as is this post. and the way you think yourself!

  8. I agree with your words so much! My husband is retired Air Force. For so many years it was just he, myself, our son and our little dog during the holidays or special events throughout the year. We lived all over and away from family. We always made it a point to celebrate all of these special times and days together the way we would if we were with our entire family.

    Even today, our son lives away and is not always here with his family for those holidays and special events. We spend them quietly together with our little guy Winston. I still do all the baking. Play the Christmas music, watch the movies, go shopping, go and see Christmas lights, all of the great stuff! It has been a wonderful time for our relationship. And I know even if I were alone I would still partake in these traditions I have for those days. Life is too short and we have to enjoy every single second that we are given.
    I begin my days alone since my husband goes to work during the week still to his civilian job. Winston and I have our morning rituals and I really enjoy them and look forward to them.
    Hoping you have a most joyous and lovely holiday season Brenda!

    1. Well, you've got this celebrating every day thing down! I don't get all excited over holidays. Because I think people put too much emphasis on those few days of the year and then just drift through the others.

  9. I so agree with you! Years ago I read this book by Alexandra Stoddard…..and I slowly began to do this….look for ways to add beauty and order to each day!
    I was not brought up with this attention to beauty in the home so I had to learn it….and have been blessed by it!

    Living a Beautiful Life – 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty, and Joy to Every Day of Your Life
    Alexandra Stoddard shows how to live a more beautiful, more ordered life, every single day. This classic book draws on wisdom through the ages and deals with life both philosophically and practically. Here is her original theme of living life beautifully with rituals, celebrations and ceremonies every day.

    Thank you for the reminder, Brenda! It is important to feed our own souls to strengthen us in helping others. ?

    1. I've heard of Alexandra Stoddard, but I've never actually read any of her books. I looked them up when I read your comment. Sounds like a lady after my own heart!

  10. Oh, Brenda! What wonderful, wonderful advice-not only for single people but those who may live with someone that is incapacitated or doesn't care to do anything. That person often becomes isolated and feels lonely even when living with someone else.

    You are such a smart gal!!!! xo Diana

    1. Being that we're at holiday time, I felt it was especially apt for those who live alone. But certainly it applies to others also. Anyone who feels isolated, as you mentioned.

  11. Thank you. I sometimes feel like my dining table just takes up room or is just there for an extra surface. I will now always set it, even though it is just for one normally. I do follow some routines, such as laundry day, etc. I also write things down, mainly so I don't forget! A day planner sounds like a good idea and I may treat myself to one for Christmas!
    Have a lovely day!

    1. I've been away from reacting to comments lately and I apologize. Been busy trying to get my place painted so I could drag Christmas out!

      Yes, buy yourself a day planner as a gift. I know most everyone uses their phones now (not me of course), but the very act of writing something down is important.

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