The importance of rituals vs. routines

The importance of rituals vs. routines

“Routines” have such a negative connotation. Sure, they’re great for productivity – they put you on autopilot so you get stuff done. But who wants to go through life on routines? It makes life sound so dull, so typical, so uninspired and grey.

A concept I’ve been exploring for myself is the difference between rituals and routines.

In one sense they’re very similar – something that you do over and over, the same way.  So, what the difference between a routine and a ritual? Intention.

  • routine is functional. There is stuff that needs to get done, and your routine is the steps that you take to do it.
  • ritual is also a series of steps – but it’s a sequence of carefully edited, selected steps, with a side benefit. The side benefit might be relaxation. Feeling grounded. A spiritual connection. A sense of nourishment. A sense of purpose. Or pure enjoyment.

The major difference between routine and ritual, as I see it, is the meaning you attach to the series of steps.

Let’s see how this might work in real life.

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is my morning routine. (Ahem, morning ritual.) I’ve always been big on eating breakfast, so I’ve always woken up, eaten breakfast, showered, and gotten started with my day. Sometimes I felt rushed and like I didn’t have enough time in the morning. Sometimes I felt guilty that I was taking so much time in the morning, when friends could get out the door in 15 minutes. But most of the time, I didn’t think about my morning routine, it was just something I did.

A few months ago, some reading inspired me to think of my morning activities not as a routine, but as a ritual.  

Instead of something that I do every day because I have to, I acknowledged the fact that I want to take this time in the morning. It’s something that I choose to do for myself every day.

Immediately my perception of my morning activities changed. Instead of the daily grind, it was me-time. It was a series of actions I was doing, consciously, to take care of myself.

Changing my mindset from a routine to a ritual took no extra time in the morning. But I get a lot more out of the experience. I’m actually aware during the process (well, most mornings) and I feel like I’m doing something good for myself.

As a side benefit, I’ve noticed it’s lead me to make healthier choices at breakfast, because I’m not just seeing it as a grab-and-go meal, but rather, an opportunity to do something good for my body.

Do you have any rituals? Do you have a daily routine that you could turn into a ritual? Try it for a week and let me know what you find.

About the author

Amanda Cook is an author, entrepreneur, and alchemist. She helps successful women create lives of meaning & magic by connecting with the seasons. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, The Sunday Telegraph, Natural Health UK Magazine, and more. Learn more at AmandaCook.me.

Amanda Cook is an author, entrepreneur, and alchemist. She helps successful women create lives of meaning & magic by connecting with the seasons. Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, The Sunday Telegraph, Natural Health UK Magazine, and more. Learn more at AmandaCook.me.

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  1. Amanda, I have been in a flurry of self discovery and research on this very subject matter! I love your clear distinction you lay out between the two. I totally agree that it is alot about the intention behind it. I also feel that any “routine” can be turned into a “ritual” with the intention & meaning behind it.

    I hope you don’t mind but I am going to quote you in a blog post I’m drafting 🙂

    Thanks!

  2. For me the morning rituals are really working. When you introduced me to this new idea it really changed me. For starters I feel healthier than I did before and I feel positive every morning when I walk out the door.

  3. I have/had a morning ritual and I didn’t even know it! 🙂
    The only way I could catch up on season 3 of Downton Abbey was to sneak it in in the morning – before the family got up and comandered the TV, before I boot up the computer and see the list of emails that MUST be dealt with before someone blows a gasket, before my dear husband calls me from work and ‘slips’ one more task for the already fully loaded day on my plate . . . I took my coffee, my apple & almond butter, in my pj’s with uncombed hair, and I curled up on the couch and disapeared for an hour. It was FABULOUS! It was special, it was secret, it was all mine, and it was the only hour of the day that was stress free.
    Sigh. I’ve watched the last episode and my husband is home for two weeks now anyway. But I see that I need a new ritual and for it to be stress free, it must be mine alone.
    Thank you for this article. I thought I was just being a little naughty, a little self-indulgent, but now I understand why it felt so very very important and engergizing. I will always try to remember that I need one beautiful ritual in my life, no matter how small, to keep me sane and happy!

  4. A lot of your posts remind me of a Buddhist story I once heard: A woman went to the Buddha and heard his advice. She complained to him that while she loved his ideas and wisdom, she already had a husband and children and couldn’t give up her life to devote to meditation. Buddha agreed that he didn’t want to encourage her to shirk her responsibilities, and so told her instead to just pay attention to her hands; while washing, while dressing her kids, whatever, to just pay attention to her hands and what she was doing with them.

    The end.

  5. Hi Amanda, thanks for the post! Finally I’ve found the cool inspiring definition of my daily morning actions 🙂 no routines any more. only RITUALS !!! Each morning just after getting up I go out outside for some seconds .Absolutely barefoot.In any weather. Especially now on winter time ( even at minus 30 ) -it’s so amazing to feel the pure snow underneath!! A glass of fresh- squizzed VEGETABLE juice, cold shower also add to my daily morning rituals. Does all that sound funny in a way? But it really works ! And helps to stay active and energetic for the rest of the day.

  6. The drinking of coffee is never just a prosaic act of slurping. Start with the brown sugar or maple syrup and the cinnamon. Add just the right amount of cream. Swish to encourage melding. Add the coffee to the cup. Swish (no stirring allowsed). Wait… wait… Inhale! Ah, inhale once more. Then that first tentative sip. Mmmm! Another larger sip. Ahhhh! Close your eyes and savor the flavor.

    Because the ritual of the bean is so important, never never go to an establishment that insists on mixing it for you.

  7. Morning tea. Even with a (very) active toddler underfoot, I take the time to put the kettle on, to set the timer on the steeping, which is important since the teas I use in the morning are medicinal supplements. I usually set out the container of tea I’ll be using the night before, and a cup and spoon. Covering the top of the cup while the tea steeps is important, to catch all the best benefits of the herbs, and it keeps breakfast from tainting it, since I cook during steeping. Once the tea is the right strength, an ice cube made of elderberry syrup is added. Then I choose a honey! I have rose, sage (for sore throats), and mint, all made from local raw honey. There is lavender infusing in my cabinet now, and I can’t wait. Once the honey stirs in, and everything is just right… I enjoy my tea.

    And then I do the dishes. A note on boiling water. Water boiled in a kettle or pot on the stove is highly preferable to water boiled in the microwave. http://www.execonn.com/sf/

    1. Hi Steffie, I love that you have a range of honeys to choose from!! Do you infuse them yourself with fresh herbs?

      Thanks for the link to the microwaved water … scary.

      1. Yes, and I am terribly impatient with them! If I don’t label the day they’re ready to be strained and used, I’ll end up going after them early and they aren’t quite as good. Some are dried and some are fresh. The fresh herbs are faster, since I use a slow, lower than pond scum heat infusion. Dried herbs sit in the honey in a jar, taunting me every day when I turn them over, for three weeks. Equal parts herbs and honey for the jars, 1/2 cup herbs to 1 1/2 cups honey for stove top, and about 30-45 minutes, until the leaves look “dried.” They’re good for teas, salad dressings, drizzled over fresh cut fruit, that kind of thing.

  8. For a start, the morning ritual involves showering and dressing BEFORE I come to the breakfast table. There seems something wrong about having the first meal of the day before I am physically, and therefore, mentally, prepared and groomed for the occasion. In days gone past, because I felt I had not the time to have breakfast at home before I had to be at work, I made toast, let it cool before buttering and Marmiting it, then took it to work in a paper bag where I ate it at work.

    1. Hi Thursday, good for you for taking time for breakfast! So many people don’t, but I know for me personally it makes such a big difference in my day. 🙂

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