At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I want to start by confessing:
My evening routine all too often consists of falling asleep in front of whatever show I happen to be binge-watching.
Followed by dragging my ass to bed with a quick teeth brushing along the way if I can muster up enough inclination.
I suspect I’m not the only one who hasn’t taken the time to carve out a nourishing nighttime ritual to enhance my happiness and success in life.
But maybe it’s time to start.
Because how we consciously shape our evenings can make all the difference.
Here’s what we should be spending our time on as the day draws to a close.
1) Get an early night
Whether you would call it a ritual or not, I’m adding a good night’s sleep to the list as a reminder that getting enough shut-eye is invaluable.
We don’t always need to add more “doing” to our schedule in order to be happier and more successful.
Sometimes it is quite the opposite. We need to rest more to recharge our batteries.
My mum always used to say an hour before midnight is worth two afterward. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve certainly found this to be true.
The quality of sleep I have from an early night always seems better than that I get from a lie-in.
Even though this has been heralded as a myth, there could be some science to support why.
As pointed out by Time:
“Non-REM sleep tends to dominate your slumber cycles in the early part of the night. But as the clock creeps toward daybreak, REM sleep muscles in. That’s significant, because some research has suggested that non-REM sleep is deeper and more restorative than lighter, dream-infused REM sleep.
“The shift from non-REM to REM sleep happens at certain times of the night regardless of when you go to bed…So if you hit the sack very late—at, say, 3 AM—your sleep will tilt toward lighter, REM-heavy sleep. And that reduction in deep, restorative sleep may leave you groggy and blunt-minded the next day.”
Do your health, mood, and productivity levels a favor and get an early night.
2) Switch off from tech
I know we’re all guilty of it, but we really shouldn’t bring our phones to bed with us.
Not only is it way too tempting to take a sneaky look at social media, but our phones are usually packed full of activities and apps that will keep you switched on at a time when you need to be winding down.
The same goes for your laptop, which is depriving you of the melatonin you need to start to feel drowsy.
That’s because the blue light emitted from technology interferes with the body’s natural processes and suppresses our release of this helpful bedtime hormone.
If we don’t want to mess with our circadian rhythms, a few hours before bed, it’s better to engage in some leisurely pursuits offline.
For example, the next thing on our list.
3) Read a few chapters of a book
Reading can all too often feel like a luxury we don’t have time for.
Who else gets super excited by all the books they’re going to read, yet never devotes the time to actually do it?
It becomes an exclusive activity that only happens on vacations or when we feel like we have plenty of time on our hands.
But reading is the secret weapon of many successful people.
Research has shown that some of the world’s wealthiest individuals are all avid readers.
That means turning your back on TV and picking up a book instead. As pointed out by CNBC:
“67 percent of rich people limited TV time to one hour or less per day, compared to only 23 percent of poor people.”
Former US president Barak Obama is known for being a voracious reader.
Whilst in the White House, he reportedly would read for a minimum of half an hour every night.
“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, it was reading that allowed him to “slow down and get perspective, and to get in somebody else’s shoes. These two things have been invaluable to me.”
This ritual relies on a little psychology hack.
Nobel prize-winning author and psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about the unique way memory works as a storyteller.
Speaking on NPR he explained:
“There is an experiencing self, who lives in the present and knows the present. It’s capable of reliving the past but basically, it has only the present. And then there is a remembering self, and the remembering self is the one that keeps score and maintains the story of our life…Now, the remembering self is a storyteller and that really starts with a basic response of our memory. It starts immediately. We don’t only tell stories when we set out to tell stories, our memory tells us stories. That is, what we get to keep from our experiences is a story.”
It means that we tend to only remember the emotional peak of any event and the end of it.
Significantly, we can use this to our advantage.
No matter how rubbish your day was, you can turn things around if you try to end on an emotional high.
Rather than look back and pick apart all the things that went wrong, hone in on the best bits.
Before bed, search for the “wins” of the day. What went right? (no matter how small) And why?
It’s important to recognize and be grateful for those moments. Not only does it make us happier, but it also gives us more motivation for a brand-new day that lies ahead.
Savour the highlights and don’t dwell on the low points. It’s a simple recipe for happiness but one that can change your life.
5) Learn and hone a skill
If you want to increase both your happiness and success, your evening ritual cannot be solely focused on winding down.
There’s no way around it, success requires effort and application.
That means putting aside apathy — and the instinct to reach for a glass of wine at the end of a long day— in favor of something a bit more constructive.
Last night my partner came to me and said that he’s going to dedicate his weekday evenings for a month to learning.
He is going to do a home course and intends to treat that time like another job, protecting those hours in his schedule.
If we’re really interested in growth, I think we could all take a leaf out of his book.
Sadly, we naturally gravitate towards activities that seem the easiest (like worrying about hypothetical things that are unlikely to ever happen or turning on Netflix).
But unsurprisingly, we get far more fulfillment out of things that are productive.
Using your evenings to discover (or grow an existing) skill or hobby takes willpower.
But in the long run, the opportunities and potential expansion from doing so can make you much happier too.
You’re lying in bed. You should have been asleep ages ago. But you just cannot switch off.
It’s a common scene in many a bedroom across the globe.
Our brain can have an irritating habit of bringing to our attention 1001 pointless thoughts and scenarios exactly when we want it to shut the F up.
Tools to try to encourage it to do so become our best ally against the so-called chattering monkey mind.
Meditation is always a useful method for reducing stress, unwinding, and disconnecting from whatever may have happened that day.
Now for the science bit:
Research suggests that restful sleep after meditation helps to increase the removal of waste products from brain cells.
The next day you benefit from increased mental clarity, greater alertness, improved emotional regulation, and a better mindset.
Cultivating mindfulness is a great way to escape the vicious cycle of overthinking that can plague us during the wee small hours.
7) Gentle exercise
We’ve talked about switching off your mind with the help of meditation.
But what about your body?
We store stress and emotions physically as well as mentally.
As noted by psychotherapist and author Sean Grover in Psychology Today:
“For years, I’ve studied where people store unwanted emotions. Indeed, not all body aches or illnesses are psychosomatic. However, recurring patterns emerged as I looked at people’s bodily reactions to stress.”
Exercise can be a healthy way to burn off excess stress energy and release tension from the day.
According to Better Sleep:
“Working out before bed can help improve your sleep quality and increase your energy levels during the day. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety and promote muscle recovery.”
It doesn’t have to be a hardcore workout session, just some simple stretches can help.
But it’s another way to bring consciousness to your body to prepare you for rest.
Evening routines don’t need to be grueling
Whenever we start to be overly demanding, we set ourselves up for failure. Because introducing new habits isn’t easy.
That’s why it’s better to start slow and small.
If you want to create night time rituals that you actually stick to, try introducing them one at a time until you get the hang of it.
You don’t have to overhaul your entire evening, just aim to make a few supportive tweaks here and there.