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Four Types of Rituals and Routines That Can Help You Improve Your Consistency and Achieve Your Best

habits rituals routines Jan 06, 2022

This post is part two of a three-part series on Rituals and how they can help you achieve optimal performance.  Part one addresses the relationship between habits, routines, and rituals and how they can improve your performance.  This post addresses the various types of rituals and how you can incorporate them to improve and create more consistency in your performance.  Finally, the third post addresses how coaches, teachers, leaders, and parents can use rituals to improve their “team’s” performance. 


My Peak Performance system includes lifestyle rituals, pre-event, during-event, and post event rituals.  Lifestyle rituals are activities that support physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing and help us achieve peak performance in all aspects of life.  Event rituals are activities we do prior, during, or after an event to help us prepare and perform our best.  Let’s look at each in detail.

Lifestyle Rituals

Lifestyle rituals are foundational and establish conditions for peak performance in all aspects of life.  There are countless types of lifestyle rituals, but they all support and contribute to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. 

Physically oriented rituals include intentional activities, exercise programs, sound nutritional and sleep habits.  Strenuous activities not only help create physical health, but they also have far reaching benefits in all facets of life to include attitude, relationships, alertness levels, quality of work, and beyond. 

Mental and spiritual rituals include journaling, meditation, visualization, prayer, reflection, nature walks, reading, and countless others.  I discussed many of these techniques in other post, so I won’t repeat (see categories:  mindfulness, meditation, and mental toughness).  The key is to find something that rejuvenates yourself mentally and spiritually and helps you create and maintain an aligned state.

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to practice and benefit from these types of rituals.  Nor do you have to take an extremist approach.  Simplicity and consistency are key.  A 60% solution applied consistently is more beneficial than the 100% solution applied 50% of the time.  Find what works for you and do it consistently.

Morning rituals are powerful tools and are worth discussing and as much a mental win as they are a physical win.  They set the conditions for the day, result in an immediate sense of accomplishment, create positive momentum, and provide you an opportunity to start your day with control and intention.

Hal Elrod, the author of The Miracle Morning, conducted extensive research on the positive impact morning rituals can have on our lives.  He created what he refers to as his Life S.A.V.E.R.S.  His six Life S.A.V.E.R.S. rituals are silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and scripping ( journaling).  (Elrod, 2014)  These activities and his research are consistent with others and is a good place to start if you are looking to implement morning rituals. 

“MAKE YOUR BED”

Admiral McRaven  is a retired Navy Seal, and former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.  He also happens to be the Officer responsible for the operation that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden.  In 2015 he gave a commencement address at his alma mater, The University of Texas.  His comments to the graduating class addressed the ten major lessons he learned during his Navy SEAL training.  Admiral McRaven captured these lessons in his New York Times Best-Seller, “Make Your Bed.”  His first lesson was “Start Your Day with a Task Completed” by making your bed.  In his best-selling book, he dedicates his entire first chapter to this discussion. (McRaven, 2017) 

Take a second and think about that.  A successful, and decorated Navy Seal’s number one lesson from his training is to “start your day with a task completed” by making your bed.  The significance of his lesson has little to do with making your bed and everything to do with having the daily discipline to follow through with a mundane and unimportant task, and to do so with intention, ownership, and pride. 

This may sound ridiculous, but I challenge you to look at each bed in your home.  Starting with your own, is it made?  Are the other beds in your home made?  Does the quality of effort represent attention to detail, pride, and ownership?  Is the quality of effort representative of the broader life standards of the individual who sleeps in it?  I bet there is a strong correlation between the two. 

Pre-event Rituals

Pre-event rituals help us prepare for an upcoming event.  Whether you are an athlete, a doctor, a technical sales representative, or a laborer preparing for a job, you don’t want to “go in cold.”  You need to properly “warm-up,” so you are prepared to perform at your best.  Anything less can affect your bottom line.

Have you ever experienced a contractor showing up at your house to complete a job and they were either missing a tool or a part creating the need for yet another visit?  How about an ill prepared salesperson who lacked a demo product or was unable to answer basic questions?  Both are realistic examples of how the absence of simple pre-event rituals can result in an unnecessary financial burden or even worse, a lost opportunity.

Pre-event rituals can occur anywhere from immediately before or several days in advance depending on the activity.  Useful rituals typically include:  a nutritional / favorite meal, specific sleep adjustments, hydration protocols, rehearsals, technique reviews, site visits, walk throughs, game plan reviews, equipment / supply inventories, maintenance checks, pre-coordination phone calls, emails or messages, visualization / mindfulness / self-talk routines, prayers or scripture readings, or any other activity that helps you prepare to perform at your best.

Depending on your activity, all these techniques are proven methods to help you put the finishing touches on your preparation and can build upon your existing confidence when you need it most.  Preparation is what separates the elite from the good and average, and pre-event rituals can help you take your performance to the next level. 

During event Rituals

We’ve all seen the rituals batters go through prior to stepping in the box, or the golfer before striking a ball, or a tennis player before a serve.  These are all examples of during event rituals used by serious performers to help them prepare both physically and mentally.  These rituals serve two purposes and are applicable to more than just athletes.

First, these rituals establish consistency in helping the individual prepare and relax prior to a complex movement or event.  Relaxing is critical when performing fine motor skills because slight muscle tightness can severely hinder movement patterns if not controlled.  This consideration is especially important in situations when the performer has time to think about, or over think the situation. 

Second, these rituals occupy the user’s thoughts helping them to focus on something positive and constructive versus negative or destructive.  Because it is impossible to think two simultaneous thoughts, rituals can help the user fill their mind with deliberate and constructive thought patterns while minimizing negative or destructive thoughts.  Rituals can also help keep us from overthinking an action.

Others can apply these same techniques that are most used by athletes.  If you tend to become easily distracted in the middle of an activity, a during-event ritual can assist.  These rituals may include taking a short break, a short meditation, breathing, or exercise session consisting of a few burpees or some other activity.  These techniques can help you regain focus.

Post Event Rituals

Serious performers use post-event rituals to accomplish two important tasks:  recover, rest, and prepare for future events, and to review past events to identify lessons to improve future performance.

If your event or activity is physically oriented, post-event rituals can help you recover, rest, and prepare for future events.  These activities may include nutrition and hydration strategies, physical cool down routines, rest, and rehab protocols such as icing, massage, or others.

Athletes are not the only ones who can benefit from rest, rehab, and preparation rituals.  With modification, others across any profession can apply them.  Imagine completing a project, presentation, or major task.  Consider the unimportant and obvious tasks that many overlook and how they impact your ability to perform in the future.  These tasks or actions include: 

  • Follow-up emails, phone calls, or messages.
  • Reviewing notes and documenting important tasks.
  • Important equipment maintenance or supply replenishment actions.

The most important, but ignored post-event ritual is the performance review.  This is the process of reviewing the event or activity for lessons learned to help improve future performance.  Leaders or individuals can use performance reviews to identify and assess performance and the areas to improve.  The military uses this process extensively and refers to it as the after-action-review (AAR).  Leaders at all levels conduct AARs to review what happened, why it happened, and how they can improve their craft.  AARs can be as formal or informal, as necessary.  

For athletes, these reviews include examining game tape, receiving feedback from coaches or others, and taking the time to capture your own thoughts. 

For others, this may involve watching a filmed version of a sales call or presentation, or some other product.  A supervisor on a job site can use this same technique to review processes, safety considerations, or the final product. 

The timing of post event analysis is important.  You don’t want or need to conduct these reviews immediately after the event, but you do want to conduct them while the event is still fresh in your mind.  Experiment and find what works for you. 

Conclusion

Whether you are an athlete or not, performance rituals can help you perform at your best regardless of profession.  Well-designed rituals can add certainty and predictability to what otherwise can be a challenging and fluid environment.

You should develop, use, and adjust your performance rituals over time, taking note how they make you feel and how you perform.  Be deliberate in creating your rituals, and slow to change them.  Their benefit has a slow compounding and exponential effect that occurs over time and is unnoticeable on a daily basis.  If you are not getting the results you need, adjust as required.  If you don’t take the time to assess how they are either helping or hindering your effort, you won’t be achieving your best.

There are many aspects of performance you don’t control, but focusing on what you do control can be a major benefit and help you:

  • Create consistency in how you prepare.
  • Compete with a sense of control and preparedness because you’ve done the work.
  • Create an unwavering sense of focus and relaxed confidence.

Part three of this series will address how leaders, coaches, teachers, and parents can use rituals to improve your performance of their “team.” 

Sources:

  • Bradt, S. (2010, November 11). Wandering mind not a happy mind”. Retrieved from The Harvard Gazette:  https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  • Clear, J. (2016). Atomic Habits. Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Avery.
  • Cole, B. (2019). Performance Rituals. Retrieved from The Mental Game: https://www.mentalgamecoach.com/articles/Article2_02.html
  • Elrod, H. (2014). The Miracle Morning. The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8AM. Hal Elrod.
  • Lardon, M., & Leadbetter, D. (2008). Finding Your Zone. Ten Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life. New York: Perigee Book.
  • Le Cunff, A.-L. (2019). Habits, routines, rituals. Retrieved from Ness Labs: https://nesslabs.com/habits-routines-rituals
  • McRaven, W. H. (2017). Make Your Bed. Little Things That Can Change Your Life ... And Maybe The World. New York: Grand Central Publishing.
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