Routines vs. Ritualsfeatured

Routines vs. Rituals {the ponytail diaries}

As I’ve been lolling around in this funk I’m in, I started thinking about day-to-day routines and rituals.

Something I want to start doing — I think I read this somewhere, on a blog or Instagram or something — is to cultivate more joy in the day-to-day, instead of just going through the motions and always focusing on what needs to be done next or what I should be doing or how I can be more productive.

And then I read — I think in an email newsletter, this time? — once again about how to break through “writer’s block” by developing a pre-writing “ritual.” I think the writer described her “ritual” of making a cup of coffee and sharpening a pencil or something every single time before she sat down to write in the morning. She didn’t write with the pencil, but that act triggered or primed her brain to get into “writing mode,” so she was able to write something even if she didn’t feel particularly creative or inspired.

This kind of advice is EVERYWHERE if you read anything about habits or productivity or creativity or freelancing (trust me, because I read a lot of that shit right now).

In this case (and I’ve read that advice oh, a thousand times or so in my life), I was particularly struck by the word choice of “ritual,” instead of “routine” or “practice” or “task” or “habit.”


And then, in yoga a couple weeks ago, the instructor started class talking about “karma yoga” and how it’s about action and how all our actions — even the ones as simple as putting down our keys when we come home — are like little offerings to the universe, and what are we telling or sending out to the universe if all our actions are mindless and automatic? And I was like YES THAT’S IT.

I think my day-to-day right now has too many routines and not enough rituals.

From an outside perspective, the actions involved in a routine or ritual are probably indistinguishable. Both routines and rituals are specific, set actions that are performed in the same way, at the same time, over and over. Getting ready in the morning (shower, get dressed, brush teeth, put on makeup). Making coffee or tea. Eating lunch. Getting ready for bed. Everything else that you do repeatedly, regularly, throughout the day, week, month.

But the experience from the inside makes routines and rituals so very different.

Routines are rote, automatic, mindless. You go through the motions without consciously thinking about or paying attention to what you’re doing. If someone asks you in the afternoon “what was it like brushing your teeth today?” you’d look at her like she was crazy, right? You don’t know, you just know that you did it — you checked it off the list and moved on with your day.

With rituals, you’re present. You’re paying careful attention and noting how you feel. You go through the same motions, but with purpose and intention.

I think with rituals, there’s a why behind them.

Why are you making tea?

Routine: Because it’s what I do in the mornings.

Ritual: To slow down in the morning. To wrap my hands around the hot mug and slowly breathe in while the tea steeps. To feel the warmth fill me when I take my first sip.

So I want to start developing and cultivating more rituals — especially focusing on rituals in the morning and evening (to help me wind down and get to bed at a reasonable hour), before I start working, and when I take a midday/lunch break (I’ve noticed it’s super hard for me to re-focus after I eat lunch. I scroll through Twitter or Feedly while I eat and end up clicking on a bunch of links and goofing around long after I finish eating). I don’t know what they’ll be, exactly, but I’m hoping they’ll invite a little more presence and joy in my days.

photo via Death to the Stock Photo


  • Meghan @ SLS

    I love this! I absolutely need more rituals in my life. & more of anything that I do because it lets a little light in, rather than “just because it’s something I do.”

    • Thanks Meghan! I love how you say we should do things that “let a little light in.” What an awesome way to think about it. 🙂

  • Tracy S

    I really love this, Allison! I have a lot of routines but not many of them could be classified as rituals. I always strive to be more intentional – it’s a never-ending process since I always fall short. Thanks for putting this out into the universe today and giving me something to think about 🙂