The Danger of a Habit Becoming a Ritual

When you think of a habit, what comes to mind?

For me, my first thoughts are: good habits, bad habits, and Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

We all know bad habits are those that we need to break but what about the dangers of the good habits?

I rarely hear much about that.

Since habits are really just behaviors repeated to a point where they become regular, somewhat automatic actions, they also can create a hidden pitfall that we must intentionally be aware of.

It’s what happens when a good habit becomes a ritual.

And by ritual I mean a set of actions that over time become performed mainly for their symbolic value.

No one intends for it to happen but it does.

It’s when those good habits become “the motions” that we go through because we know we need to do them but we begin to lose the real meaning of why we are doing them in the first place.

Know what I mean?

I’m not talking about common tasks… I’m talking about the habits that really matter.

For instance, before every meal my family prays. It’s a habit because we do it at every meal but there is also the danger of it being a ritual because… we do it at every meal. There is that underlying opportunity for us to just go through the motions of the “good habit” and lose the real meaning of what the habit is supposed to be about. I don’t want that to happen so I am choosing to recognize it, discuss it with our family and make sure we don’t slip into the trap of complacency that even a good habit can bring.

It’s not just about habits at home or in our faith though either. It’s just as important at work.

Every day we show up and go through the tasks and the routines, many of us even developing outstanding habits that make us efficient and productive BUT if we lose the meaning… the WHY… then we’ll begin to see a decline or experience those feelings like we’re just going through the motions. No one wants that so decide to be aware and not let that happen.

The dangers are there but if we stay conscious of them and intentional about them, we can be more than effective with our habits… we can be people who have habits that really matter.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Graham

    I’ve often thought about this with respect to oral hygiene. For many folks, tooth brushing becomes a ritual rather than a habit, and whether they actually clean their teeth or not is beside the point . . .

  • Graham –

    Very true!  I have four kids and I am constantly telling them that the goal is not to brush their teeth, but to get their teeth clean.

    Daniel – 

    Your right about his applying to work as well.  We many times perform the function, without even knowing wether we are truly accomplishing what the function was designed for.

  • Excellent and thought-provoking piece…a lot of things can really lose meaning for us if we’re just “going through the motions”….thanks!