The Secret Power of Rituals

Most of us have a general idea of our aspirations and what we must do to achieve them.

The difficulty, of course, is in the execution.

We also have a very human weakness of over-reaching for our short term goals and under-reaching our long-term goals.

This often results in us, say, planning to run five miles a day starting tomorrow!!!

We may start well but within a week we find ourselves not running at all.

Few of us have the iron-willed discipline to follow through on great achievements without failing. And even those that do, often started small.

The answer is in the power of rituals!

Whilst its etymology is linked to many ancient faiths, for the purposes of this article, rituals refer to the daily or weekly actions we undertake consistently.

Over time, they become habits, form character and even personality.

Rituals are not new.

We already practice quite a few – like brushing our teeth, putting on our make-up, the way we have our breakfast (…or not), certain things we habitually do during the day and how we end it.

Rituals are addictive – they are hard to form and even harder to break.

The interesting fact is that when we don’t proactively develop good ones, we tend to fill our lives with some that are mediocre and, worse, bad ones – like smoking, or watching too much Netflix, or succumbing to a sedentary lifestyle.

So how do we tap into the power of rituals?

We start by examining what we do and use the more/less/start/stop model to achieve our ideal.

The key, here is to start small and simple.

When we mimic those life-long little rituals or tag an activity to it – like doing 10 sit-ups when we awake, or drinking a tall glass of water soon after – and sticking with it, we develop long-lasting good habits.

In a recent one-on-one session with a client we explored happiness and what rituals we could adopt to enhance it.

We started with the two known facts that social media usage is directly linked to sadness, and that almost 70% of our happiness comes from time spend with family and friends.

So we trialled a few simple rituals like: putting the phone away when we get home each night and not reaching for it until the next morning; making at least one phone call a day to a family member or friend – something quite easily done on our commute to work; ensuring we share at least one meal a week with extended family and even friends; spending 10 mins each night in reflection with a pen and paper; and fitting in a 15 minute walk after dinner.

We can apply the ritual principle just as easily to our work. For example, setting aside a few minutes each day to engage with our front-line staff (that we don’t normally liaise with), and just as importantly with our customers and non-customers.

A routine I found very useful when I was an executive, was to spend an hour each week at the organisation’s reception desk – answering phones and serving customers…the insight from almost every experience was invaluable.

A memorable and rather unconventional ritual in one organisation was to end most nights sharing a whiskey with the elderly chairman – I learned from his experience and wisdom and he gained a comprehensive understanding of the company.

All of these are not ground-breaking endeavours – in fact they are micro changes to our lifestyle – which is what makes them relatively easy to start, commit to, and maintain.

Over time, they become as routine as a morning shower requiring little thought, resistance or uncertainty.

In the longer term they will cement themselves into our lives as part of our identity – and we will certainly be the better for it.