For most, this is a fairly negative, if not slackardly phrase. I suspect that it is often uttered with a resigned distain. May I make a case for it, however?
I spoke with a friend recently; one who had dropped off the face of the earth (and church) for a while. I listened to a fairly graphic apology, if not confession. Things had been tough (I'll say. Glad I did not have to go through it!) My friend ended with the fact that my friend had been "going through the motions" spiritually in the in-between time of disappearing and resurfacing. That is, this friend kept a habit of Scripture reading and prayer (mainly on-the-go flash prayers) going even though it seemed rote and, at time, desperate.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-2 (NIV)
I find that habits are especially helpful during dry times and times of stress. "Going through the motions" could also be phrased "staying connected." My feelings are not a particularly adequate foundation upon which to build a spiritual life. Helpful, but not "stand alone" material. The Psalmist seemed particularly good at recording the most honest if not exasperated prayers. In other words, she engaged God despite evidence to the contrary that God was present or even cared. I would bet the prayers were said on days when the first thought was, "do I have to?" That is to say, the will guided the feelings through rough waters.
Do not dismiss the dry days when to cling to God in the most habitual ways. That may be your life-line. I hope your dry days are few and your habits are strong.