Serena Williams always bounces the tennis ball five times before her first serve and twice before her second. Lebron James throws talc up into the air before every basketball game from the announcer’s table. Even Walter Cronkite ended his news program with the same phrase each night for decades. Given that these people were at the top of their profession, it makes you wonder whether they were onto something. Were these healthy rituals that served some important purpose? Or were they simply superstitions that had absolutely nothing to do with their success? You might be surprised to know it’s more likely to be the former.
The power of rituals may not be appreciated by everyone. But consistently, healthy rituals offer many benefits that help us function at our best. From one perspective, they provide a sense of structure and familiarity to any situation. Likewise, rituals foster special memories and connections with others. Especially during times of high stress, rituals can serve to provide stability and calm. Thus, it’s important for us to appreciate the power of rituals and use them to our advantage. This is especially true given the pressures many of us face today with the ongoing pandemic.
Healthy Rituals Increase Your Focus
What are some of the rituals you perform on a regular basis? Perhaps, you prepare for a big meeting in precisely the same way. Maybe, you lace up your running shoes in a specific fashion before running a race. You might do these things because you’re superstitious. But in all likelihood, you have learned that these rituals help you concentrate on the task at hand. In order to complete the ritual, you must pay attention and perform your routine in the exact same steps. This naturally engages your focus, which in turn prepares you for what’s coming next.
The power of rituals to help you focus stems from their ability to help you ignore distractions. These distractions might be external in nature. For Serena Williams and Lebron James, this is likely the case. Focusing in their game rituals reduces distractions related to the large crowds in attendance. In other instances, the distractions may be internal. Racing thoughts and concerns about a big meeting might be distracting and interfere with your final preparations. By performing a healthy ritual, you allow yourself to regain your focus. Thus, rituals can serve an important role in helping us excel in tough situations.
The Power of Rituals in Reducing Stress
From a brain perspective, rituals alter the way our minds function in the moment. In times of stress, we often allow our emotions to get the better of us. The emotional part of our brain tends to be in the deeper, limbic areas. When we simply react to a situation without thinking it through, it’s usually our limbic area at work. In contrast, our prefrontal cortex in the front of our brains allow us to process things more rationally. And as it turns out, healthy rituals trigger this more logical part of our minds to become active.
Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress triggers anxiety, which in turn motivates us to prepare and perform at out best. But when stress is excessive or chronic, it becomes less effective and beneficial. In these situations, the power of rituals can be quite effective in reducing the level of anxiety we feel. Because healthy rituals provide structure and engage our rational brain, stress emotions become less. This is a major reason why mantras and other repetitive tasks help keep us calm as well as focused.
Healthy Rituals Promote Special Bonds
Healthy rituals are quite helpful in reducing stress and improving concentration on an individual level. But at the same time, the power of rituals among friends or within your family is also worth noting. Groups also perform rituals that help create bonds among one another. In fact, specific routines, quirky sayings, or even pet names for one another can serve this purpose. Thee types of rituals highlight the uniqueness of your group. And at the same time, they create a sense of security and stability that strengthens these social bonds.
Think about some of the rituals within your own family that you perform. Having dinner together as a family is a ritual in itself. But even during dinner, everyone may have an assigned place to sit or have odd routines before eating. Often, family members and friends have special ways of greeting one another, such as a special handshake. Each of these subtleties represent healthy rituals that identify groups as having a special relationship. The power of rituals in these settings are just as important as those we perform alone.
Putting the Power of Rituals to Work
Given the amount of stress many of us are currently under, adopting some healthy rituals may be a great idea. From an individual perspective, you can adopt morning and evening rituals that can help provide calmness and focus. For example, morning and evening intentions or mantras may be perfect to relieve anxiety while building mental resilience. Other rituals might serve other purposes. For instance, performing a silly dance before going to the store might lighten your mood as well as reduce nervousness. By consistently performing these routines, you will quickly appreciate the power of rituals and their benefit.
At the same time, consider reinforcing healthy rituals for your family and kids. If you don’t have one, create a special handshake. Repeat the same phrase when greeting them or when saying goodbye. Connect an activity with a special ritual, such as going for ice cream after a doctor’s appointment. These healthy rituals will also reduce stress while providing everyone a greater sense of stability. And they will also create stronger connections along the way. The power of rituals is not something that should be underestimated. In fact, rituals are a great way to help you manage tough times. It’s the reason why some of the most famous people in the world rely on them!
(For more on how rituals and habits can be an important component of creating a Bold Life, check out Ed Kopko’s upcoming book, PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, out soon!)