Turning Ordinary Routines Into Powerful Rituals

There’s a lot more to life than just surviving. Finding meaning in your life is one of the most important aspects of finding peace and happiness. Rituals can be powerful tools for this, whether as small moments or through spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga. Routines are both mundane tasks that we often take for granted but also opportunities to find new meaning when done consciously with intention

Rituals are a way of life for many people. They are a means to connect with the spiritual world, and they can be used as a powerful tool in everyday life. Read more in detail here: rituals daily routines.

Vintage Etching Man at Desk writing in Candlelight.

The summer of 1854 had given Henry David Thoreau a suffocating melancholy, one that had left him feeling “trivial,” “cheap,” and “unprofitable.” He missed the intensity with which he had lived during his Walden years because the air was dry, the heat was never-ending, and civilization was pushing in too close around him. So he welcomed the crisp evenings that came with autumn with delight, taking advantage of them by going for lengthy walks in the moonlight. Thoreau compared his daily, hour-long walks to heroic pilgrimages in which crusaders reclaimed “this Holy Land from the clutches of the Infidels,” and he brought a similar questing spirit to his nighttime forays into the woods.

The adversary was spirit-suffocating triviality, and Thoreau discovered that his night walks were very efficient in combating it. He enjoyed the cold wetness and mist, reflecting on how the same moonlight had fallen on humanity for thousands of years, and pondering how the darkness awoke primal impulses and mirrored the human psyche. He often wandered beside a river, reveling in the scenery. “The sound of bubbling water fills my buckets, overflows my float boards, transforms all of my nature’s gear, turns me into a flume, a sluice-way to the natural springs.” As a result, I am cleansed; as a result, I drink and satisfy my thirst.”

While Thoreau’s midnight, sense-awakening treks grew more common, they never became pedestrianized. They were never just a means of getting from one place to another. Rather, they served a higher purpose than mechanics; they were holy occasions for him to re-create himself.

His walks were more like rituals than routines for him.

If your life has been feeling frivolous, cheap, and unproductive, converting one of your regular activities into a spirit-renewing ritual might be the answer. Today, we’ll look at how you go about doing that. 

What Is the Difference Between a Ritual and a Routine?

Routines and rituals are both made up of repeated behaviors that are carried out on a regular basis. However, there are a few significant variations between them.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of ritual is the absence of a strictly practical link between the performed methods and the intended outcomes. Shaking hands and creating a new friend, tossing one’s graduation hat in the air and ending a chapter in one’s life, or making the sign of the cross and receiving heavenly grace and strength, for example, have no direct empirical causation. All of these rituals have historical, cultural, and spiritual justifications, but in the absence of this framework, the behaviors are ineffective. A ritual has a deeper significance and purpose that goes beyond its visible components.

Routines, on the other hand, use methods that are realistically linked to their goals. When you wash your teeth or drive to work, your only goals are to remove tartar and go to work, and the activities you do empirically help you achieve these objectives. Routines’ effectiveness is based on the behaviors themselves. A routine has no higher significance or purpose; it is performed for its own sake.


Second, routines may be completed quickly and easily. You could show up at work with no idea how you got there. Some rituals demand a distinct form of submersion of self-consciousness as one loses oneself in the act, although rituals often involve a heightening of cognition rather than a cessation of cognition. The effectiveness of a ritual is often determined by how well it is performed. Performing it in this manner requires a high level of concentration and mental present.

Because of these distinctions, a routine and a ritual are capable of achieving various goals. A routine produces an outward and tangible effect, such as clean teeth or on-time attendance at work. An interior and transcendent result of a ritual is a concentrated mind, enlarged spirit, or renewed commitment to a purpose. A ritual cannot simply be a routine; nevertheless, as we’ll see, a routine may be transformed into a ritual.

What Are the Advantages of Creating Life Rituals?

In our contemporary environment, there is a lot of opposition to ritual, both institutionally and personally. Some people consider rituals to be tedious and unnecessary, meaningless and empty, or just too much labor. Others regard rituals with suspicion, believing them to be excessively superstitious and insufficiently logical.

However, there are several reasons to reconsider rituals as very efficient techniques to improve your life on a number of levels. We’ve already discussed the multiple advantages of rituals, especially at the institutional level. Let’s take a look at those advantages as they pertain to making your own today:

Rituals help you to concentrate and center your thoughts. Much of our time is spent going through the motions of meaningless rituals, addressing a swarm of never-ending to-dos, putting out “urgent” fires, and surfing in a spaced-out haze from website to website and social media feed to social media feed. Rituals bring you back to the present now by refreshing your awareness of what is in front of you and focusing your attention on specific objects, bodily sensations, or ideas. You must focus on what you’re doing and behave with caution and forethought.

Set routines may help you not only calm your mind on a regular basis, but also carry you through moments when bigger irruptions have erupted in your life. In an otherwise grief-stricken or stressful moment, a morning shaving practice, for example, might become a balm — a solitary daily pocket of quiet and centering.

The focus training you get through ritual will carry over into other aspects of your life, boosting your attention span for other activities that need intense concentration. Professor Calvin Newport writes in his upcoming book, Deep Work, that many notable men utilized rituals as a way to prepare for immersive work sessions: “Their rituals lessened the friction in this shift to depth, enabling them to go deep more readily and remain in the state longer.”

Rituals help people become more aware of their bodies. We might frequently feel like disembodied non-beings floating about unattached to reality in the digital era. Physicality is an important component of ritual, and it helps to counterbalance these sensations by fostering greater embodiment and revitalizing our connection with the physical world.


Prehistoric humans, for example, had several hunting-related rituals, including pre-hunt rituals to boost the odds of bagging game, rituals for killing the animals, rituals for cutting them up and handling the body, and rituals for eating the flesh. They were tied to the cycles of life and death via such ceremonies. Today, we eat our meals without even tasting them. We’re cut off from the process of obtaining and consuming food, which might have negative consequences for our health. Rituals, such as saying grace before a meal or brewing coffee in a French press, may help us slow down and reconnect with what we’re doing right now, reorienting our bodies in time and place.

Ritual encourages a higher feeling of embodiment, which not only benefits the individual, but also improves the efficacy of the desired deed. Making particular motions and positioning your body in various physical postures may impact your mood and thinking. Kneeling, for example, will make you feel more respectful and modest than laying in bed if you want to immerse yourself in intense prayer. Walking may also stimulate your thoughts in ways that sitting at a computer cannot.

Rituals call forth particular abilities and inspiration. While we frequently believe that inspiration is a mysterious, spontaneous energy that must be waited for, it may really be enticed to come to us. In fact, rigid uniformity has been shown to tempt the muses more than irregularity time and time again. A regulated conduit — or, in other words, a ritual — allows special powers of mind and spirit to flow more freely.

The varied rituals that many authors undergo before starting work in the aim of preparing their brains for inspiration are a wonderful illustration of this. Some people make a pot of strong coffee, take a stroll, or clean their desk of everything except their laptop. Author Steven Pressfield discusses the pre-writing practice he performs to prepare his mind to overcome what he refers to as “The Resistance” in his book The War of Art:

“I wake up, shower, and have breakfast. I clean my teeth while reading the newspaper. If I have to make a phone call, I do so. Now that I’ve had my coffee, I’m ready to go. I slip on my fortunate work boots and tie the lucky laces my niece Meredith gave me. I return to my office and turn on the computer. My fortunate hooded sweatshirt is thrown over the chair, along with the lucky charm I bought for eight francs from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. It was put on by myself. My lucky cannon, which my buddy Bob Versandi sent me from Morro Castle, Cuba, sits on my thesaurus. I direct it towards my chair, hoping that it would inspire me. I recite my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translated by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, which was given to me by my great friend Paul Rink and which rests near my shelf with my father’s cuff links and my lucky acorn from the Thermopylae battlefield. It’s presently about ten-thirty. I take a seat and dive right in.”


Do Pressfield’s invocations and numerous totems have an effect on his writing? Far be it from me to rule anything out, but a large part of their strength comes from the way they mentally prepare him for the work ahead. Following the stages of the ritual increases his receptivity to inspiration as well as any other unknown energies or powers that may be lurking about his workspace.

Sacred time and space are created through rituals. The concept that there are fundamentally “two forms of being in the universe” was popularized by religion historian Mircea Eliade. Our natural, secular existence are made up of the profane, but the holy is a mysterious and awe-inspiring mystery — a “manifestation of an entirely distinct order.”

In a traditional civilization, all of man’s fundamental functions had a utilitarian purpose while also having the potential to be transformed into something divine. Everything from eating to sex to labor has the potential to “become a sacrament,” or a “communion with the holy.” Such activities have been desacralized and disillusioned in today’s completely secular environment.

Personal rituals might help you bring some of that magic back into your life. And it’s not only for religious people who are looking for it. Even if you wouldn’t call it “holy,” we all yearn for moments of higher importance – moments that are exceptional and unusual and provide insight into the bigger picture. The authors of All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, refer to this sensation as a “whooshing up,” in which “the most genuine things in the world manifest themselves to us.”

Rituals may enable more of life whoosh up to us by establishing the conditions in which we become more susceptible to extraordinary sensations and inspiration. Rituals enable people to “separate themselves, partly if not completely, from the roles and statuses they occupy in the workaday world” and cross a “threshold in time and space or both,” as Eliade puts it. They enhance one’s life by adding not just more mystery and wonder, but also a richer sense of texture. Life might appear flat and one-dimensional when the landscape of one’s existence consists of an unending expanse of the profane. Rituals enable us to navigate between the mundane and the holy, allowing us to experience life in new ways.

How Can You Tell If a Routine Can Become a Ritual?

We’re accustomed to thinking of hallowed, centering, inspiration-inviting items in association with large, dramatic religious organizations or more formal spiritual activities, so this may all seem a little strange. But rituals don’t have to be tied to existing groups or conjured up out of thin air. They may be made out of the most mundane materials, including your everyday activities. There are activities you do every day that, with a little tweaking and some focus, may become strong personal rituals.

However, not every routine is suited to this transition. So, how can you tell whether someone has the capacity to become ritualized? Remember that a ritual serves a function that extends beyond the mechanics of the routine. The next step is to determine which of your habits already have a hidden importance that you have previously overlooked. “The project…is not to pick what to care about, but to find what it is about which one already cares,” as Dreyfus and Kelly phrased it. They give some tips for thinking through the subject by using the example of considering if one’s daily coffee drinking ritual may be converted into something more:


“It’s unrealistic to expect every moment of one’s life to be a hallowed celebration of meaning and value. Indeed, there is undoubtedly something in us that opposes or perhaps prevents us from doing so. But it’s one thing to put up with a lack of significance; it’s quite another to embrace it. We must separate ourselves from others if we are to be human beings at all; there must be times when we climb beyond the generic and banal and into the specific and effectively engaged. But how can one tell whether one of these occasions is the coffee-drinking ritual?

The only way to find out is to study and observe. You may have been oblivious to the fact that you already care about coffee consumption. To find out whether this is the case, ask if you consider the procedure to be functionally interchangeable. Part of what makes the morning routine so enjoyable is that it wakes you up. Would something that jolted you awake be just as good? In a hurry, might a fast sniff of cocaine suffice? Alternatively, if that’s too harsh, how about a little caffeine tablet to take on the way to the car? If these dialogues appeal to you, then the coffee is merely doing its job of waking you up. In such situation, any stimulant would suffice. However, there are features of the coffee-drinking ritual that go beyond its purpose, characteristics about which you already care, to the point that they do not seem to be tempting alternatives.”

Consider your current daily routines: getting dressed in the morning, eating breakfast, exercising, reading in the evening, and so on. Identify those where you might replace them with functionally comparable activities without suffering too much loss. Perhaps you shave with a safety razor and have no desire to transition to a cartridge razor; shaving is simply a part of your daily routine for you. Consider procedures in which replacing some of the items might make a difference. You may be a runner, and although you might receive the same cardiovascular advantages from the elliptical machine, you’d never consider substituting one workout for the other. Because you care about your daily run in a level that goes beyond its utilitarian value, it has the potential to become a ritual.

How Do You Make a Ritual Out of a Routine?

Once you’ve found a routine that has a deeper meaning and purpose for you than just being functional, the next step is to tamper with its components to increase its importance and turn it into a true ritual.

By returning to the coffee-drinking example, Dreyfus and Kelly describe how to achieve this by first identifying the portions of the routine that are not replaceable and that are significant to you, and then consciously increasing those elements:

“The key to discovering these differences is to ask yourself a few more easy questions. What is it about a cup of coffee that you prefer over a caffeine tablet or a cup of tea? Is there anything about coffee—not only its energizing impact, but also its scent, warmth, the ritual of sipping it, or something else—that makes you want to do this instead of something else? And, if there is, what sort of coffee-making procedure, what kind of coffee-drinking companions or locations, and what kind of coffee cup would best bring these things out?


These aren’t questions that can be answered in a vacuum. You should give it a go and see what happens. If you like the warmth of coffee on a cold winter day, sipping it in a warm part of the home, maybe by the fire with a blanket, and in a cup that transfers the warmth to your hands, may well serve to bring out the best in this ritual. If it’s the coffee’s striking black color that draws your attention and accentuates the scent, a cup with a gleaming white inside could help. However, there is no one solution to the issue of what makes the ritual desirable, and the only way to find the relevant differences is via exploration and observation, which comes with its own set of dangers and benefits.”

Evaluate what you may change in these areas when you consider the components of your routine that might be improved to make it into a ritual:

Atmosphere & Location There’s a reason why most faiths encourage their followers to exercise their beliefs in public as well as in private. Gathering in community is a part of it. But it’s also because altering one’s physical location may shift one’s viewpoint and prepare the mind to worship more deeply.

Similarly, constructing holy space on purpose may help you symbolically cross a threshold out of your everyday life and elevate your own routines. Reading on the sofa while your wife watches TV is unlikely to seem contemplative, but reading in a quiet nook of the home with just a kerosene light will.

Sacred space does not have to be contained within four walls; if you’ve decided that fresh air and a sense of physical freedom are two of the most important aspects of your running routine that make you prefer it to the elliptical machine, amplify those qualities by not only doing more of your running outside, but also moving off the asphalt trails and into the woods.

Objects. We have a tendency to disregard the physical world, dismissing all items as “stuff.” Objects, from candles to clothes, have long been vital parts of spiritual ceremonies all around the globe. Because they are extensions of the embodiment of ritual, they are powerful instruments that may improve the experience. So pay attention to the things in your everyday routine and evaluate how fiddling with them can help you better tap into the deeper meaning you’re looking for.

Take, for example, journaling. It may seem absurd that switching out your BIC pen and spiral notebook may transform a habit into a ritual, but it does. If you want to leave a record of your life to future generations, writing in a beautiful leather-bound diary — something you can see your great-grandchildren leafing through one day — may make you feel more committed to the effort. Alternatively, if you keep a notebook to sift through your ideas, writing with a fountain pen may enhance your flow.


Another example is shaving, where it’s simple to see how things may transform a routine into a ritual. If shaving is more than just eliminating your stubble in the morning, but also a moment to center your thoughts for the day ahead, you may prefer a safety razor over a cartridge since it requires you to slow down and focus on what you’re doing. Using your grandfather’s safety razor, rather than simply any other, might act as a daily reminder to become a strong connection in your family’s generations of males.

Timing. Some routines may feel more significant to you when performed at different times of the day. Taking a stroll in the morning may seem mundane, while taking a walk at night may seem mystical and intriguing. Shining your shoes, on the other hand, may seem like a dreaded duty at night, but a mind-calming routine in the morning. At various times of the day, there are environmental factors that may work in your favor or against your mood and the overall goal of your routine.

Mindset. What an exercise accomplishes for your thinking is a huge part of what lifts it beyond the simply mechanical. Finding methods to amp up this impact is a key part of converting a routine into a ritual. If you cherish your daily stroll for the chance it provides to think through difficult issues and gain new insights, prepare for it by reading something substantial and thought-provoking before you leave the house. Similarly, if one of the reasons you take cold showers is to feel more grit and resilience, enhance your confidence by reading a chapter from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations shortly before you disrobe.

The more you attempt to improve the aforementioned components, the more ritualistic your habits will become. Before heading for a run in the woods, read some Thoreau. While shaving with your safety razor, listen to classical music. In the morning, in your sunroom, journal with your fountain pen. By candlelight, with a nice cup of tea, read your scriptures at night. You may transform your mundane existence into one filled with deeper meaning, purpose, and enchantment by attempting to transform your mundane routines into spirit-renewing rituals.

Listen to William Ayot’s podcast about a man’s desire for ritual:



Rituals are actions that we perform to make sense of the world. They can be anything from a religious ceremony, to a daily habit, or even just going for a walk in nature. Routines are mundane activities that we do on a daily basis. While both rituals and routines are necessary for survival, it is important to note that rituals offer more meaning than routines do. Reference: ritual vs routine.

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