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Routine Sets You Free, but Rituals Feed Your Soul

pool at Seap point with city in the background

Most of us are creatures of habit, right? But how often do you focus on the experience of the task, rather than just ticking it off your list?

Take breakfast as a simple example – when last did you enjoy the soft morning light and savour each sip of your coffee, rather than gulping it down, iPhone in one hand and cold toast in the other, having been interrupted or distracted 10 times while trying to eat it?!

Both habits and routines are regular and repeated actions. Habits are triggered by cues and happen with little or no conscious thought; whereas routines require a bit more intention and effort. They require deliberate practice. The trick is to be conscious of which routines become habits, so that you can have healthy habits that have a positive impact on your life. 

If we take this one step further, we get to rituals – which are actions we do with purpose and mindfulness. They are a way to put your values into practice. According to a Ness Labs article, “The difference between a routine and a ritual is the attitude behind the action. While routines can be actions that just need to be done—such as making your bed or taking a shower—rituals are viewed as more meaningful practices which have a real sense of purpose.”

If we go back to the breakfast example, making your morning cup of coffee can be transformed into a ritual. My friend Emma Newbery comes to mind with this one – she buys her beans from a local roastery called Badger House, uses an antique cast iron coffee grinder to hand grind just enough for her morning cup, and then makes it in an aeropress or nanopress, depending on her mood.

One of my favourite rituals is swimming at the Sea Point pool with my dad. The routine is going twice a week to exercise, but the ritual is taking a moment to just stand still to take stock of the beauty around me – the vast ocean just metres away, Lion’s Head towering above us, and the sun popping over Signal Hill a few minutes earlier or later each morning as the seasons change. That moment when it touches my back in the pool feels like sunshine filtering right through me, giving me a sense of energy and purpose for the day ahead. It’s my meditation time, and a ritual that I’ve come to cherish and rely on.

Another quote I came across in an SBS article that I really resonate with is, “Rituals motivate and move us. Through ritual we build families and community, we make transitions and mark important events in our lives, we express ourselves in joy and sorrow, and perhaps, most importantly, we create and sustain identity.” 

So my challenge to you is to pick one habit, and make it a ritual – do it with more consciousness and purpose. It doesn’t have to be big or daunting, just something that will add meaning to your life, and help you be the best version of yourself.

And finally I’ll leave you with one of my favourite extracts from ‘How will you measure your life’ by Clayton M Christensen:

 “If the decisions you make about where to invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.” 

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