Routine versus ritual. What’s the difference? Ever thought why that might matter? Are you routinely “treadmilling” life away? Or does your life’s work have purpose? Supported by meaningful rituals?
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I’ve seen the difference between a routine and a ritual being described as the attitude behind the action. While routines can be (repetitive) actions that just need to be done—such as making your bed or taking a shower—rituals are viewed as more meaningful practices which have a real sense of purpose.
I love the use of the words purpose and meaning here. I often reflect on the hundreds of clients I’ve coached all over the world in the last 15 or so years. And find it is so often the “fork in the road” many of them arrived at, that initiated them to look for a coach. Where after often decades of “successful” toil in their professions, we all seem to get to the question “is that all it is?” What’s my real purpose? What’s the meaning of all this toil? Am I really going where I want to go? Do I actually remember what or where that is? Can you relate?
If you look at the picture above, how much more would the little girl probably prefer to have dad talking to her rather than enduring his routine of reading the newspaper while they eat? Wouldn’t that make it a ritual both would probably get much more value from?
Attitude helps differentiate Routine versus Ritual
Perhaps I can also use a well known example to illustrate how much our attitude affects whether what we’re doing is routine versus ritual ? The story goes that someone asked two different bricklayers on a building site where a large cathedral was being built what they were doing. Duh, said the one, perplexed – I’m laying bricks, can’t you see? While the other looked up with a smile and making an expansive gesture with his arm said, I’m helping to build this magnificent cathedral.
The former was in a routine of doing what has to be done every day. The latter felt his work was part of a daily ritual that was contributing to something much bigger and more meaningful.
Now why does this matter?
Because life and career or business happens one day at a time. Just like a project can end up over a year late – one day at a time.
And Friday will arrive anyway, won’t it? We’re either on the treadmill doing every day what just needs to be done. Or we’re focused on making a difference. Having an awareness of the difference is what counts here. Mindful of where and how we’re adding value. Allowing us to remind ourselves of our purpose and the meaning attached to what we do. And what we’re doing. Every day.
You see, what I’ve learned is that life can get so busy. Without us noticing that. Often even overwhelming. Filled with “stuff” that just has to be done. A “busyness” that engulfs us with doing. Racing from one date, thing or deadline to the next. We just accept it as routine, don’t we?
And so another week passes. Another month. Another quarter. And yet another year, and we’re back into planning newyears resolutions in which we commit to changing all that. “This year’s gonna be different”!
But do we? Routine versus Ritual.
So how do we do that?
Changing from Routine to Ritual. How?
For me this change became real when I found ways to bring more awareness into my daily life and work.
For a whole year now I have started every day with a meditation ritual. I’ve been taught that the best possible time to meditate is in that transition between sleeping and waking. When the active left brain is still slumbering. It’s in that fuzzy time that I find I can connect best with my “higher self” and with what matters to me most. Before any of the day’s ‘stuff” can emerge, I engage in a very meaningful ritual I’ve developed.
Then I do my Tai-Chi, stretches, excercises and some aerobics. (I’m a 1952 vintage, remember – my “older” body needs such energizing on a daily basis). Combining it to meaningful (unconscious) mind work makes it into a ritual for me. I haven’t missed a single day in a year now.
Oh, and to be sure I stay in this space for a good while, I rarely turn my phone on before 9am.
Compare this to how I used to be. My first waking period would be my left brain starting to think through all the stuff I had to do today. The tasks. The deadlines. The “stuff”. I’d even be emailing or texting already. Then I’d leap out of bed and get straight into it.
What I’ve found since the ritual, is that my day is much more focused and lived in the present. And less dwelling on what went wrong in the past or what might have worried me about the future. And hence more productive, enjoyable and fulfilling.
Making the change stick
Every one of us is different. Each of our circumstances is different. Particularly if there are children involved, such “quality personal time” is somewhat difficult to create and stick to. But we can engineer some specific undisturbed time into each day if we really want to. And even if you managed 3 or 4 days a week, that would be better than none.
I’ve found it’s the awareness that matters here.
And when you find the (blood) pressure rising and “mood” or overwhelm starting to creep in, that’s where you might teach yourself the ability to withdraw to somewhere quiet when, undisturbed, you can revisit the things that matter to you. Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself. Helping you get out of the routine that might be bogging you down. And finding ways of bringing about something of a ritual that can help the transition. Having a coffee might be useful. But not an absent minded one you take to your desk and simply carry on. One that has you sit back and consider where you’re at. Even if it’s only a few minutes.
I’m a great believer in “buddying up” with someone I trust. And sharing my change goal with them. So you can have them hold you accountable to the awareness from time to time. Best would be if they had also shared goals with you and you could both help each other stay on track.
In “the olden days” life was full of festivals or rituals in which we recognized or acknowledged or celebrated something on specific dates or times or (lunar) cycles. Our busy lives have somehow gotten in the way of that. Being in the Rudolph Steiner school system and trying to live aspects of his philosophies has helped remind us of numerous such “festivals”. Which, when children are involved can be so much fun. A lantern walk on the winter solstice. Or a harvest festival in autumn. Or a spring festival to help make us more aware of removing the hibernating yawns of winter.
Every one of us can think of such opportunities around our own families and cultures, can’t we? It’s about creating the ability to make ourselves aware of them and to plan what little time it takes to make them happen. Meaningfully. Adding depth to our busy lives. Creating time and space to be consciously together and enjoying it by “being there in full”.
Routine versus Ritual. So What?
So what if you just took stock of where you’re at in your life right now? You’d probably find that like most of us, you’re pretty much on the treadmill, right? Doing what has to be done every day. Somewhat mechanically. Or maybe even somewhat anaesthetised?
What if this stepping back got you aware of how valuable such a change could be? For you. For those you love and live with? For those you lead and work with?
Adding that meaning to our life really isn’t that complex. However, like any and every change, particularly personal change, it takes a firm decision to want to change first. Then the rest can follow.
And by the time we get to the winter solstice, what if you could already be looking back on a fruitful transition? Having enriched your life and that of those dependent on you? What if you could?