Ritual or Routine - Which will you Choose?

A few weeks back I went to a Japanese tea ceremony at the Nitobe Gardens at UBC. Now I have made a lot of tea in my life (and coffee) but I was truly struck by the whole process and how deliberate and conscious it was. Care was given during each step in the preparation of the tea. There was no rushing, and the women preparing the tea only held one thing in each hand at a time. They were totally focused on what they were doing, in the moment. 

Sometimes I drive somewhere and when I arrive I have no idea how I got there. Does that ever happen to you?  It’s a bit scary really, that I can drive across a city and not have an ounce of memory of the trip. That tells me I have a lot on my mind, and it makes me wonder, how often am I truly paying attention as I go about my day?

Ritual has been on mind for the past few months and especially now that it’s that holiday time of year, a time that evokes memories of rituals and traditions begun generations ago, and excitement about what is to come. A time to reunite with friends and family and share food and exchange gifts and stories. I love so much about this time of year, and there are also parts I could do without. 

I love to give gifts. Particularly when I know they will bring lasting joy or make someone’s life better in some small way. I don’t do a ton of Christmas shopping anymore, mostly because most of my close friends and family don’t need anything. Instead of exchanging gifts we often choose to have get togethers and maybe go out for a nice meal where no one has to cook or clean up. But there is some gifting…and it’s a slippery slope from buying something that will light up someone’s face to buying something because we feel to have to. 

Gift giving can be a ritual, or a routine. Like the familiar drive across town.

Over the past few months I’ve given a lot of thought to ritual, and what it means. I keep seeing articles that discuss the 5 things successful people do every day, and how morning rituals are key to productivity or mindfulness. And I don’t dispute that, but I have noticed something. Doing the same thing every day or every week or every year doesn’t necessarily make me mindful, instead it can easily be mind-less. That’s the difference between ritual and routine. 

For me, ritual is something that I am fully present for, participating in an act or way of being that is fully conscious and done with intention. And it’s easy for a ritual to become a routine - something we do unconsciously, like driving home from work. Have you ever had that experience of doing something, or going somewhere, but you can’t remember actually doing it? That’s a routine. Asking someone how they are without listening to the answer. Buying gifts just to check things off a list. Doing a workout. Cooking dinner without thinking about where the food came. 

There’s nothing wrong with routine, it can actually be relaxing and therapeutic in some ways. And then there are times when it serves us to be more conscious, to notice what we are doing in the moment, and who we are with. To really notice, and use all of our senses and appreciate what is before us or in us, without thinking about the list, or the next thing on the calendar. 

That’s my intention for this holiday season, and the coming year. I’ve begun with myself, by really paying attention when I am doing something active, noticing how my body feels, what hurts, what muscles are tight, what feels good. And now I’m working on turning my attention outward to whoever is in front of me, or whatever task I am engaged in. And what I notice is I am enjoying myself and others more. I am more able to appreciate the good and consciously choose what I want more of. It feels good to be noticed. That might be the best gift ever.


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas...



#staycurious #leadership #create

Want to learn more or connect with Sue?

Connect on Facebook

Buy my book.

Follow Sue on Twitter @constantjourney or Instagram @curiouscoach