I spent this last weekend on a personal development workshop in London. A topic that was briefly touched upon really struck a chord with me.
Often we are encouraged to review and improve our habits. Whether it’s giving up smoking, improving our diet, getting more exercise or taking action in business.
We are what we repeatedly do
Repeat the same pattern of behaviour until it becomes an unconscious habit, something we do without thinking. That is the conventional self improvement wisdom.
Opinions vary on how long it takes us to form a new one. Some say 90 days, some 7 weeks, some say it can be done in a moment.
But the problem with repeatedly doing something unconsciously is that we can actually drift away or even lose the habit entirely without realising.
Take driving a car for instance. The vast majority of us have reached a level of unconscious competence. In other words, we can get in a car and drive it without really thinking about it. We can steer, change gear, accelerate, brake without paying that much attention.
But how many of us would fail a driving test if we were forced to take one again? Over time our driving becomes sloppy. We cross our hands when we turn a corner, we change gears sloppily, not bothering to change down when we should sometimes. Yes, we’re still driving and accomplishing the mission of getting from A to B, but we’re not doing it as well as we could.
While this might not matter too much for driving a car, not achieving peak performance may have huge impact in other areas of our lives.
And that is where rituals come in.
Rituals, unlike habits, are done with deliberate intention and concentration. They are performed with minute attention to detail.
By making something into a ritual, we give it focus. We ensure the ritual’s execution is done with precision every time.
Take for instance a top sportsman like Jonny Wilkinson. Whenever Jonny is about to take a penalty kick he has a ritual. The way he places the ball, takes the steps back from it, positions his feet, bends his knees slightly, clasps his hands in front of him, looks at the goal before taking the kick. It’s all a ritual he’s developed to bring 100% of his focus into that moment.
Does he score every time? No. But he scores a lot more times than if he just put the ball on the ground, stepped back a bit and gave it a whack.
Tennis players are another great example. Watch almost any tennis player from Andy Murray to Venus Williams and you will see they have a ritual in preparing to serve. There are a set number of ball bounces, adjustments to kit, spins of the racket, moving of hair, looking at the net and the opponent. Point after point, the same ritual is performed.
So whatever part of your life you are looking to improve, whether it’s business, health or your love life, give some thought to how rituals could radically improve the results of your efforts.