The link between rituals and productivity

Photo credit - Jeremy Ricketts via unsplash.com

Photo credit – Jeremy Ricketts via unsplash.com

Do you have a routine that sets you up for the day? Something that seems to lead to a successful and productive day? And if you don’t do it, do things still go as well? Have you ever wondered why this is so?

Rituals are usually made up of a series of actions that are performed the same way each time, to achieve an outcome. I think of making coffee. The ritual of heating the water and cups, grinding the beans, making the coffee in a particular cup, then sitting with it in a particular place to enjoy.

Are there rituals that are important to you?
Morning coffee is one of mine. So is a morning exercise routine. I also eat a good breakfast and listen to the morning news before walking to work. These actions are not particularly unique but they work for me. They are a predictable part of my day, and put me in the zone for the remainder. They set me up for the day. If you like, they trigger the actions that will follow.

Rituals and habits
What is important is the habits that underpin a ritual. Once established, habits are something you can do unconsciously. You do not need to think about them consciously, unless you change your routine. They enable you to do things without using up a lot of energy with the engagement of the pre-frontal cortex (part of the brain engaged in conscious thought and executive function, expensive energy usage).

In times when there is a large part of our days that are unpredictable and subject to change, rituals provide psychological comfort. They bring stability. Familiarity. A sense of control.

There are popular ideas that suggest that habits can be formed by sustained practice over 21 days. Research suggests otherwise. Change in neurons,or neuroplasticity, depends on repeated practice. It takes 9-12 weeks for new neurons to be formed and 254 days for them to become hard-wired, to achieve mastery (Learning to Learn course, 2016).

Using rituals to your advantage
Habits emerge from the gradual learning of associations. This is a combination of what is done, the outcome and the associated contexts. Once the habit is formed, elements from the context activate the behaviour, independent of intention and absent of a particular goal. So establishing habits that lead you in to behaviours that serve you in your day, are useful.

Associations can be many and varied – depending on your requirements.  Consider:

  • taking time to reflect on the day ahead, over coffee before the work day starts – formulating ideas and objectives/goals
  • reflecting at the achievements of the day, at its end – ticking off the achievements and lining up the activities for the following day
  • scanning the news – in print or other media – over morning coffee or breakfast, to take in a broad spectrum of news at a high level without getting bogged down in detail
  • exercise – stimulates brain health and function
  • habitual social interaction with friends, family and others – stimulates brain health
  • keep your brain active – try to memorise things each day, which stimulates brain health
  • set aside time to practise new skills – making it a routine part of your day

What are your rituals?
Do you have rituals that serve you well? Would you share them with us? Let us know the things that you find useful and productive.

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