Who doesn’t enjoy ritual and routine? I find that without some kind of rhythm to my day, it can become chaotic and frustrating. That’s not to say I don’t have these kinds of days, because I do. But I prefer routine and my rituals within the day to smooth the path ahead.
When my three children were small, I found some kind of routine around eating and sleeping helped them and us as parents, and to a degree still does as they become young adults. Having a regular wake up time, bedtime and schedule to your day is great and I love the order of it. However, it’s not just having routine that I have found helps me focus my day and become more productive and effective.
I have found the surprising power of rituals in my life to help calm anxieties and help me focus on a particular task. I use my ritual each time I feel overwhelmed, if I have a big presentation to deliver, or a training or teaching session to do. For me, it’s taking a deep breath, closing my eyes and saying a prayer to the Lord to help guide me, help others get the most out of what I’m doing, and allow me to feel His presence in what I’m doing to give me confidence and strength. I end my ritual with the Lord’s prayer and a simple ‘thank you Lord’. It works every time, I feel more confident, my heart isn’t pounding, and I feel so empowered by my faith.
I read an interesting article recently about the power of rituals. Rituals are defined by psychologists as a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lacks direct instrumental purpose. There are three elements to any ritual: behaviours happen one after the other (such as my taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, saying a prayer), behaviours have symbolic meaning (my belief in God and His power to guide me), and behaviours generally have no obvious useful purpose (other than to strengthen me as a person). Many people form rituals based on their own values, so as a Christian with Christian values, I use prayer as part of my ritual. I find it calms me and helps me feel less anxious. Others may draw pictures or chant, dance or sing as part of their ritual.
In fact, studies show that rituals have an anxiety-reducing effect to the extent that those participants who perform some kind of ritual before giving a big speech or singing in front of an audience perform much better than those who do not have some kind of ritual beforehand. Measurement of their heart rates before and after concurred. It could be a simple, put your hands in together and say something meaningful together. Whatever works!
Sportspeople also use pre-performance rituals that helps focus their nervous energy in such a way as to allow them to perform better at their sport and reduce nerves. Rafael Nadal, winner of 20 Grand Slam tennis men’s singles titles, reportedly has 19 or more rituals which he uses before and during his matches as a way of putting himself in the match by ordering his surroundings to match the order in his mind. Powerful stuff indeed!
So, rituals can be important. But as Christians, we are used ritual: every Sunday when we get up, go to church, stand up, sit down, sing hymns, say the Lord’s prayer, listen to a sermon. All these rituals form an important part of our lives and serve as a way of bringing us back to what is most important in our life, God.