How to Use Ritualization as an Accountability Tool When Practicing TIC
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
When we discuss implementing trauma-informed change, the conversation largely surrounds how we live trauma-informed values.
How does our behavior reflect our values? What about our lifestyle choices, how we engage in relationships, or our attitude toward life’s challenges?
When we reflect, we recognize that there are many ways we live trauma-informed values, but there are also many areas where we can improve. So, once we’ve identified the areas we’d like to change, the question becomes, how do we accomplish that change?
If you want the simple answer, it’s ritualization.
What is Ritualization?
When we think of rituals, our minds might immediately turn to spirituality. However, ritualization does not require religion.
Ritualization is about traditions. Maybe you have a tradition, a ritual, of having a Christmas party every year or going to your favorite restaurant for a birthday dinner. Traditions can also happen more often than once a year. Taco Tuesdays or pizza on Friday nights can also be traditions.
How we respond to conflict, the processes we have in place for connection, and our behavior surrounding reunions or goodbyes can all be ritualized. Sometimes, these rituals happen naturally with little thought behind them.
But we can also be conscious of which traditions we decide to create.
Why Ritualization is a Great Accountability Tool
When we use ritualization to embed a practice into our lives, the absence of that tradition becomes obvious.
Consider how difficult it was if you couldn’t adhere to traditions that called for you to visit your family over the holidays due to COVID-19 travel advisories and restrictions. The pandemic disrupted many of our traditions—like our morning commutes to work, the necessity for meal prep, and regular outings with friends.
The weight of the absence of a tradition is part of why it is such a great accountability tool. The other main reason is that once a practice is ritualized, it becomes automatic. It is expected, anticipated, or even revered. It becomes sacred because we make it sacred.
Routines also help create stability in our lives. In turn, this supports our sense of safety, allowing us to remain present and responsive rather than becoming reactive and succumbing to trauma brain.
How to Ritualize Trauma-Informed Behaviors
Ritualization isn’t something you “just do,” it’s a process that takes consistent time, effort, and collaboration to achieve.
Think about a daily habit you have or a habit you’ve tried to gain in the past. It could be a morning cup of coffee or an after-school discussion with your kids. Maybe it’s the way you enjoy dinner or the time you spend with your pets after a long day at work.
This daily habit didn’t just happen one day. It began as a single action that turned into a repeated effort. This repetition may have been spotty initially, but then it became something you did every day. And now that this practice has been ritualized, a day without it feels off.
But the truth is most of our rituals do just happen, in a sense. Sometimes they’re ours, and sometimes they’re inherited. You probably didn’t decide, “I’m going to have a cup of coffee every morning next year.” So, how do we intentionally ritualize a practice—and what practices do we want to ritualize anyway?
Start with a goal
This process of creating a habit will work with anything. Whether you want to go running more often or create a system for navigating conflict at work, your ritual will begin with a clear goal.
Make the goal so small it’s 110% manageable
Having specific goals is a great way to set and achieve goals, but we often set our sights too high. Instead, we want to create goals so manageable that there’s no reason we can’t do them.
For example, let’s say our main goal is to manage conflict better. We want to ensure quick and effective conflict resolution at work. Our manageable goal will be to reflect daily on the conflict we encountered at work. This practice only needs to take a few minutes. And, if a few minutes every day isn’t manageable, we’ll start with every other day or every Friday.
Communicate the goal with others
Sharing your goals with others and planning to check in with them about your progress is a great method for holding yourself accountable and actually achieving what you set out to do. If you can get a friend or colleague to commit to a goal with you, that’s even better.
Eliminate barriers to your goal
Even though your goal should already be easy to achieve, we want to make it even easier.
So, if your goal is to write down three times you experienced conflict, we’ll make it easier to achieve by deciding when and where you’ll do this ahead of time. This eliminates the barrier of deciding when to do your task.
To eliminate the barrier of needing to acquire a pen and paper, you’ll open a notebook to a blank page and leave a pen on top of it. Since it’s on your desk at work, you must have the task done before you leave for the day.
Eliminating barriers can look like setting out the clothes or tools that you’ll need for the next day. It can mean tidying up at night, so you don’t procrastinate in the morning by cleaning. Eliminating barriers to your ritual will set you up for lasting success.
Recognize that true success is returning after you’ve failed
When trying to embed a new practice into your life, your attempts at forming a habit, routine, or ritual will fail. Your goal will be to do something every day, and one day, you won’t do it.
This small failure is a chance to come back to the ritual—which is a powerful choice that you can make.
The real success in ritualization isn’t not forgetting or not skipping it. It’s coming back after you have failed. It’s trying again and not giving up.
Avoid rigid expectations for achievement
Along with all the ideas so far, you’ll need a flexible idea of success and achievement in order to ritualize trauma-informed practices.
Even if you’ve gone two weeks without doing your ritualization activity, you can still come back to it. That’s not failure. Failure is giving up.
Work your way up to regularity
It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll decide to ritual on day one and have the ritual in place by day two. Give yourself time.
Forming habits and routines is a challenge, and you’ll need to be gentle with yourself and your team as you work your way up to the larger goal you hope to accomplish.
Creating Collective Trauma-Informed Traditions
These steps for ritualizing trauma-informed behaviors are framed in an individualized way because all change starts from inside you. Trauma-informed implementation is an inside-out job.
However, through collaboration, each of us can work together to create collective trauma-informed traditions, such as community meetings or round-table discussions.
If you’d like to decide as a community which routines and rituals you’d like to engage in, these questions can help:
How do we start our day together? How would we like to?
How do we end the workday? How would we like to?
How do we facilitate meetings? What could we change?
What do we need more of? Is it connection, gratitude, recognition, celebration, physical activity, or quiet time to reflect?
Trauma-informed care and implementation are often framed as a way to create happier, healthier, and more productive teams. And while that is exactly what we can achieve through TIC, we also have to remember that it is largely about personal development.
Trauma-informed practices support your individual wellbeing, and through your wellness, you can support others. So, when discussing how to ritualize practices at work in a collaborative way, our focus should always be on what will support individual wellbeing.