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A concept we’ve introduced to the productivity community is the idea of rituals – ultra-specific step-by-step instructions that are easily repeatable and help you get a specific outcome.

Examples include the morning ritual, evening ritual, and many others. A common question we get from readers is:

“What’s the difference between habits and rituals? Aren’t they the same?”

Yes and no.

I’m not going to pretend that we invented something new. Habits have been around forever. We simply made them better and more efficient – that’s what rituals are. We think of Rituals as Habits 2.0. They are the improved and more efficient version of habits. We’ve written before on 5 reasons why habits don’t work and why rituals are superior.

Let me clarify even further and here are 3 ways rituals are different from habits.

1. Habits are singular focused. Rituals can encompass multiple habits.

When you think of a habit, you think about one specific action that you do over and over again. Flossing your teeth is a habit. Drinking water after you wake up is a habit.

Habits are singular focused.

The beauty of rituals is that they can contain multiple habits in one ritual. Why focus on one habit at a time when you do multiple at once? You can drink water after you wake up, floss your teeth, stretch and look at your goals as part of your morning ritual.

Building one habit at a time, while good advice, is also a very slow process and unnecessary when you can combine multiple habits at once with the same effectiveness. I can tell you from my own experience and thousands of Rituals students that you can do multiple habits at the same thanks to the power of Rituals.

2. Habits are vague. Rituals are specific.

The main issue we have with habits is that they are vague. Ambiguity is the archenemy of action. Saying to yourself “I will exercise more” (habit) is just wishful thinking. The intention is good but without a specific action plan chances are you’re not going to take action.

It also requires a lot of willpower to take ambiguity into consistent action. If you’ve been with us for a while, you know how we don’t want to rely on willpower to get things done. It’s a recipe for disaster. Willpower comes and goes and it’s not something you want to rely on to be consistent.

Instead, we want to get very specific so we take thinking and willpower out of the equation. Specificity is the best friend of action-takers. Compare:

“I’m going to exercise more”


“I will exercise every Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 7 am for 45 minutes and follow the 5×5 exercise program”

See the difference? Which one are you more likely to follow?

The latter of course. The more specific you are, the more likely you will take action. Especially at times when you’re low on energy or don’t feel like you have enough willpower. It’s during those times when specificity helps you get started and take action because there’s very little thinking and willpower involved.

That’s why we prefer rituals. They force you to be specific and outline an action plan so there’s ambiguity on what to do.

3. Habits don’t have a system. Rituals follow a system.

Consistently taking action is really easy when you have a proven step-by-step action plan in front of you. When you don’t have a plan and you make one up on the fly each time you perform a habit, not only will you be inconsistent but you’ll also get inconsistent results.

Again, you’re relying on too much on thinking and willpower to figure stuff out each time you do it. Think of a friend that you want to be more productive. Which option would you recommend to that person:

Option 1: Write down your todo list each day before you start working. Then start at the top and complete it one at a time.

Option 2: Study Getting Things Done (GTD) or Agile Results, then implement the system.

Both are good pieces of advice, right? But which option do you think will have the biggest impact on the person?

The latter of course because she is learning a system she can follow and maintain.

The first option, while good advice, is incomplete. It’s the same when you just “build habits” versus having a complete Rituals system.

Let me share another example. I have no doubt you’ve read articles about morning routines and how you can incorporate drinking water, stretches and such to yours.

So how is a morning ritual different from a morning routine? In our Rituals course, where we teach the 4-Step Rituals system, we go beyond the “what to do”.

We have a complete system to help you form a new ritual. Knowing WHAT to do is just one tiny part of everything. You already know that you need to drink more water. You already know that stretching is a good practice in the morning. So is looking at your goals.

Knowing WHAT to do is not the problem. It’s executing on what you know (ideally without relying on your willpower). Knowledge isn’t worth anything if you don’t take action on it.

If you know that drinking water is an important part of a morning routine but you’re not doing it…then what’s the point of just knowing what to do?

That’s where the system comes in. It’s where we connect all the missing parts of regular routines and habits so you increase your chances of success of taking action on what you know you need to do.

With that said, we realized that not everyone needs a full-fledged system. Some people just want to form a new habit and that’s why we came up with the Habits Crash Course – coming out next week.

It will teach you how you can build a habit in 1 hour with a step-by-step action plan. It’s ideal for people who just want to pick up a simple habit. Think of it as the “lite version of our Rituals course” that will help you pick up any habit and stick with it.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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