How having a meaningful ritual can improve your working day

Your alarm goes off. You turn it off. Count to ten. Stretch. Get up. Put the kettle on. Pat the dog. Have a shower. Make coffee. Turn on the news. Feel stressed. Turn off the news. Start work while drinking coffee.

Is that a daily ritual? Or is that just a routine?

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is how you think about it. It’s how you perceive your actions. Are they mundane chores that just need to be completed, or are they actions that bring meaning, learning or joy into your life? It’s all about your mindset.

And if, like many of my clients, you’re feeling bored right now and running out of motivation, shifting your mindset might also help you get through these next few months as we emerge from lockdown.

A daily routine is a series of tasks that you complete every day in the same order. For example getting up and going to work, stacking the dishwasher, brushing your teeth and getting the kids ready for school. A routine can feel mundane and boring because it’s something you have to do. You can complete your routines on autopilot. They might be efficient, but routines are not necessarily motivating or enjoyable. They are viewed as a chore.

A daily ritual is similar to a daily routine since they are also a series of tasks that are completed in the same order. But a daily ritual differs in its intention. Daily rituals are meaningful practices and are internally motivated. A daily ritual can provide energy and enjoyment along with efficiency and structure. A ritual is a carefully selected way of doing something that has a sense of purpose and a positive side effect in addition to the straightforward completion of the task.

In my last job, I used to get to the office early. I’d switch on my computer and while it was starting up, I’d put the kettle on. While the kettle was boiling, I’d log in and download my emails. Then I’d make my tea and make some porridge in the microwave. Then I’d go back to my desk and read my emails while drinking my tea and eating my porridge. When the porridge was finished, that’s when I kicked into work mode.

Was my series of tasks a daily ritual or just a routine?

It started out as a routine. Then I started to think about it and deliberately made it motivating. I bought a really lovely bowl for my porridge and beautiful cup for my tea. It started to become more pleasurable, meaningful and enjoyable. I reframed ‘getting through my emails’ to ‘mentally preparing for my day’. It was my quiet time. I found out much later that colleagues knew to leave me on my own until my porridge ritual was over!

There’s a balance to be found with routine and ritual. We’ll always have routines that we need to do to be efficient. There’s always stuff that simply needs to be done. But there’s a lot of value in finding routines, (or even parts of routines), that we can turn into rituals for the benefit of a better day.

Rituals can help us take the boredom or stress out of a regular activity, they can help us be more thoughtful, help us connect to our purpose and help us achieve our goals.

How to transform a routine into a ritual

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is your subjective experience of the activity. While we may often associate rituals with religion or spirituality, I believe we can transform any routine into a ritual with the right attitude and perspective.

Positive affirmations – one very simple thing you can do is recite affirmations.

Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome negative thoughts. Say them to yourself as a way of helping you to achieve a positive mindset.

For example, during my morning work ritual, I changed my internal dialogue to ‘I’m never going to get through all my work today’ to ‘I’m going to have a good day and get the important tasks done – and porridge time is where I prioritise what they are.’ This is just one way to turn something tedious into something more helpful.

Connect to a bigger purpose

Take a step back and see the bigger picture and purpose behind your daily routines, and how they improve your life as a whole. Connect to this by asking yourself ‘why is this important?’ And keep asking ‘why?’

Why is cleaning my teeth important? Because healthy teeth and gums mean I can eat what you want. Why is that important?

For a healthy diet. Why is that important? Because when I’m healthy I feel better and can do more which makes me happy.

This will add more meaning and help you view your routines as more of a ritual because you understand how they are helping you to achieve a bigger purpose.

Adding intentions

Rituals are the foundation upon which great work is completed. The difference between a daily routine and a daily ritual is intention.

What are the things that you do every day that you could add intention and purpose to and make into a daily ritual?

Pick one of your routines and think about how you can turn it from an autopilot mundane task to a more meaningful experience in your day. For me, I bought a cup and a bowl and shifted my mindset from getting through emails to something more positive to turn my morning routine into a ritual.

Think about the list below and pick one routine to start:

Getting up in morning.  What can you do as part of your morning ritual to get your day off to a positive start? Examples might be to spend 3 minutes being mindful or doing some stretches before you do anything else.

Going to bed. There is now a huge body of research on the benefits of a good nights sleep. Turn your going to bed routine into a ritual for better sleep.

Preparing breakfast. Another morning routine that you can turn into something more intentional and therefore a daily ritual.

Eating. Slow down and be mindful. Reframe a rushed lunch as fuel for your afternoon productivity. A great resource for mindful eating is Work Fuel: The Productivity Ninja Guide to Nutrition by Collette Heneghan and Graham Allcott

Walking places. Can you reframe the walking you have to do in your day, for example walking to the bus stop, the shop or walking the dog, as a ritual, not a chore?

Doing exercise. Turn dragging yourself to the gym or for a run into a positive experience. Tell yourself you can do this! Alternatively, if you absolutely hate the gym and can’t ever imagine finding positive purpose there, work out how to make exercise an enjoyable ritual. My solution was that I got a dog. You can check his Instagram out here.

Doing the weekly food shop. You’re not doing a chore, you’re fuelling you and your family for success.

Being grateful. A good way to reframe your mindset to a positive one is to make being grateful a daily ritual. At the end of the day, list the things that you are grateful for – big and small.

Taking a shower. A great place to think, practice mindfulness and notice how the water feels.

Cleaning your teeth. Are you cleaning your teeth or keeping your mouth healthy and fresh?

Cleaning. Is it a chore or an opportunity to disconnect from your day?

Making your daily ritual a success

Now you’ve started to think about it, I expect you have dozens of routines that you might choose to turn into daily rituals. What’s important is that you develop your rituals that add meaning and purpose to your day. As you’re working through this, there are three simple things to remember:

Prepare Your Environment

Creating environmental change has a dramatic impact on what you do. For example, if you set your running shoes out before you go to bed, you’re more likely to run in the morning. Get yourself really good coffee and a great cup if you’re turning your morning coffee into a ritual.

Small steps

We’re more likely to be able to form rituals if we start small. For example, if you have a goal to start running, don’t aim to run very far on day one. Start small and build up. The Couch to 5k app is an excellent example of this as it takes you from your couch to being able to run 5k in small steps in 9 weeks.

If you want to live a mindful life, start with one minute of sitting. If you want to spend more time outside, walk once around the block each morning.

Better done than perfect

Spending time every day changing routines to rituals doesn’t mean that you will end up with something perfect first time. Don’t give up. Keep practising. Find something that works for you and makes the routine more meaningful.

Bottom line

You are a unique individual with your own purpose and set of goals that you want to achieve. There’s not a right or wrong set of rituals to follow, the secret to success is identifying your daily routines that can be turned into the rituals that inspire and motivate you to achieve your set of goals.

Good luck!

A version of the blog was first posted at Life Hack. 

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