Over the course of several centuries, the original meaning of some words in our language—a living thing—changes, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, especially when the word loses impact and significance.  Two of those words are ritual and routine. 

Because of another word—repetition–ritual and routine often mean the same thing to us most of the time.  A look at a current dictionary will show you that both words have the idea of a repeated “procedure” as one of several meanings.

But all you need to do is look at the words themselves to see how they might really be different from one another.

Mindless Routine

Routine comes from the French, spelled the same way, meaning “usual course of action, beaten path” from its root, route, meaning way, path, course.  In other words, a routine is a path or course of action that you repeat or travel over and over again.  Routines makes life easier and more efficient because thought is no longer required to perform the action.

Routines showering and brushing your teeth do not usually require anything other than that you are awake and functioning.


Rituals, however, are more about mindfulness than mindlessness.

From the Latin word, ritualis, relating to (religious) rites (from ritus, “rite”, religious observance or ceremony), the word implies a set of actions related to the transcendent or sacred.  The more formalized version of ritual, of course, is that found in church and temple.

Unfortunately, in current usage, ritual too often gets raised to impersonal heights of church or temple, or reduced to the mundane equivalent of routine.

But you can use rituals to add depth, focus and awareness to your personal, family, and even business lives. While there may be a pattern of repeated actions in these types of rituals, the purpose of the enacted patterns is to bring a mindfulness to the moment.

Whether that ritual is a hot cup of tea or coffee when you need a break, kissing your kids goodbye when they leave for school, saying a prayer over your meals, or taking time to write in a journal at the end of the day, rituals big and small enhance life and bring magic and mindfulness to moments throughout your day.

Authors use all kinds of rituals for their writing process, from lighting candles, to playing certain music, to using a favorite pen.

Are you using rituals? What simple rituals might help you bring more mindfulness to some activity or time in your day?