Creative Ritual or Mundane Routine?

Tiny man pushing enormous cone round in circles

Photo by José Encarnação

Duff left a thoughtful comment on my post about creative rituals, highlighting a potential danger of incorporating ritual into your creative process:

the yin to the yang of ritual anchors is pure novelty. Bradford Keeney is a strong advocate of creative living by shaking up habitual routines and rituals. There is definitely something to this argument as well.

Ideally the ritual functions as a gateway to the magical realm of the imagination – but what if it descends into a mindless routine?

Gustave Flaubert advised artists to ‘be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work’. But Lou is regular and orderly in everything he does, and no-one would describe his work as violent and original.

So what’s the difference between a creative ritual and a mundane routine?

Here are some answers that occur to me – I’d love to hear what you think.

Mundane routines produce mundane work. Creative rituals produce remarkable work.

Mundane routines make life dull and predictable. Creative rituals make life rich and rewarding.

Mundane routines are often imposed from the outside. Creative rituals emerge from inside.

Mundane routines kill time. Creative rituals take you to a timeless place.

Mundane routines keep you busy. Creative rituals make you productive.

Mundane routines are a distraction, a kind of procrastionation. Creative rituals force you push through resistance and get on with your real work.

Mundane routines are a coping mechanism. Creative rituals help you rise to life’s challenges.

What Do You Think?

What’s the difference between a creative ritual and an empty routine?

How do you avoid mundane routines in your work?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

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Responses to this Post


  1. I wake up, shuffle to the bathroom, then the kitchen. I make coffee, check some emails, then the coffee is ready. I swill back about three large cups of extra-sludge jet fuel java while finishing off my email, reading feeds and getting my day in order.

    Then I’m ready to write – and THAT is a mundane routine.

    If I had a creative routine, I might, once a week, need the power to do something spectacular. So I get ready. I mentally tell myself it’s the time. I’d go out on my porch and take deep breaths, look at the snow on the mountain while sharpening my mind. I’m going to slam dunk this one. I’m going to be victorious.

    Already the words begin to swirl in my head. It’s time to seize them.

    That’s creative ritual.

  2. I’m more right brain than left but can go extremely right or left at will (most of the time). I’m also a bit ADD. So routines help me be successful at the day to day tasks necessary to earn a living. But I detest most routines.

    In terms of brain lateralization routines, I do try to meditate regularly but even with that I mix it up a lot. Different meditations, guided visualizations, short, long, different time of day etc. Other than that I try to have a variety of techniques to take me right (even though I’m more right, I work in a left job 50% of the time). Friends have suggested a variety of R-Mode shifting techniques that you can read about here:

  3. Mundane routines keep us alive. Creative rituals make us feel alive.

  4. This post really hits on the ‘real’ reason we resist routines IMHO, certainly why I always have until I actually tried them and found the freedom in them, much like Gustave Flaubert advises.

    For me the trick is to routinely leave a lot of wide open white space to be spontaneous – scheduled spontaneity seems such an oxymoron but it is what works for me. (for example this morning I was doing some core planning and a thanksgiving article came flying at me, so I wrote it without hesitation. Why? Because I have engineered my morning time to give me that freedom to act).

    Life and creativity are in the open spaces, but we need to clear a path for them – and for me – generate the sense of control and security that comes with routine – however much of an illusion it really is.

    James, I agree 100% in seizing the words, there is no better feeling.

    Carving the time for it is what has made it possible.

    Thanks Mark for putting to words what I never could quite put my finger on :0)

  5. Mundane = unimaginative

    Mundane routines are done by many. Creative rituals are done by you.

  6. Rituals — creative or routine (mundane) — becomes habits become ruts.

    All rituals need to re-examined periodically, either methodically (e.g., January 1, on your birthday, et al) or spontaneously (“Aaack! I just realized that I’m in a rut!”).

    Sometimes I don’t even need to change my routine rituals — I just reorder them and they feel “new”.

  7. My favorite example is taking my dog (and pal!) Mikey for a walk. It’s a mundane routine AND a creative ritual – for me at least. I’ve been doing it for about 13 years now. Day in, day out. Twice a day at least. Yes, it is mundane – but it is also extremely creative. I just have to look at the sky or the trees, the flowers – the neighbors, the birds. It’s always different. And extremely inspiring. Because it gets my mind off of whatever I was not able to figure out. And it starts to wander. And it usually comes back full circle to the problem and a possible solution pops up. Out of nowhere. Not always. But often.

    I find that it’s not about going on that walk with the intention of figuring out the problem. Or finding inspiration. It’s just about getting out. Getting away. Just like that.

  8. I have lots of mundane rituals, like James….. tea, checking emails, writing posts on other people’s blogs (-: and they do help to get me oriented towards creating, but they don’t necessarily inspire me.

    I offer classes and workshops in intuitive painting which teaches you a way to approach creativity by entering into a dynamic relationship with the creative process without concern for the outcome or finished product.

    When I facilitate my classes I always begin with a ritual of some sort. Sometimes it’s moving to music, sometimes breathing or lighting candles or setting some kind of intention to enter into creative space. ( Yes, I DO live in northern California). But it does work. It allows people to unhook the left brain, let go of their daily mundane concerns and enter into more of an altered state which is the doorway into creative trance. Because of the ritual they ultimately have a much greater sense of creative flow, authenticity, timelessness, getting out of their own way, and just an all around deeper, richer creative experience.

    Ah well…. you teach what you most need to learn! Thanks for the reminder. And I am just loving this series!!!!

  9. Ah yes, Chris. This is what I need to do. Learn to unhook my brain (preferably both parts) without resorting to chemical mixtures however subtle or law-abiding they might be. It would save some trips to the store if I could just snap my fingers and count to three. Do you offer online tutorials on this?

  10. There is a lot of evidence to support having those creative rituals, those anchors for peak performance states in place.

    And those mundane routines can certainly stand for a little shaking up, if only to bring more joy and aliveness into your daily life.

    For example, I just washed a few dishes while standing on one leg. Why? Just for fun! 🙂 I got the mundane thing done, but added a pinch of creativity. That’s the sort of shaking that Brad Keeney recommends to live with more of that childlike joy and creativity.

  11. Mundane Routines relax my hyperactivity, and helps me focus.
    Creative Routines boost my productivity.

  12. Not sure if this helps, but most of the people here seem to be the intuitive, visionary types.

    You don’t convince me when you try to convince yourself about your habits and routines being creative because you reorder, or focus, or boost, or carve out the time for spontaneity… These are great ideas that are implemented on occasion; and can never be a habit or a routine for the creative, future-minded voices that I am reading here.

    The only way that a habit can be truly effective, or for a creative routine to actually work for people like us, is if there is enough meaning in it to continue; if there are challenges and variations daily (which is enhanced when measured but this is difficult to maintain consistently for us, unless we are fascinated by the process); AND if it is all done in the name of fun, not for any goal or end in mind. If we had goals, it stresses us out because we are perfection and competence freaks, inhibiting any beginnings that would normally be reasonable.

    Admit it–the only time you have ever been consistently progressing in a creative and effective manner was when you were fascinated by the process without judgment, proud of yourself just having fun, and interested in seeing where it will go (without a set goal that scares you into inaction).

    Open-ended actions like this don’t hold as much value for habit-oriented, goal setters that are the majority of population. Most of self-help today are geared for them. But these open-ended, fun beginnings (not goals that are dead endings) are the key to success for the creative-minded visionaries who see nothing but possibilities.

  13. From Quebec says:

    My first post! (I speak french, sorry for my bad english writing…)

    To elaborate a routine – mundane or creative rituals – is the most challenging thing of my whole life. When I am on a creative «rut», no routine can resist. And after a couple of days and nights, I blame myself for my lack of routine (discipline). Coffee and cigarettes are still part of my creativity process. A shame.

    BUT, I always walk for AT LEAST an hour a day (or night), with a little jogging. That is the only
    discipline I really need in order to recharge body and mind, and I enjoy it.

    In a more normal day, I have to sit, revise, read and write when I wake-up (coffe, cigarettes); do physical and necessary home everyday activities later; take a nap and work (creatively) until late (or early?).

    Is this a mundane routine or a creative ritual? I don’t know. When I finish a project: I do nothing creative for a couple of days, I enjoy anything, declutter, until there is «a call» inside me. Or until the call is unresistable. I don’t need a creative ritual, creative idea is always there!
    It’s a «create or depress» life urge…

    • From Quebec says:

      I said «I enjoy anything», maybe I had to write «I enjoy everything», I mean whatever I do or I have to do, every activities. – Sorry and thank you.

  14. What’s the difference between a creative ritual and an empty routine?
    How do you avoid mundane routines in your work?

    Creative Routines help invigorate your core, the core, the spirit, of the creator inside a person. Creative Rituals and empty routines could be viewed as the difference between sex and brushing your teeth. One is a ritual that moves you, the other you do every day.

    It’s the foreplay of the creative process that leads to brillant work. Day after day what brings you excitement about your work, thats where you need to form rituals.