One of the first things teachers tell new writers is to sit down in the same place at the same time every day to write. It’s the ritual, a way of preparing to write that primes our minds and our bodies to do it. The repetitive steps of sitting down in our writing spot awakens our minds to the process ahead.
Rituals — from how we stir cream into coffee and blow out birthday candles to wedding vows and funeral prayers — influence how we experience these moments of our lives.
A ritual can be any set of actions and procedures, usually more than one and often repeated, that are performed in a meaningful or ceremonial way. The process can prompt people to feel a sense of control and calm, according to researchers, and may also boost our enjoyment of the moment.
Psychologist Kathleen Vohs found that the simple act of lighting birthday candles and singing happy birthday can improve the taste of birthday cake and enhance our enjoyment of food. In one of her experiments the participants were given a chocolate bar. One group was asked to relax and then eat the bar at any time. The other was given a set of detailed instructions to follow before eating the candy.
The group that went through the specific chocolate-eating routine actually enjoyed eating the candy more than the other group. The key, according to researchers, is in the deliberate participation of the task. Random movements didn’t add to the joy and spectators didn’t benefit by watching the ritual.
Rituals cause us to savor and connect to our experiences. “They draw us in,” according to Vohs in the study published in the journal Psychological Science.
I use rituals daily to draw me into my day and help me sustain a positive mindset. After a short morning ritual I feel greater clarity and calm. This sets the tone for the day. My routine is short and simple because I’m a slow starter and I need the morning to be simple.
When I awake, I sit on the edge of the bed, do a few stretches, drink some water, and then say a brief prayer or mantra: “Thank you for all that I am and all that I have.”
Then, I move into my gratitude list. Each morning I give thanks for three things. I mention different things each day and this keeps me looking for the good stuff throughout the day. With each item I say “thank you” and pause to let the feeling sink in.
Then, I set an intention. My intentions are short, simple declarations. But instead of declaring what I want to acquire — a new client or more money — my morning intentions are always about the mood or feeling or the qualities I want to create in my day:
- I intend to act with kindness and compassion.
- I intend to experience peace and calm today.
- I intend to focus my attention on writing today.
This kind of intention becomes like a soundtrack for the day, something that brings my awareness back to what it is I want to experience. I find that when I’m acting with these good intentions, good things often follow as well. This three-step ritual of awakening, gratitude, and intention has proven a powerful way to create a successful day.
Vohs, K.D, Wang, Y., Gino, F., Norton, M.I. (2013). Rituals Enhance Consumption. Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1177/0956797613478949
Norton, M.I., Gino, F. (2014). Rituals alleviate grieving for loved ones, lovers, and lotteries. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 143(1), 266-272.
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