Whether your caregivers read you a nightly bedtime story or your work team regularly meditates before a meeting, you experienced the power of rituals. These small, repetitive acts can shape our behavior and shift our emotions. Rituals can produce big benefits in lowering stress and anxiety, increasing our enjoyment of an activity, building healthy habits and even helping us recover from an unexpected failure or loss.
Organizations thrive when rituals serve a purpose such as building connection. Digital agency R/GA, for example, created “5×5 storytelling night”. On the fifth day of each month, at 5 pm, five folks got up in front of the rest of the team and shared a turning point in their lives for five minutes. Design company IDEO created Wednesday Tea Time back in 2016 to encourage casual collisions amongst staff. A gong signaled and employees gathered for 10 minutes to share tea, baked goods and conversation.
Individuals benefit and gain focus through daily practices to include morning mindfulness. Each morning I cherish looking out at the beautiful scenery before I ever consider looking at my computer. I call this ritual “Scene before Screen”. Other friends have rituals such as listening to an audio book during their commute or even stating “Done!” (quite loudly, I may add) while closing their laptop to signify the end of a workday.
Then there are treasured family rituals: decorating Christmas trees or celebrating the lights of Hanukah or Kwanzaa or dressing everyone in the family in the T-shirts of our favorite team or the annual family picnic with three-legged races and all. With the end of the year nearly upon us, this is a good time to reflect on our rituals and ask: which rituals are serving you and which rituals are sabotaging you?
Our Personal Rituals
The best place to start with an understanding of rituals is with ourselves. I mentioned above that repetitive acts can shape our behavior. It’s true. Going for a vigorous walk upon awakening or a Thursday family game night are all great bits of repetition that can lead to lifelong habits and ingrained rituals.
But what about the after-work habit of walking directly to the couch, only pausing long enough to pour a glass of wine or light up a smoke? What of the ritual we instill in children where they are allowed to stare into cell phones for hours rather than play outside or join in conversation? What about the ritual of working tirelessly to create a Normal Rockwell family gathering when pizza and charades could suffice?
On an individual basis, it is up to us to decide, honestly and openly, the rituals that are productive and healthy and those that destroy lives and intellect. The rituals that connect us to our true purpose, our family and friends, and those that make us resentful, bitter or tear us apart. Far better to initiate new rituals that empower and calm us.
Our Workplace Rituals
For many workplaces, our socializing, our office spaces and often our culture has disappeared over the past couple of years. In many offices, birthdays now go unnoticed and unrecognized. Yet, connected leaders understand rituals create the organic bonds necessary to foster trust encouraging innovation, resource sharing and psychological safety. They strive to create new rituals to deepen a sense of belonging and shared values.
Prior to lockdowns (and slowly being revived) are company outings (free-paid time off) where work teams are assigned to painting and/or weeding and tree-trimming the homes of indigent or disabled residents. It has become a healthy ritual in some companies, where relative “strangers” come together and help people, their organizations and themselves.
Recently, I learned of a company’s quarterly activity where individuals from various teams are randomly matched in Zoom break-out rooms with one another to answer a specific, thoughtful question before their next pairing. It’s called “Quarterly Q&A’s” and resembles speed dating. I’ve heard of weekly TEAMS meetings starting with a “Cheezy Dance-A-Long” where everyone moves, dances or stretches to a song choice unlikely to be on anyone’s playlist. Giggles ensue, energy goes up, but most importantly individuals safely let down their barriers with one another.
Does your organization or team have a ritual that doesn’t feel like more work? One that makes you feel lighter and might even solve a challenge? Or, is it time to let a tired and true ritual go or give it a much-needed facelift?
Lastly, which rituals are serving you personally, and how can you make room for even more servings? Let me know.