I recently read a newsletter post by David Moldawer that talked about using coffee as a crutch for writing. His description of drinking coffee and writing made me think of rituals. That cup of coffee beside my computer is more than just a cup of decaf coffee. It’s part of my preparation to write. It’s the signal to my brain and my body that now is the time to focus on the craft of writing.
The weight of the pottery mug, the sound of the coffee pouring into the cup, the crinkle of the chocolate bar beside my computer, the melting chocolate as it meets the hot coffee, (wait, that’s for the romance novel in my head), they are all part of the ritual. Choosing that mug, bringing the coffee and chocolate to the side of my computer, turning my phone upside down and moving it away from the table; these actions create the ritual.
What strikes me is that we sometimes miss the value of routines and rituals. In addition, while we may think of them as interchangeable they shouldn’t be lumped together.
As someone who detests externally imposed routines, I also recognize that unstructured lives create their own routines. I may choose to live outside the boundaries of a clock regimented routine, but there’s a routine nonetheless. Coffee and chocolate beside my computer for my morning writing? Check. Walk with dogs after an intense work session? Check. Wasting thirty minutes scrolling through IG and FB? Check. Even time wasters have a place in my routine. Actually, that one is going away after listening to Cal Newport on Brian Koppleman’s podcast, The Moment.
Routines and rituals serve different purposes. Routines help us function on auto-pilot. They save a part of our brain for solving new problems or creating something new. Although I find structured and imposed routines to be dulling and life sucking, one of my children finds complete freedom in rigid structure and routine. Same function, different styles.
Rituals are intentional and deeper. They are signals to ourselves that we are moving to a specific space for a specific task whether it be in a kitchen, studio, office, locker room, or shared space. Pulling on an apron, lacing our shoes; these are all time honored rituals by some of the greats. Rituals are sometimes relegated to extreme examples, but that’s a mistake. It’s doesn’t have to be smudge sticks and chanting. (Although if you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.) It can be pulling out your to-do list and favorite pen or preparing your workbench with fresh water, plugging in your pickle pot and firing up your torch. All of these actions signify to your brain that it’s time to get to work whether that’s creating a piece of jewelry or a marketing plan for the next quarter.
Moldawer’s post is a great reminder of the rituals in my life and their importance to my work and to family. Gathering around the dinner table is a ritual that I had forgotten to notice. Slowly we gather and ready the table for our meal. The clink of the silverware as the table is set brings yet one child into the fold, the smells from the oven drift upstairs to bring down another. We prepare together, not just for the meal, but for the discussion, the banter and the time together. It’s the perfect combination of practical and magical.
Take time to look in your work life and your personal life and see where you have rituals. Where is there room for a new ritual to enrich your life? How do you signal to yourself and others that it’s time for intentional work?