Why Rituals Matter

Excuses are for Competitors

Almost every morning since Ryland was born, I’ve had breakfast with him and my wife before I start my work day and before he goes to bed, my wife and I read him stories.

As another revolution around the sun is coming to a close, consider: rituals and routines are not the same thing.

Routines are largely unconscious things we do from habit. Rituals are more purposeful – driven.

Routines are wearing, but you wear rituals on your sleeve next to your heart.

You routinely celebrate your birthday once a year. That you make a big deal out of it, invite friends to go bowling and to dinner, and have a certain type of treat, is the ritual.

Spending exactly two minutes, two seconds to meticulously pearly your whites before hopping into your morning shower is a routine. That you belt out Aerosmith for the neighborhood from your Shower of Rock™ every morning is a ritual.

I tend to put on shoes every day – it’s a routine. Taking the time to match the color of my chucks to the color of my shirt is a ritual.

Letting a routine slide once or twice is potentially harmful, but also freeing in its own way. Sure, your teeth might eventually fall out if you neglect to brush for weeks on end, but missing it once isn’t going to derail you.

Letting a ritual slide – even once – is soul-crushing and depressing.

Rituals (and their absence) can tell you everything you need to know.

When things are going sideways, you’ll catch me wearing tennis shoes – not chucks. You’ll hear silence, not Aerosmith, during your morning walk past my house.

Blog writing for me isn’t a routine, it’s a ritual. When things go sideways, I can’t blog. Writing is something I love. The ritual of it, the rush of weaving a narrative around a visceral truth, eluded me from October till now. Things were going sideways. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say – I did. I had a lot to say.

Put simply, Q4 2014 can and did go fuck itself. I’d been bludgeoned by bad surprises. One after another after another. Big decisions, hard decisions, things that turned friendships inside out, and reframed my relationship with my business.

I had a lot of doubt around my writing. Mental weight around placement of commas and hyphens and the word order of operations. Please Excuse My Dumb Adverb Selection. I experienced heavy wind resistance in the vicinity of my keyboard. For what it’s worth, that was not a fart joke, but I’m writing it down for next time.

I wasn’t writing well, and during NaNoWriMo, that’s maddening.

So I focused on client work and neglected my own business goals. I could control the environment around a client’s project easier than I could control my own. I couldn’t plan effectively for WTF because I was mired with a problem set worthy of Whack-a-Mole. Setting goals? I wasn’t even sure which direction I was pointing, let alone where I wanted to go.

That’s when routine leads to ruts, but ritual is freedom incarnate.

Routine… getting lost in Netflix or audio books, just putting on shoes in the morning, eating a meal at regularly spaced intervals – that doesn’t make a life worth living.

Ritual reminds me that I love what I do, I love marketing and branding so much, I’ve incorporated my brand and my marketing into my clothing, my coffee mugs, and my clothing into my logo.

Ritual reminds me that I eat every meal I possibly can with my family, because that time is precious. Sustaining my business is a pre-requisite to have the freedom to do something no 9-5 allowed me to.

Ritual reminds me that I know how to take command of uncertain situations (I live for it). I grew up with the best teachers for being in command anyone could ever ask for – I grew up with Star Trek. I memorized every episode. I studied and polished leadership skills daily since sixth grade.

Ritual picks you up when you’ve been knocked down. Ritual reminds you why you’re here. Routine is just something you do.

When I remembered all that, I was able to write: They Don’t Tell You for Tea’s Butter and Beast project. It’s worthy of a read.

Fine, but what does this all have to do with business? (TL;DR)

First: if you’re to become the best at anything you do in life, you must find and acknowledge your rituals. When you don’t, each new speedbump could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, right?

Second: routine is a piss-poor excuse for ritual, and your customers know it.

Have you wondered why receipts – the final bit of marketing a store gets to stick in your pocket – are heat-printed on flimsy white paper? (Routine.)

Have you wondered why every place you call has a phone tree that starts with a message something like: “Please listen carefully because our menu options have changed”? What, did everybody, everywhere, fucking change their phone trees at once? (Routine.)

Have you wondered why the newspaper puts ads on the online obituaries? (Routine.)

Have you wondered why nobody seems to be able to take personal accountability for screwing something up and actually, honestly say, “I’m sorry”? (Routine.)

Let’s flip the coin.

What’s the unboxing like for a new iPad? Immaculate, right? (Ritual.)

Ever had really, really good customer service after someone screwed up big-time? Had someone actually listen to your complaint, why you were upset, and then work with you to solve the problem? (Ritual.)

Read the copy on ThinkGeek.com sometime. (Ritual.)

Sign up for LootCrate. Every email comes from [email protected] So do most of their social posts. When they have a new crate each month, they usually release some sort of epic fan fic mini movie – including a 15 minute original short of one of my favorite shows of all time, Firefly. (Ritual.)

Sending out a well-designed box of geek stuff is nice, cool, even. Faithfully recreating the look and feel of a cult classic TV show JUST so people will enjoy it? That’s a whole new level of ritual.

I know which one I’m going to be looking for more often, how about you?

Be honest, what gets you through your day – rituals or routines?

How about your favorite businesses – do they focus more on rituals or routines?

Let me know in the comments!