Routine vs. Ritual

Jul 10, 2015
Joe Buhlig
~2 mins

A while back I read The Power of Full Engagement. The premise of the book is energy management and what you do each day to gain or use energy.

The book mentions some specific rituals that give people energy. I’m obsessed with the routines I do each day, so I was fascinated. I’m always reading what others do in an effort to find one thing that will make my day super productive.

But routines don’t necessarily motivate me throughout the day. They may keep me on track, but they’re often draining and mundane. And no fun at all. To prevent burnout, some of those tasks need to be enjoyable. Ultimately, it comes down to the difference between routines and rituals.

Routine

I think of routines as checklists or a structure in which I act. It can be a list of things I do in the morning or the process of getting my kids down for bed. In either case, there is a series of tasks that I do consistently and in the same order.

Inside routines, I don’t have to think about what comes next. I do them frequently and I can do them without looking at a list. They remove the stress on my brain and help me accomplish a task quickly and efficiently, but they don’t necessarily recharge me.

Common routines: preparing work for the day, mowing the lawn, bedtimes.

Ritual

Rituals are similar to routines since they are also a series of tasks that are completed in the same order. But a ritual’s intent is to provide energy and enjoyment along with structure. A ritual is a carefully selected process that has a positive side effect outside of the task being completed.

Common rituals: meditation, daily walk, reading a book.

From routine to ritual

I’ve taken detailed notes by hand in meetings for a while. I never enjoyed it. I kept trying to collect the notes digitally, but it never felt fluid enough.

Sometimes you have to deal with a less-than-ideal process and sometimes you can find a way to make it more enjoyable. In this case, I decided to make the note-taking something that I like doing. I bought a fountain pen. I’m intrigued by the old-fashioned way of doing things and this was a perfect fit. Using the fountain pen is a joy for me so taking notes and marking them up afterwards became a ritual instead of just a routine. I enjoy doing it because I enjoy using my fountain pen.

There is a balance to be found with routine and ritual. We’ll always have routines that we need to do. But there’s a lot of value in finding routines, (or at least parts of routines), that we can turn into rituals.

References

The Difference Between Routine and Ritual: How to Master the Balancing Act of Controlling Chaos and Finding Magic in the Mundane - Brain Pickings
The Difference Between Routines vs. Rituals - The Emotion Machine
The importance of rituals vs. routines - Vintage Amanda