Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ritual Effect

Many years ago when I first began speaking to audiences I would become so nervous I'd want to vomit. I was given some great instruction and wonderful advice that has helped me transition to a much calmer and more professional speaker. One of the key pieces of advice was to create a "ritual." Seriously? When I first heard the word "ritual" I thought of incense and prayers since as an ordained clergyman I've participated in many rituals over the years. But what was suggested to me was using a physical movement that would trigger my body when I was about to speak. My body would then react by moving the energy to where I needed it and not leave it in my stomach. All these years later I still use that same quick ritual before I speak and I feel myself gaining control.

Recently Forbes Magazine ran an article about two associate professors at Harvard, Michael Norton and Francesca Gino, who are researching the effects of rituals. They discovered that rituals help alleviate grief and also enhance the experience of eating. Well, as a clergyman, I know about alleviating grief, but had to smile at rituals enhancing eating. Yet what I wondered is why it has taken so long for many of us to catch on to the power of rituals. 

Rituals enhance, assist and invigorate most activities. Actors, singers, athletes and business men and women use them effectively every day to be better at what they do. A ritual helps them prepare, focus and be energized throughout an action. We now teach professionals to create their own rituals so that they can quickly engage in an activity rather than be hesitant or distracted. 

For example, when I am writing something new I prefer to create the idea long hand. Only once the idea is on paper do I sit at my keyboard and flesh it out. But the ritual I use before I write brings my mind into focus and relaxes me. First I purchased some very nice pens. My favorite is a fountain pen which I purposely fill with ink each time I want to start a new article, or book. The movement of deliberately picking up the pen, opening it and filling it with ink relaxes and focuses me. It's as if my mind and body know what's coming and so they are ready. 

What rituals do you use in your life and work? How do you prepare your mind and body so you will be more relaxed and focused during any activity? Remember, you can create rituals to enhance anything you do. Just as long as they are followed every time by that activity your mind and body will be more in tune and more focused as you start. And you can even use them to enjoy your meals more. 

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