Routines and rituals have been around for as long as human civilization has been around, but why have they persisted so long? We have discovered with science that these rituals not only have spiritual benefits; they actually have health advantages and cause us to perform better.
How do rituals and routines nourish and enrich our lives? These are some of the ways that these behaviors benefit the way we live each day:
- They make us more efficient
- They give us the gift of emotional recall
- They forge a link to the past and present
- They reduce anxiety and increase confidence
- They call us to action and increase belonging
- They bring appreciation and awareness of the seasons
- They teach practical skills and create meaning in our lives
Are you interested in learning more about why routines and rituals are such an intrinsic part of our society? Read on to find out more about how routines and rituals shape our daily lives.
Routines and Rituals Make Us More Efficient
By turning a regularly performed action into a ritual, or incorporating it into a routine, our brain commits a large portion of the action to automated functions. This means that we can do the task more quickly and effectively than if we did it differently each time.
While athletes have attached rituals to their athletic activities for centuries, science has only now begun to show how ritualizing our behaviors make us better at them. So athletes are naturally drawn to rituals because they quantifiably increase performance.
The more often an action is performed the same way, the more the brain learns to automate that action for increased efficiency. This is where the concept of “muscle memory” originates.
“By connecting memory and action to the senses, rituals, and routines allow us to feel the way we felt during a memory. This is why people feel deep pangs of nostalgia while looking at Christmas lights, or from the smell of homemade bread.” ~ Simple Minded
Routines and Rituals Give Us the Gift of Emotional Recall
Routines and rituals are often centered around the senses, and in many spiritual and religious services, rituals are combined with sensory cues such as taste (communion wafers/feast foods) or smell (incense) in order to reinforce one’s emotional connection with the activity at hand.
By connecting memory and action to the senses, rituals, and routines allow us to feel the way we felt during a memory. This is why people feel deep pangs of nostalgia while looking at Christmas lights, or from the smell of homemade bread.
Sensory cues that pertain to routines and rituals bring up in people the emotions and mental states associated with those rituals. For this reason, rituals and routines are often used to inflict a certain mental state (in the case of holiday parties, holiday cheer) or emotion (the collective grief of wakes and funerals).
Routines and Rituals Forge a Link to the Past
Because routines and rituals reinforce memory, memories of rituals become part of the collective consciousness of a social group who shares them. We use these shared memories of past actions to bond through identity.
By remembering past rituals, we can both:
- Connect to a higher purpose
- Display our solidarity with older generations
- Create bonds
Routines and rituals can also be used to break a link with the past. When a ritual or routine becomes unhealthy, it causes us to rebel against it and can ultimately lead to the ritual or routine being discarded.
This can be seen in the ritual of smoking cigarettes, which was a popular ritual in the past that was deeply embedded in popular culture and was a part of many people’s daily routines. However, it has been shunned by younger generations due to its health hazards.
Routines and Rituals Reduce Anxiety
Rituals are often performed around high-anxiety occasions and the actions associated with them often have a calming effect on the person carrying out the ritual. This is because performing rituals objectively reduces anxiety.
Because rituals have a calming effect, they are often used in conjunction with rites of passage, such as baptisms or bar mitzvahs.
Daily routines reduce anxiety because they automate many of our actions, which leaves our brain in a more relaxed state. We feel much more mentally exhausted when we have to manually choose each action we execute versus working on autopilot from repetition to complete a task.
Routines and Rituals Increase Confidence
By connecting physical action and sensory cues to emotionally and mentally tense scenarios, rituals give us something to latch on to in a time when we might otherwise be overwhelmed or stressed.
Knowing that other people are performing the same physical ritual actions can also increase our confidence as part of the group.
Routines make us more confident because anything done in repetition becomes a practice, and practice naturally increases competency as time goes on. The better we becomes at an action, the more confident we are at doing it.
“Simple routines can build into successful dynamic lives full of smart choices.” ~ Simple Minded
Routines and Rituals Bring Our Awareness to the Present
While routines and rituals form an important link to our past, they also help on a more daily basis to bring our focus to the present. Small daily rituals help keep us grounded and focused on our daily lives, rather than worrying about intangible troubles.
Being more aware and present in our daily routines is a very good way to practice mental and spiritual discipline. In fact, Buddhist monks are expected to treat all manners of chores as equally viable methods of meditation, and will meditate during the following activities:
- Washing dishes
- Walking in the garden
- Pulling weeds
Used daily, routines and rituals help to keep us focused on what’s right in front of us, and their incorporation of sensory cues keeps us engaged in the present.
Routines and Rituals Call Action to Action
No matter how simple or small, routines and rituals are physical actions, and performing them can help draw us out of a rut when we are feeling like we can’t make an impact on anything in our lives.
Whether it’s a small daily ritual to display gratitude or a cleaning routine, little bits of progress can snowball into major life changes when we use rituals and routines to reinforce positive habits in our lives.
Performing a physical action not only brings your mind’s attention to an issue, it also encourages you to follow action with more action. This is how simple routines can build into successful dynamic lives full of smart choices.
Routines and Rituals Bring People Together
Routines and rituals are some of the oldest forms of social bonding in human civilization. From the daily chore of building a fire together to the ritual of lighting a menorah at Hanukkah, rituals are a way for people to identify positively with each other through collective action and intent.
These actions are a way for people with the same intent to come together for a unified purpose, and these small actions can lead them to connect in larger ways.
Because routines make work go more easily and quickly, routines in team environments in the workplace help improve efficiency and decrease busywork. They also give people the leeway to bond socially while on the job. These routines also encourage cooperation.
Routines and Rituals Create Meaning
A lot of the meaning in life – we create ourselves. Routines and rituals are a way we can build our lives through deliberate choice, and the rituals and routines associated with those choices.
When we use rituals and routines, we are attempting to invoke the spirit of the action we’re performing. So by putting on some high energy fun music every time you decide to clean your house, you are attributing meaning to the activity–that is, you’re making it a game.
A different person might use ritual and routine to turn their day of chores into a drill sergeant’s inspection, complete with checklist. A person’s individualized routines and rituals that they tailor to create meaning in their lives will be very dependent on their personality and preferences.
Routines and Rituals Create Appreciation
As humans, we enjoy structure, and rituals and routines give us that structure on two levels:
- Macro level: Seasonal changes, annual holidays or rituals, monthly routines; these are the rituals that give meaning to the passage of time.
- Micro level: By building routine into our daily lives, we create meaning in what would otherwise be mundane tasks, and we assign an abstract positive value to those tasks.
Once we value a task as something more than itself, we are able to appreciate it. This can be seen in pagan rituals to cleanse a home space by sweeping and physically cleaning it out to disperse negative energy.
Normally we would see house-cleaning as a tedious chore to be undertaken, and not to be enjoyed. But if we make the ritual association of cleaning with sweeping away negativity and renewal, we appreciate it more because it has a positive value outside of the action itself.
Routines and Rituals Display Our Values to Others
The routines and rituals we indulge in on a day to day basis are one of our truest forms of creative expression as individuals because, in our daily actions, we show people exactly who we are.
A person whose daily routine involves meticulously sorting the recycling every morning before work will be seen and perceived as a very different person than one who celebrates every Friday off with a ritual bottle of whiskey.
Not only do these rituals and routines display our value to others, but they also are a way for us to demonstrate our values in our daily lives. By acting in accordance with our values in daily routines and in routine-affirming rituals, we commit to a social identity and a lifestyle.
“In our daily actions, we show people exactly who we are.” ~ Simple Minded
Routines and Rituals Reinforce Visualization
Visualization is a technique often used by people in order to increase their efficiency, their productivity, or to help them stay motivated towards a goal. By associating physical actions with the same goals that we are addressing in visualization, we can use rituals and routines to reinforce positive visualization.
Visualization is similar to memory, and if you have memories of physical sensations or sensory cues to associate with an abstract concept (like success or calm), then using rituals can help you get to that mental state more quickly.
By taking advantage of the connection between memory and the senses, rituals can boost our visualizations and give them increased clarity and psychological effectiveness.
Routines and Rituals Reinforce Habit
A famous person once said, “You are what you do every day.” A man is not the accumulation of his values, but the accumulation of his habits.
By attaching positive value-based routines and rituals to your daily tasks, you are reinforcing the repetition of those tasks and increasing their chance of becoming a positive habit. A bunch of positive habits strung together are the building blocks of a happy and successful life.
Routines and rituals can also be used to reinforce bad habits, so in order to get rid of bad habits, it’s usually recommended to replace that bad habit (usually the result of an automated daily routine) with a good habit. Here are a few examples:
- Trading cut vegetables for chips when the urge to snack strikes
- Buying gum at the gas station instead of cigarettes on your daily commute
- Setting an alarm clock across the room to avoid the bad habit of hitting the snooze button
“A bunch of positive habits strung together are the building blocks of a happy and successful life.” ~ Simple Minded
Routines and Rituals Provide Structure and Stability
The world can be a scary place, and if you look at all of the various elements of it without any kind of a lens, it can be bewildering and overwhelming. Routines and rituals give us a way to compartmentalize and analyze our lives in order to give the actions its meaning.
Without daily routines, the world would seem like a much more chaotic place, which is why people naturally flock to them for security. We drink the same brand of coffee, always say hi to our neighbors, or always check the backseat of the car when we get inside it at night.
While these actions can seem superstitious or idiosyncratic in nature, they are actually an individual’s way of impressing order on the world. Without these small rituals, life would feel completely unpredictable.
Routines and Rituals Connect Us to Nature and the Seasons
Many of the major annual rituals in human history have been connected to nature’s seasons and to agriculture. This is because, for a large part of our history, nature’s seasons dictated how we lived. It dictated how much light we have, the weather, and the crops.
Some rituals associated with seasonal change include the following:
- Halloween and autumn harvest festivals
- Easter and spring planting festivals
- Christmas and winter celebratory festivals
- Backyard barbeques during the summer (which coincide with historical feasting times of agricultural plenty)
By continuing to indulge in rituals and routines related to the seasons, we acknowledge the passing of time in a concrete way, and acknowledge how the seasons and cycles of life affect us throughout the year.
Back in the day, these seasonal rituals were a good way for people to know when to cull their herds, plant their seed, or reap their harvest. Nowadays, they’re usually an excuse for some good old-fashioned fun and celebration. But these rituals continue to give us a solid connection to nature.
Routines and Rituals Teach Practical Skills
Many of the routines and rituals we use in daily life teach us practical skills, and the daily nature of routines helps to make us better at them. Even something so simple as sweeping the kitchen floor every morning will lead to a cleaner house overall through practice and repetition.
In the case of historical practical skills, such as preserving jams and jellies, hunting and foraging, or picking fruit, rituals built around these skills (such as the ritual of going to a pick-your-own berry patch or a yearly fishing trip) help to teach younger generations how to perform the actions associated with them.
Along with giving the older generation something that they can pass down to younger generations as a way of bonding socially and cementing group identity, if taught these skills by ritual repetition, the younger generation is more likely to pass them down again.
Routines and Rituals Give Us Tools to Direct Our Lives
With the tools of routine and ritual at our disposal, we can create daily actions that both display our values and give our lives personal meaning. These actions, no matter how small, help to enrich and nourish our daily lives.
While many people would like to attach a positive label to themselves, such as “environmentalist,” it is the rituals and routines associated with the value system, such as recycling, protest demonstrations, and calls to awareness that allow a person to live out a lifestyle in accordance with those values.
“By using our intent to shape our actions – routines, and rituals give us the tools to shape our daily lives.” ~ Simple Minded
Whenever we shift our personal paradigms, we adapt new rituals and routines that reinforce that conscious decision. By using our intent to shape our actions – routines, and rituals give us the tools to shape our daily lives.
Routines and Rituals are Good for Health
Routines and rituals aren’t just emotionally satisfying, they’re also good for us. Science has shown that performing rituals and daily routines can lower anxiety levels, increase focus, and strengthen the immune system.
During periods of grieving, the associated funeral rites and rituals can provide emotional and mental support for those left behind, resulting in a positive social bonding experience despite the loss.
Daily routines and rituals that invoke nostalgia and memory recall also help reinforce the emotional stability of the elderly, especially those with dementia. These routines can also be very soothing to those with sensory processing disorders, such as autism.
Routines and Rituals Are Important for Human Culture
While a person might not see much overarching significance in their daily walk with their dog (rain or shine) or the ritual of stopping by a loved one’s grave each year in remembrance, these small actions connect them with the larger patterns of their lives.
In this way, routines and rituals have been significant building blocks in the creation of human culture and are a vital way in which we communicate our personal identity to others.
Are there any routines and rituals you do on a daily basis to enrich your life? When we take the time to reflect we often find there are many we use that are automated.
Are there any routines and rituals that are no longer serving you or that need a refresh?
Are there any areas of your life that would benefit from implementing a new routine or ritual?