The Power of EverydayRituals

 
Illustration by  Jess Cruickshank

Illustration by Jess Cruickshank

 

Queen Bey (Beyoncé Knowles) takes part in the same ritual before every performance. She listens to the same playlist of songs, prays with her band, completes a specific set of stretches, gets hair and make-up done while sitting in a massage chair, and meditates for one hour before going on stage. Tim Ferris author of ‘Tools of the titans’ and the ‘Four-hour work week’ wakes up every morning and immediately makes his bed, reporting that it gives him an instant sense of accomplishment. Oprah Winfrey starts every morning with a 20-minute meditation which she believes ignites a feeling of “hope, a sense of contentment and deep joy.” Serena Williams reportedly always bounces the tennis ball 5 times before the first serve and twice before the second, she likes to travel with the same bags and wear the same sandals before a game. Rituals are far more common than you think, and research has shown that they can reduce anxiety and increase performance and motivation. So, can we all welcome these benefits into our lives by simply implementing our own rituals?

What are rituals?

Before we go any further let’s first get clear on what a ritual is and why they are different to habits. Habits are the things we do that typically fulfil a purpose. For instance, always stretching before exercising to limber up our muscles and reduce the build-up of lactic acid or washing our hands before we eat. Rituals on the other hand are the symbolic behaviours we perform, before, during or after an event. They are present across cultures and religions and are carried out privately or in groups all across the world. They don’t have to make sense or fulfil a clear need. For instance, wearing white on your wedding day, black at funerals or eating cake on birthdays.

 

The Benefits of rituals.

So, If they don’t serve a purpose then what’s the point? Ok that’s a fair question but there is method to the madness. Rituals are most commonly performed in situations where we experience anxiety or uncertainty. For instance, before a presentation or a job interview. In such moments when we perform rituals, we are undergoing a set of routines - a task that we repeat whenever we are in the same situation. For example, immediately before a presentation we might take in a few deep breaths and repeat an affirmation. Performing a repetitive action like this can help to satisfy a need for order or control [1]. What’s more rituals work well as a distraction from our negative beliefs and worries minimising anxiety by blocking intrusive thoughts [2], helping to calm us down before a performance task, increasing our concentration [3], and bringing us into the correct frame of mind to help us feel physically ready for the job ahead [4].

 

Inviting rituals into your day

We are all familiar with a busy day rushing from one role and routine to another. From mum role to work role to cleaner role, to neighbour role, to wife role and so on. Is it any wonder that we get our heads in a spin and can’t remember which way is up? Creating rituals can introduce a welcome pause into our day and help us to transition into the right frame of mind for the task ahead. Like Tim Ferris, making my bed as soon as I wake up is a ritual to mark the start of an organised and productive day. On the days I work from home my work ritual really helps me to get into a work-mode mindset and keep me on track, preventing me from slipping into laundry and other household tasks. First, I get showered and dressed just as I would if I was working from the office. I light the scented candle on my desk, say one thing I am grateful for, put on my favourite concentration music playlist from Spotify, and write out my goals for the day ahead. By this point I am fully into my work mindset and ready to begin my day. Before stopping to collect my girls from school, I put on a song I love and dance around to it, or if it’s been a heavy day then I perform a 5 or 10 minute meditation. These rituals help me to slow down, move into the next phase of my day and leave behind the last phase in a peaceful way. I find I can focus on the new task better because I have consciously walked out of the previous one and put it to rest for the time being.

During the 1890s, Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov predicted that dogs would salivate when food was placed in front of them. However, he also noticed that the dogs would begin to salivate whenever they heard the footsteps of the assistant who brought the food. Thus, any object or event which the dogs learned to associate with food (such as the lab assistant) would trigger the same response. This works by establishing what is known as classic conditioning. Rituals work in the same way, within time repeatedly performing a ritual will create a trigger that brings you into the correct mindset and increase focus for the task ahead.

 

Steps for creating your own rituals.

1.     Identify the spaces in your day where you need to create a pause. A good time is usually the point where you go from one role or task into another. So, if you have just dropped the kids off at school a ritual before beginning work would be an ideal moment.

2.     Mark the moment with an act that signals the transition. For instance, a meditation, a short walk, a cup of tea in a particular mug, a certain piece of jewellery or workspace. The list is endless, and it can be as simple or extravagant as you like.

3.     Turn this small ritual into a habit that you undergo every time before starting the task. This will bring you into the right mindset, prepare you for the job ahead, and deepen your concentration. With all these elements in place you are more likely to be more productive and feel motivated and positive.

This simple three step process for establishing rituals into your day will work to bring meaning into the everyday things you do and invite you to take positive action.  

 


 References

1.     Hirsch, J. B., Mar, R. A., & Peterson, J. B. (2012). Psychological entropy: A framework for understanding uncertainty-related anxiety. Psychological Review, 119, 304–320.

2.     Van Dillen, L. F., & Koole, S. L. (2007). Clearing the mind: A w

3.     Cohn, P. J., Rotella, R. J., & Lloyd, J. W. (1990). Effects of a cognitive-behavioural intervention on the pre-shot routine and performance in golf. The Sport Psychologist, 4, 33–47

4.     Foster, D. J., Weigand, D. A., & Baines, D. (2006). The effect of removing superstitious behaviour and introducing a pre-performance routine on basketball free-throw performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 167–171.