Merriam-Webster defines ritual as “a ceremonial act or action” and “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” I have used rituals to get my mind where it needs to be prior to an event, to motivate myself when energy levels were low, and to calm myself in stressful situations.
I once served in a very dangerous place. Prior to leaving the safety of my base I needed to get my mind properly calibrated for the mission ahead. My ritual began with taking a look, possibly for the last time, at a picture of my loved ones. This served as a visual reminder of what I would lose if I didn’t come back. I would then grab my rifle and gear and find a place where I could be by myself. I would then listen to Tibetan monk chants on my MP3 player while I made ready my rifle and gear. This ritual enabled me to tap into the dark side of my nature. This ritual got me in the mindset of being ready to do whatever was necessary to get me and my team back to the base.
My usual workout time is 7:30pm. By then I have been a parent, worked a full day, and been a parent some more. There is no tired like the tired you get taking care of a small child. My tired mind will try to talk me into canceling my workout. To block out the desire to cancel my workout I will pick a small task and focus on it. I start by getting my running clothes on. It’s a small thing. However, it gets me in the mood to do more. Once I am dressed I will drink some water and cue up a podcast. A few minutes into the podcast my low energy level is gone and I am ready to go. For kettlebells my ritual involves putting on my low cut Converse Chuck Taylor shoes. As I tighten the laces my brain switches into wannabe beast mode and I am ready to go. A funny way to think of the above is the “Baby Steps” mantra from the film “What about Bob?” Another would be in the film “Over the Top” with Sylvester Stallone when he says “I turn my hat backwards and it’s like a switch. I become a machine.”
I sometimes use a ritual to calm myself in stressful situations. When I go into a meeting that I know is going to be contentious I will bring a small picture of my family hidden in my notes. As the stress increases and tempers flare I will look at and / or physically touch my picture. This helps me remember that the noise in the room is just that — noise. What matters most are my loved ones. When I was trying to find ways to manage my anger, which I spoke of Here and Here, I wore a bracelet made of broken bicycle chain. When I found myself getting angry I would touch the bracelet as a physical reminder to “break the chain of events” that was causing me to get angry.
How can you develop your own rituals?
The first step is to identify the situations in which you need a ritual. Do you need a ritual to get your mind where it needs to be prior to an event, to motivate yourself when energy levels are low, or to calm yourself in stressful situations?
Once you have identified the situation you can then determine the ritual. Listening to music, reciting or reading a quote, looking at a picture, physically touching something — all can be used as part of your ritual. The challenging part is to fit the ritual into your daily life in an unobtrusive way. For example whipping out your iPod at a meeting that turns stressful wouldn’t work. The CEO probably wouldn’t dig on you rocking out to Def Leopard during a discussion of last quarters profits.