Each Saturday, my boyfriend and I visit our local bagel shop and order the same items from the grill: I get a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel on a white or wheat roll (depending on my mood), and he gets a turkey bacon, egg, and cheese bagel on an onion roll.
We’ve done this ever since we moved into our apartment. Thus, when my partner remembered our weekly ritual, my heart absolutely lightened.
I distinctly and purposely call our Saturday bagel run a “ritual,” not a routine. When people hear the word “ritual,” they may think of a magickal practice or religious ceremony. The truth is, however, many of us participate (and celebrate!) commonplace rituals that occur day to day. But what’s the difference between a routine and a ritual? Or, to get even more precise, the difference between a habit, ritual, or routine?
Ness Labs offer a useful clarification in this article:
“Both habits and routines are regular and repeated actions, but habits happen with little or no conscious thought, whereas routines require a higher degree of intention and effort.”
Habits are actions you don’t consciously decide to do, such as tapping your feet whenever “Uptown Funk” plays on the radio or picking your nose when no one is looking (not all habits are pretty!). On the other hand, routines require deliberate thought. For example, doing yoga after work every evening. Granted, many ordinary routines can feel like habits (like brushing your teeth) since the action is so engrained in your everyday life. It might seem we are doing them unconsciously, however, we’re still aware of the behaviors we do in our routines; the awareness surpasses a certain mental threshold, and you must maintain that minimum level of awareness for the action to be consistently performed.
Rituals take it one step further. They go beyond habits, and are more than routines. Similar to the latter, they are conscious behaviors, though behind them lies a greater meaning and purpose. As the Circuelle Foundation states, “Rituals, unlike habits, are done with deliberate intention and concentration.” They require your primary attention and engagement, going beyond simply feeling there is a task to be completed. There is a focus, a resolve, a determination to achieve the action, usually for some purpose outside of oneself, to undergo a full, richer experience.
Now, by definition, you may claim that my weekend trips to the bagel shop is technically a routine. And you would be right. That said, I have personally deemed this activity a ritual for a greater reason: For me, Bagel Saturday is a ritual because it helped my partner and I establish a sense of comfort and familiarity living in a new town. It became an event that brings us closer together since we get to treat each other to food we enjoy. Plus, it allows us to make time, even if just a quick store run, for each other to be together. Most of all, it gives us something to look forward to at the end of the work week — whether we had a good or bad one. It’s special to us, and we set the intention to always carve out time to go and purchase our bagel sandwiches. That is why it has become our ritual.
Of course, others may hold rituals that do not revolve around quotidian activities, though it’s far from uncommon for people to create rituals for “common” events. You can turn a routine shower or bath into a ritual by breathing intention and bringing an air of mindfulness to your wash. This can involve setting candles around the tub, using Epsom salts, or simply coming into an awareness during this routine. Realize what you are doing in the moment and appreciate it, for all its worth — no matter how seemingly insignificant the things you notice or feel may be.
Take a moment now to think about what rituals you practice. Do you hold an Easter breakfast every year? Do you say grace before eating dinner? Do you meditate every evening in a quiet nook at home? Or while doing crunches at the gym? Acknowledge these rituals — use this moment to cherish them. Even more, think about a new ritual you wish to begin, or how you can turn a habit or routine into something more so it turns into a ritual.
In fact, I will commit to changing up my bagel ritual. Next time, I’ll get a ham, egg, and cheese on a rainbow bagel 😉.
Julia Collucci writes big thoughts about the things she sees on her walks in both local neighborhoods and far-away places. Follow her Medium account Little Walks, Big Thoughts to read more of her articles.