Resilient Rituals

Each of us have our daily routines. I do the same thing every single morning when I wake up. I walk directly to the coffee pot, and stand trace-like in front of it until the it’s ready. Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on me. Those are key ingredients to me starting the day off on the right foot. This routine is not a ritual, however. It is a habit. What is the difference between habits and rituals? The difference is intentionality. When I wake up in the morning, I am driven by the primary need for caffeine. I make no conscious decision to partake in this habit (at least not anymore). I just do it.

A ritual on the other hand is the conscious and intentional decision to make a meaningful moment. Other things I do in the morning are rituals. Most mornings I either go for a run or do a guided meditation where I am able to focus on what I want to accomplish that day and allow my mind to drift into more creative spaces. I make a concerted effort to take that time in order to create meaning and purpose in my day. Many of my speeches and workshops have been designed running down a trail in the morning.

In Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan‘s book Rituals for Work, they illustrate (literally) 50 ways to incorporate rituals for the workplace that build community, ignite creativity, and navigate change. Not only do they break these rituals down into audience (individual, team, and organization), they identify which rituals work best to ignite specific results. It is a useful, fun book and I highly recommend it.

In that spirit, here are a few rituals that help me focus on cultivating resilience. Two I have used for a long time, one is adapted from Rituals for Work:

Sensory Countdown:

When we experience anything that triggers immediate anxiety or panic, our nervous system steals blood from our rational, composed minds. We cannot problem-solve or gain perspective until we soothe our more frantic lizard brains. And because our brains are lizard-like, they tend to be easily distracted if we catch them early enough. When you feel yourself start to feel the rise of panic (rapidly beating heart, throbbing temples, sweaty palms, heavy breathing), stop what you are doing, take a step back and NAME the following out loud or in your head:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can hear
  • 3 things can smell
  • 2 things you can touch
  • 1 thing you can taste

The Moment of Reverence

Photo by Oleg Magni on

A fundamental domain of resilience is Vision. Vision is what drives our motivation in any given task, challenge, or opportunity. We so often get focused on our many micro-tasks of the day, we fail to remember why it is we are doing the work we are doing. Our Vision connects to a greater purpose. Taking a moment of reverence connects us more deeply to our Vision. This can be helpful to do individually or with a team preparing for a significant event or challenging moment. As described in Rituals for Work, moments of reverence are taken with surgical teams prior to performing surgery.

This ritual can be adapted in any way you might want to pause to reflect on the greater purpose of what you do. For example, a person can pause before an important meeting and think about who they are about to spend time with and visualize them holistically. Yes, the person they are meeting might be a potential client with whom they are trying to do business. Who else are they? Father, wife, runner, community member, volunteer? We are all more than the role one might observe in us. Taking a moment to see and revere a person holistically allows us to build more authentic relationships with others.

As a team, gather before an important presentation, meeting, or event. After a going through the usual “run of show” or pre-meeting technical check list, have someone remind everyone what the greater purpose of the event is, who will be there and why they matter to the team and/ or company. Take a moment of silence to gather those thoughts. Continue with the event.

Well Done

This is an end of day gratitude ritual as well as one that allows us to complete the day with a sense of accomplishment and optimism. We all have a tendency at the end of the day to think about the remaining items left on our to-do list. Allowing that negative energy to linger after the work day creates an overwhelming sense that we will never be done. That can become a pretty hopeless feeling. Instead, end the day writing two new lists. On the first list, write the tasks that you didn’t finish today and set it aside. That list is now relegated to tomorrow. It no longer belongs to today. Then on a separate note, list between three and five things you felt good about accomplishing during the day. Maybe it was something on your original to-do list, maybe it was something you didn’t expect to focus on, but were pleased that you did. Leave that note on your desk to see first thing in the morning. When you get home at the end of the day and someone asks, “How was your day,” tell them about the things you listed on your accomplished list. Leave tomorrow’s things for tomorrow. For today, say “well done.”

Rituals are powerful and, yet, accessible to all of us. We can borrow others’ rituals, adjust them to our own needs, or create brand new ones out of our own creativity.

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