Build Life-Enhancing Rituals

Coordinated repetition creates cohesion.

Burnout does not result from hard work. When we are achieving what is important to us, we are fulfilled. Merely slowing down and taking more downtime will not grant you a better life. It might actually give you a boring life or an insignificant one. If you are feeling burned out or unfulfilled, there are other factors at work.

When you shift foundations to a rhythmic paradigm for living, you can implement powerful strategies for a better life. In addition to pacing yourself for greater peace, you can build life-enhancing rituals for more fulfillment.

Building life-enhancing rituals is a powerful strategy that works in the flow of life’s natural cycles. When Jaime and Yesinia Gonzalez began to set aside time for each other and their family, they were beginning to establish marital and family rituals that would enable them to experience less stress and more peace, less frustration and more joy, less ineffectiveness and more fruitfulness.

What is a ritual? Depending on your life experience, the term ritual will conjure up a wide variety of connotations. My son David and his girlfriend immediately think about their fraternity and sorority handshakes and songs. In contrast, my son Jimmy, who works for a sports radio station, starts telling stories about bizarre pregame warm-up activities. As a pastor, I think about baptism and Communion. Sociologists define rituals as repeated activities that create meaning in a culture. Marriage and family Web sites list dozens of family rituals to enhance relationships.

In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz include a chapter titled “Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals.” Their research reveals how rituals have enabled top athletes to perform at consistently high levels. For Loehr and Schwartz, a ritual can be any healthy routine, though sociologists tend to distinguish routines from rituals based on the assumption that rituals are connected to some deeper meaning or significance.

Rituals have the power to help us achieve our mission in every area of our lives. They can be communal, involving a team, community, or family, and they can also be personal. For a richer understanding of ritual, consider its use in multiple human arenas.

In certain contexts, ritual refers to a prescribed order in a religious ceremony. But ritual also means “a detailed method or procedure faithfully or regularly followed; or a state or condition characterized by the presence of established procedure or routine.”

For some people, ritual and tradition are synonymous. Traditions are characteristic patterns, methods, or beliefs often passed down over a long period of time. Though distinctions between traditions and rituals can be made, their meanings often overlap. Rituals can have little sense of “belief,” but the action may signify a belief.

Sociologist William Doherty defines three characteristics of ritual:

Rituals are social interactions that are repeated, coordinated, and significant. This is the classical, anthropological definition going back to [Arnold] van Gennep’s work in 1908. Rituals can be everyday interactions, or they could be once a year, but they’re repeated. They’re also coordinated. You have to know what is expected of you in a ritual; you can’t have a meal ritual together if you don’t know when to show up for it, and you can’t dance together if you don’t know what kind of dance you are going to do. You’re not going to have much of a sexual life if you don’t end up in the same space at the same time. Rituals are not only repeated and coordinated, they are significant. A ritual is something that has positive emotional meaning to both parties.

The period of time is not a crucial element, but a ritual is repeated, coordinated, and significant. In this case, Doherty is thinking of ritual in ways that involve only more than one person. Personal rituals need not be coordinated.


Chapter 11: Build Life-Enhancing Rituals

[i] “ritual,”, Unabridged (v 1.1), Random House, Inc.,

[ii] William Doherty, “Intentional Marriage: Your Rituals Will Set You Free” (banquet keynote address, Smart Marriages Conference, Denver, CO, 2008),