System is a Verb: Rituals for Mindfulness


Today’s guest post comes to us from Patti Digh, author of six books, including the bestsellers “Life is a Verb” and “Creative is a Verb”.  Enjoy!

What is the rhythm of your life?

Many of us are splintered, sporadic, searching.

We are looking for something—a way into, a way through. Trying to find meaning in our lives, deeply desirous of the rhythms of truth beneath the surface. And rhythms bespeak patterns, and patterns bespeak systems, and systems bespeak ritual.

And rituals buoy us. Many believe they stunt us, that we follow dead rituals, but why would we? Why not imbue your life with rituals that have deeply personal meaning for you, systems of thought that can sustain you, healthy patterns you can count on in a world of constant flux?

And so we start, we find a “practice,” and then abandon it in the search for another, better, faster “fix.” It’s the way of the 21st century: better, faster, bigger, new, improved. So much striving by looking outside of ourselves.

We are inundated by helpful tips for living more creativity or more mindfully. But “tips” and “to-dos” are not “practices” and “practices” without meaning are not mindfulness–and they are not sustainable.

My daily system of mindfulness is simple:

  1. I write a thank you note every morning. I scour the news for stories of good deeds, and I send notes to those who did them, to say “someone noticed and honors you.”
  2. I look at people who talk to me, not at my phone or computer. I engage, fully.
  3. I track the time I spend online with a program called Rescue Time. It shows clearly how I am splitting my focus, and allows me the grace to recalibrate.
  4. I start the day with stretches. I end the day with stretches.
  5. I write every day for at least 10 minutes, and often longer.
  6. I sit quietly for at least 5 minutes a day (some might call it meditation, but there is no formal structure to it, just sitting and watching my thoughts float by like clouds).

There is a rhythm to this system of centering myself. It is second nature now, after much daily practice.

We believe creativity requires wide-open spaces and the freedom to do anything, but it actually flourishes in tight spaces, with restrictions, with a limited palette. That’s when creativity can shine.

Likewise, the structure of systems for mindfulness (or creativity or parenting, or any other endeavor) free us. Robert Fritz has written that water follows the structure of the land—a stream in the mountains where I live in Western North Carolina follows the structure of the environment around it, for example. And water follows the path of least resistance. Fritz goes further: Behavior, like water, follows the structure of the land. So while I can “learn” a new behavior, unless I change the structure of the land (systems) over which it flows, it will revert back to its old path, the path of least resistance. Only by changing the structure of the land can I make real change.

So only by changing our system can we change the structure of our land—and our lives.

System is a verb. It requires action. The “system” of mindfulness is the orchestration of all those actions, so you can live fully, love well, let go deeply, and make a difference.

Patti Digh is the author of six books, including bestsellers Life is a Verb and Creative is a Verb. She travels the world teaching others about mindfulness: to live fully, love well, let go deeply, and make a difference. Patti’s comments have appeared on PBS and in The New York Times, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the London Financial Times, and many other international publications. She writes a thank you note every morning.

Visit her on the web at: or on Twitter  or Facebook


  1. Wendelyn DeMoss says:

    This is an enlightening post. I love the analogy of the water flowing with the structure of the land. It also helps to see your own list of systems as examples. Developing systems in fact does allow for more spontaneity rather than less. I will use this post to reflect on my own possibilities. Thank you!

    • Yes! I love how Patti brought that to light.

      Systems that are created in a meaningful way can absolutely facilitate mobility and flexibility in what we do, but they do so in a deliberate kind of way 😉

  2. Stacey + Patti,
    Thank you for this post, Patti!

    It’s as if you read my mind. I work with creative people – I am one myself – mostly with creative entrepreneurs. In the several years I’ve been coaching creatives, I’ve seen exactly what you have Patti – That we all believe we want ultimate freedom, yet that freedom can actually be paralyzing. We allow what I call our “mental ephemera’ to get the better of us. We’re so busy taking care of all of our little responsibilities, that we actually forget to make time/ leave time for creativity.

    Kind of crazy. Creating personal rituals and developing creative habits is the best way for me to actually find time for creativity.

    thank you both!

  3. Lovely post! As a behavior analyst, I often say, “behavior takes the path of least resistance”, and now I have a beautiful, nature inspired metaphor to accompany me. Thank you for this gift!

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