Words have power, and sometimes we need to spend a moment thinking about how we use them in order to finely tune our lived experience.
Two of the words that pop up in the skincare world are "ritual" and "routine". Look up any Youtube beauty vlogger channel and you're likely to see a skincare routine video. But now some brands are starting to use the word ritual to describe the process of interacting with their products. Is this just a fancy marketing tactic designed to sprinkle special fairy dust on products and brands, or is there more to this? We've been thinking about that.
The words ritual and routine do not carry the same meaning, and the distinctions could be important for how you view your interaction with products and your self.
noun - a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.
adjective - performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason
A routine implies a habit, and something you do all the time. If you have a morning routine it's something you do most days. That can be great for healthy habits. Our brains wire based on things we do repeatedly - neurons that fire together wire together. Every time you take an action it builds stronger neural pathways, and those pathways become harder to break. This is why it can be so difficult to rid yourself of bad habits, and why it generally takes time for a new habit to truly become part of us. The brain literally has to build new pathways to use.
Another aspect to this is that because something becomes easier and more automatic it also can become something it's hard to be conscious about. When we're on auto-pilot we're not necessarily entirely present.
Have you ever found yourself driving down the highway and missing your exit because you used to get off at a different spot? When we are not paying attention old patterns can take hold.
Having the right routines for you can be a powerful way to build your daily life because it makes healthy decisions something you don't have to struggle with anymore. The unconscious mind is a powerful force, and when we use some initial effort to make it work for us the payback can be huge.
The brain gives you a dopamine hit just anticipating a fully learned routine activity (true!) instead of afterward like when you're just starting. Do you get excited about just washing your face? We do.
The lack of mindfulness might be persnickety though, and that is where ritual can come in.
noun - a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order
adjective - relating to or done as a religious or solemn rite
The word ritual carries with it a sacred or special quality, which is probably why beauty brands have latched onto it recently. Ritual implies perhaps some magic or connection to a greater power. Rituals are used in most religions, and in those settings they are often ways for groups of people to come together around a common intention and share an experience together.
Often rituals like that help channel intense energies such as joy, sadness, and wonder. The prescribed steps help us hone in on feelings that can be hard to handle, and give us a roadmap. But ritual also demands our presence in that it is meant to have an intensity that a routine does not. Ritual is special and sacred whereas routine is profane.
Fundamentally ritual is a way to channel energy, which means intention brought to the event is quite important. How we lay out our implements, the order in which things are done, the items used, the words said, the time of day, and how long is spent on the ritual all can matter. Ritual is generally done the same way each time. This allows the body to truly relax as the mind sinks into the combination of special actions and repetition. It's a unique power and flow that is brought about.
Routine, as we have discussed, can become automatic, harnessing the vast power of our unconscious mind. Ritual has an ability to tap into our conscious mind as well as that is where we hold our intention.
Intention and mindfulness are often missing from routines, and this is where ritual steps in to allow us to access ourselves in an alternate way. Rituals actually affect our neurology as well and can alter our thoughts, feelings, and behavior even following the ritual. Sometimes just the belief that we are engaging in something special and healing allows the body to tap into additional resources and respond accordingly. Using special neural pathways developed just for ritual can enhance our attention and execution, and increase likelihood that our desired result will occur.
Ironically, though, it could be possible for a "ritual" to become nothing more than routine when overused. The care taken to prepare and implement ritual is often too intense for an everyday experience unless we make great efforts to truly stay present. When we allow the special quality to evaporate from ritual it slips into being routine.
Doing a weekly facial mask can be a great basis for a personal beauty ritual. You could do it on a certain day and time each week, with a special bowl, towel and music. You could make a special kind of tea that you only have during that time each week, and diffuse a special essential oil blend. These items would then be kept just for your weekly self care ritual. A special affirmation composed to help put your mind and body in the right state for maximum receptivity could be read before or during your mask application.
One unique benefit of a special activity like this is that the ritual itself acts as a centering influence even when other parts of our lives change . The ritual can remain the same through moves to new cities, new homes, through relationships, and through phases in life. Ritual can act as an anchor to help us feel balanced. It can offer some certainty in an uncertain world.
Have you ever done what could be considered a ritual?
What is your intention when you embark on a ritual you use?
Which of these concepts do you think applies to how you engage with beauty and self care?
Do you feel that you could infuse more of a special quality into how you care for your skin?
Tell us what you think about the concepts of rituals vs routines in the comments!