One day about six or seven years ago, a colleague stopped by my office. She asked me to read and comment on an article about routines and rituals in the lives of young childre .that she and a co-worker were writing.

Something to know about me – don’t ask me for input on your writing, unless you really want it! I usually have plenty of feedback, and sometimes it results in a lot of re-writing. I will add that I do need that kind of input for my own writing.

This time was no exception. As I read their draft, I realized that they used  the phrase “routines and rituals” as if those words were interchangeable and inseparable. And that’s how I’ve always used it too.

I thought about it and realized these words had to have different and distinct meanings and uses. That realization brought up questions that lead to the kind of conversation that made us all curious.  We investigated further and talked about what we’d learned.The outcome was a useful, interesting article that distinguished between routine and ritual, and explored the function and purpose of each in the lives of young children and their families. (Gillespie & Peterson, 2013).

The Structures and Stuff of Life

Routines are the structures of of our lives- the things that create predictability, that help maintain, alter or develop new habits, and that conserve our brainpower by putting some of our daily decisions on auto-pilot.

Though I’m sort of a routine-averse person, I do have some, and they help me make sure I do some necessary but not particularly exciting things:

  • Brushing my teeth every morning and evening.
  • Flossing every night (yes, I do that!).
  • Checking my bank statements every month.

Rituals are about the things that give life meaning. They help us celebrate important events. They bring us into closer connection with ourselves and one another. They remind us to focus on what matters most in life.  Some of the rituals in my life:

  • Our annual Thanksgiving family gatherings
  • Wedding ceremonies
  • Knitting a gift to welcome a new baby
  • Stretching every evening to relax body and mind

Routines can take place regularly  without becoming emotionally meaningful rituals. Ritual can take place in the absence of routine, as when I attend a funeral service. Sometimes, what begins as a routine can evolve a ritual that accompanies it.

Resistance to Routines

I resist setting new routines, even when they’re my own idea, and I really want to do them. Things happen, I get busy, I start slipping away from the routine, and the next thing I know, I’m no longer doing what I had meant to do. What I “should” be doing.

That “should” says it. If I think I’m doing a good or right thing when I follow through on the new routine, my inner critic is quieted down and I feel good for having appeased her. But I don’t want to have to appease her! That tug between wanting approval and wanting to do what feels right to me is what pulls me away from the change I’m trying to make.

What helps with this?  Freeing myself of the struggle with my inner critic! That can be easier said than done. Sometimes I can get there on my own, by activating my Inner Encourager. She’s the accepting, nonjudgmental voice that is both supportive and firm. It’s not that anything goes with my Inner Encourager – she recognizes shortcomings. Rather than criticize or shame me for my imperfections, she accepts them and reminds me that perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is continually making my best effort. She helps me see that when I do that, I’ll see improvement.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a new writing routine that has morphed into a ritual. This is writing I do strictly for myself, with no other purpose in mind than to write briefly every day.

Several things have helped in creating a routine that I can stick with. One or more of these might make a difference for you, too.

Sticking with the new routine has let it take root and flourish. In the process of establishing it, I’ve created a ritual that has become important to me. While that’s not always necessary to sticking with a new routine, it can help a lot.

Writing briefly each day, just for me, is a daily connection that true voice that canobscured by busyness, stress and obligations to others. It’s a communication with myself that helps to steady me when I’m off-balance, and center me when I feel pulled in too many different directions. It keeps me moving forward in the direction I want to go this year.

The things that helped me try out and stick with the routine are: readiness, curiosity, support, freedom and acceptance, and openness to discovery.


I’d been thinking about how my own personal writing is a little haphazard. I do it some days and not others. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There is no rule that says I need to write everyday, nor any evidence that daily writing more effective than weekly or even monthly writing for personal growth and well-being.

I just wanted to get into a daily, brief writing routine, and see where it would lead me. I was following an intuition that it would be worthwhile, and also my curiosity about where it might lead.

Curiosity and Support

I was curious to see what would happen if writing became a daily routine. As I was thinking about this, I saw Saundra Goldman’s post about her WILDLY IMPERFECT group. She encourages members to get involved in a continuous practice for a year. You can choose what you’ll do every day, whether it’s visual art, writing, meditation, photography, or something else. One member finds and meditates on a quote.

The guidance she provides offers support which helped me to get started, and being a part of a group of others doing similar daily practices helped me to continue.

It’s as if Saundra, with her thoughtful guidelines, joined forces with my Inner Encourager, and is  is helping me to get started and to stay the course.

Freedom and Acceptance

Saundra encourages us to discover what a daily practice conducted without goal or judgment does for us. She also guides us to be nonjudgmental toward ourselves. If we miss a day, there is no need to apologize or explain. Simply start up again. These guidelines made it easier to get started, because there’s nothing to resist and much to treasure. Accepting imperfection and continuing any way made a big difference. Inevitably the day comes when you’re too busy, too tired, just don’t feel like it…you skip the routine, and it can be hard to come back to it, especially if you’re criticizing yourself for having slipped.


The writing routine involves sitting at my desk, with a cup of of coffee, a journal , a pen and a timer. I just write, with no particular topic or outcome in mind. The writing routine has become a writing ritual that puts me in closer conversation with my true, inner self.

The routine means that I have protected time to write just for me. There’s no reviewer, colleague or audience waiting for what I produce, so I can just relax and write about whatever comes up. Instead of starting my workday by turning my mind and energy to what I have to produce each day, I begin it with 10 minutes  or more of just being. It’s a chance to notice what’s in my thoughts and feelings, without feeling compelled to do anything except notice.

It’s been interesting to notice how starting the day this feels, and to track what influence, if any it appears to be having. I’m not sure I can quite describe that yet, but it’s powerful enough to bring me back to the page every day.

What I’m Seeing so Far

Without previously planning to do so, I’m starting to clear out some books and journals from my over-filled office shelves. They’re the kind that are hard to get rid of because they once were essential, and  I might need them again “someday.” Yet in reality, these are resources I haven’t turned to in years. Something about reducing an inner sense of clutter is letting me feel ready to do the same in my surroundings.

Last night, I noticed my outsized emotional reaction to something my husband said last night about dinner I’d prepared. I caught it in time to avoid a completely uncalled for response. He hadn’t done, said or implied anything wrong, but nevertheless, I had that reaction. I was able to notice it, and then let it go without needing to express it. Later, I was able to go a step further, and compassionately ask myself what was going on. That reflection took me back to the Inner Critic again – that voice that reminds me that I’m never good enough.  I have to wonder at the power of that critical voice that gets formed during childhood and lives on for decades! This was a small moment, as the incident itself was not very important, but for me, it has big implications.

I don’t know for sure that it’s the new writing routine and ritual that led to these small but meaningful steps, but I think it played a role.

Are you curious to see how this could work for you?

Give it a Try

  • Choose a time of day for writing and a space conducive to it.
  • Have what you’d like with you, your preferred paper, pen or pencil. Or write on your computer. Perhaps you want a cup or tea or coffee, too
  • Set an achievable time limit, 5 or 10 minutes, and set a timer . Then just write, without judging, editing or striving for a certain outcome. See what emerges.
  • Do it again the next day.

Let me know how it goes!

Reference and Source

Gillespie, L. and Peterson, S. (2013). Rituals and routines: Supporting infants and toddlers and their families. In Carol Copple, Sue Bredekamp, Derry Koralek, and Kathy Charner, Eds., Developmentally Appropriate Practice: Focus on infants and toddlers, (102-104). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Photo: Nancy L. Seibel, 2018

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