Rituals, Routines and Ruts

“In the beginning man makes the habit. In the end, the habit makes the man.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

This post started simple. I was going to write about some pros and cons of routines. As I filtered thoughts, I found myself meandering around routines, habits, rituals, ruts and behaviors. Granted they’re not mutually exclusive but I wanted to find my way back to something more focused. So work with me as I try to ‘tighten’ this message.

There may not be much difference between a routine and a habit. A habit typically refers to a constant, often unconscious inclination to perform an act, acquired through its frequent repetition. They can be good, bad or indifferent. Create a habit and it becomes part of your routine. A routine suggests ordinariness, even a lack of thought; to be on autopilot. But routines also involve choice for taking advantage of a range of things such as time, willpower, discipline, and optimism.

It’s helpful to have order and discipline in our lives. Creating good habits and useful routines helps us feel productive and directed. Yet, sometimes, routines turn into ruts without our realizing it. We can find ourselves feeling trapped, bored, and boring without understanding why. Enter stress; obviously unwanted and unneeded. When we feel relied upon to perform tasks we’ve grown to resent, or simply to do things the way we always have, that sense of duty can sap our energy and enthusiasm.

On another hand, a ritual usually refers to religious meaning or a solemn ceremony. But rituals are not always simply a means to an end. They can be rational, extremely effective and deeply valuable on their own. For example, think of rituals performed after experiencing losses that alleviate grief or rituals performed before high-pressure tasks to reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. They can also be as simple (and superstitious) as eating certain foods or ‘crossing ones fingers’ for good luck.

Rituals (and most of us have them) can have a casual impact on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If you’re wondering how you might add to or restore some focus to your rituals or routines, here are three possible actions:

  1. Acknowledge your top three. Every morning, ask yourself, “What are the top three most important tasks that I will complete today?” Prioritize your day accordingly and don’t retire at night until the top three are complete.
  2. Align meaning with what matters. Often, rituals are the things we care most about. If you value nature, consider a tree-planting ritual by performing mindful and valued steps that allow you to celebrate nature. Whatever rituals you create, remember to include significant and repeatable steps.
  3. Craft an “Ignore list.” Most people have a to-do list but it may help to ask yourself: “What’s not worth doing?” Write down what you’re willing to disregard – emails you have no intention of responding to, vacuuming, or exercising more regularly. Review the list occasionally to ensure that nothing on it is getting your undeserved attention. (But think twice about the exercising.) 🙂

53 thoughts on “Rituals, Routines and Ruts

  1. perhaps if i think of vacuuming as exercise
    it will become part of my routine!
    i would have to change my habit of exercising
    and enjoying nature, hmm.
    maybe i need another list 🙂

  2. The “Ignore list” is quite new to me. But if I were to make one, top of my list would be spending too much time on social networking sites. I should learn to ignore the call of that red notification icon on my Facebook page/app. 😀

      • When I don’t check my notifications, I’m sometimes the last to know about things. My friends usually use Facebook to contact me instead of texting/calling me and what they’re saying might be important. The thing is that the important messages gets mixed with a lot of the not-so-important ones. 🙂

  3. How often we start writing about one thing only to end up about with words on the screen abaout another? A great post today. I’m off to my treadmill right this minute!

      • I wish I were more like you, Eric. I never know what is going to come out of my head. Thanks for your encouragement. I will think of you when climbing my next hill!. 🙂

  4. Whenever I identify routines, habits, rituals, ruts and behaviours in my life, I set about disrupting them. I have lived my life for many long years in the ‘here and now’, I am now wondering whether living life in the moment, could be classified as an unrecognised routine, habit, ritual, rut or behaviour in my own life? The answer obviously is yes, as everything in natural world has instinctive rhythms, and routines are the key to survival. For me, the trick is to unburden myself from the unnecessary routines placed upon us by the pressure of social conformity. These are the routines, habits, rituals, ruts and behaviours I dispense with.

    I enjoyed the reading your post and as always, it was thought provoking and worthy of a timely response.

    • Your’s is an interesting question, Paul. Thank you for stimulating further thought here. Kudos, too, on your choice and action to disrupt and dispense. I find both to be noble actions. Appreciate your thoughtful insights and sharing.

  5. I love the idea of an ignore list…there are so many time suckers that easily take away from productivity. The question becomes will this bring me pleasure/comfort today or is there something I’d rather be doing instead?

  6. Enjoyed the post. As someone on the autism spectrum I really, really need my routines and get very upset and anxious when they are changed in any way. But lots of people not on the spectrum do, too. BTW, for some reason that photo of the shower looks very ominous. Interesting.

  7. You must’ve been reading my mind. I was just saying to myself and my sister how I need to develop a routine. That the acupuncturist, who I’ve seen several times, wants that even in the times she eats. It makes sense but the challenge is there also. I’ll get it together.

    • And I sense you’re up for the challenge! 🙂 Different approaches work for different people. Perhaps routines are your ‘thing’ or maybe you’ve found that other repetitive techniques work well. The good news is you’re on it, totsymae.

  8. When we re-examine our habits, routines, and rituals, we can determine which are advancing the ball for us and which are no longer needed.

    After reading Simplify Your Life (by Elaine St. James), we canceled our subscription to the newspaper, stopped baking at the holidays, and gave our BIG Christmas Tree away because those rituals no longer served us. Doing so saved time, money, and energy for more worthwhile (to us) endeavors.

    • Bravo to simplifying one’s life. Yet, even in simplification, we can choose to align with habits. routines and rituals that are meaningful to our revised focus and pursuits. But (as you remark, Nancy) when it frees up time for other endeavors, that’s often a good outcome.

  9. Eric, don’t mind me lol I’m spending some time on your Blog playing catch up! You somehow fell off my reader list early November and I didn’t pick it up on it until a few days ago. So here I am getting lost in your Blog! I must say I have missed a lot of extraordinary Blogs! Dawn

    • I prefer a leisurely read of the posts I follow. The challenge there is trying to stay current with the many that I follow. There are times when I just don’t get to enjoy all of them. Thanks for creating time to “‘catch up!” I appreciate your reading and commenting, Dawn, when time permits.

  10. I think I’m much more aware of my habits and routines than my rituals. And I haven’t seriously considered prioritizing my top tasks–lots to think about! Thank you for the nudge in the right direction. 🙂

    • Anytime I can nudge someone in a positive, constructive manner, Debra, then the messages I share are having some value. Thanks for acknowledging that this post got you thinking. 🙂 That alone could easily be forward progress!

  11. Hi Eric! To me, we often try to survive and not to live really. We hide ourselves behind rituals and routines because we know we can ‘end the day and start the next one’ without problems. Rituals or routines may be useful, but they mustn’t become absolute orders.
    I have never thought about a ‘not-to-do list’ but now I will. 🙂 Thanks Eric 🙂

  12. I like your view that rituals or routines must not become absolute orders because in some (many?) cases, people feel compelled to continue with one or the other when perhaps neither are serving an original, intended purpose. If we are going to choose and align with a routine or ritual, they ought to be fun as well as serve a purpose, no? Always appreciate hearing from the man in Turin.

  13. Pingback: Rituals, Routines and Ruts | Balls Not Bollocks

    • Hi iB! I’ve been offline for a couple of months. Just now initiating a slow return to posting. Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting, even while I was on hiatus. I hope everything is good in your sphere.

  14. Great post. Thanks for sending me here. I have all sorts of habits and rituals; including being habitually procrastinary in nature. But I’m trying to change. I like the idea of giving myself 3 things to do each day. I might just have to start that one.

    • You are welcome! Glad a suggested action resonated, Ger. And since I’m one who is attentive to word choice and who ‘listens’ to what’s not being said, what does “I might just have to…” say about commitment? 🙂 Just nudging here…

      • Do you work as an editor by any chance? Picking up on every word. Well, I finally opened up one of my photography books and have my new camera ready. I will be starting on chapter 1 of the book today!

      • Not an editor, Ger, a Life Coach, trained to ‘listen’ acutely. Bravo on your taking action. Forward progress can be quite motivating. All the best with Chapter 1.

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