Many of our habits, routines and rituals have changed over the past two years as we adapted to the reality of the pandemic. They may have changed repeatedly. As we move forward again, it is an ideal time to look at how we can adapt or create these practices for our current situations.
Habits, routines and rituals are related but distinct practices that can be formed and nurtured to simplify and enhance our lives. The more aware and intentional about them we are, the more effective they can be. Note: There is a flip side too! We can easily fall into habits, routines and rituals that are negative or more of a rut. Identifying the negatives and ruts and strategies for breaking out of them is a separate topic. The focus of this article is to look at these practices and how to use them effectively.
What Makes Them Helpful?
Why are positive habits and routines so helpful to us? It has to do with our brain capacity. Did you know that we all have a finite number of decisions that we can make in any given day? You may have noticed that it gets harder to make decisions toward the end of the day. Habits and routines help reduce the number of decisions we have to make and thus free brain space for more creative and productive thinking and also reduce daily stress.
It’s hard to argue that humans are indeed “creatures of habit.” Habits are necessary for us to navigate our lives successfully. Think of all the things you do by habit – things you do repeatedly and automatically, often almost involuntarily or unconsciously. Brushing your teeth morning and night, adjusting the thermostat as you head for bed, getting your morning coffee, turning on the morning news show on television, or whatever your particular automatic actions may be. Something triggers you – also likely subconsciously – and you take that action.
And then there are routines. Often the two are confused or used interchangeably. They are however distinct. Routines are a series of habits or activities that you combine for specific parts of the day or certain repeat situations. For example, the things you do between the time you awaken each morning and the time you are settled into your work, home or school activity for the day. Or your fitness or exercise routine. Or a writing routine if you are a writer/journaler. Or a study routine for students. You may have different routines for weekend days than weekdays.
Routines require more intention and effort to complete than simple habits. The series of things you do each morning may or may not actually be a routine. They may just be a series of actions that you take, not necessarily in the same order each day, maybe adjusting freely depending on circumstances. Or it actually may be a routine that has a sequence that you don’t change, in a firm timeline. Doing this gives you satisfaction and a launch for the rest of the day. If that is upset, your day doesn’t start well.
What are the routines that will be most helpful for you right now? Are there changes in what you are doing that will enhance your life?
Sociologist Robert Wuthnow says, “rituals are any actions or events that have symbolic meaning beyond their instrumental value.” These meanings can be personal or collective and expressed alone or with others. They also have some unique characteristics. As Gustava Razzetti says in his Fearless Culture blog: “A ritual is a sequence of activities that are performed in a particular place and according to a set progression. A ritual must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”
Many of us have experienced religious rituals – the pattern of a regular service or gathering, a specific liturgy, sacraments such as baptism and holy communion. Both faith and other types of groups have rituals for particular times of the year. For example, I’ve been part of a burning bowl ritual on New Year’s Eve to burn the bits of paper on which each person has written what they want to leave behind from the previous year. Clubs and civic groups have rituals to begin and end meetings, how new members are added, and more. These are intended to solidify belonging and group identity.
We may have family rituals around family meals or holiday meals, how we put beloved pets to rest, how certain milestone birthdays are celebrated.
Individual rituals are used by many performers and athletes to prepare for an event or appearance. They are all intended to get the person into the right mindset/frame of mind to be able to perform their very best.
Creating rituals is a life-enhancing process that we can all participate in. The disconnection that we have all experienced during the years of the pandemic has made us more aware of ways we connected with others and how much we have missed them. This awareness is an impetus for many people and groups to recover, reinvent or create rituals as we move forward.
Elements of Ritual to Enhance Routines
You can also add an element of ritual to some routines to provide meaning and focus. Picking up a specific pen is a signal to you that you are beginning your writing routine. Putting it away is the end of that meaningful session. Putting on your best walking/running shoes or a particular baseball hat is a signal to begin your walking or running routine.
Such actions become triggers and motivators. Even if you aren’t feeling very much like doing the routine, taking that action can get you started without the mental conflict or feeling the need to engage great will power. Once established, it becomes a key to opening up that experience every time. And that helps you do the things you want to do with more ease.
Habits, routines and rituals are tools that we can use in many areas of life. They are especially helpful as we experience change, external and internal – as we all have in the past two years. As I researched and wrote this article, my interest in learning more grew. There are so many dimensions to be explored. If you also are intrigued with the possibilities, I recommend checking out these books:
Atomic Habits by James Clear Atomic/atom-sized/tiny habits to change many aspects of life are the focus of this book.
Daily Routine Planner Use this planner including worksheets to create routines for all parts of the day and more.
The Power of Ritual by Casper Ter Kuile. Learn how to turn everyday activities into intentional rituals that will nurture your soul and transform life.
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.