The importance of 'Rituals'

 Rituals - everyone has them!

Rituals - everyone has them!

"We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then is not an act but a habit."

The first time I came across this quote was when we were shooting a video for my business school, Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. A few of us were asked to say this aloud and funnily enough, the team which was making this video made us repeat this line quite a few times to get the best shot. I found the quote quite fascinating and it was probably my first exposure to the idea of system-thinking versus goal-thinking.

The first book I read in the ‘self-help’ genre was Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance earlier though I didn’t consider it a self-help book then. (On that note, the first book that I read which I’d classify under self-help will have to be The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.) Coming back to Rich Dad, Poor Dad – I had picked it up because it had been highly recommended by so many people at work. The one idea that I seem to recall from that book was how a person is the sum total of his/her friends and where/ with whom he spends all his time.

The same idea popped up again when I read about what most sport-champions consider the secret of their success; what the world’s best CEOs consider the small things they do that make the difference; what Scott Adams recommends as life-advice. Was this the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon at work?

Seth Godin has talked about the secret-handshakes of tribes. When I see religious and cultural rituals, I try to imagine how that particular ritual must have come about. One tends to retro-fit many rituals to some agricultural or ecological context to justify why it was started in the first place. I wonder if they were designed deliberately or evolved over a period of time or were done and followed for generations, without anyone giving it a thought.

An interesting ritual I come across is in the kids’ school. The school usually starts everything with five minutes of meditation and a prayer – kids start their day this way in most schools. The interesting thing is the parent-teacher meetings also start with five minutes of meditation and followed by a Sanskrit spiritual chant which says the Teacher is the representative of God and we all salute the God. Such sessions usually are crib sessions where parents come to the school with a long list of complaints. I feel the five minutes of relaxation and the chanting in praise of the teachers goes a long way in either eliminating most of the unnecessary complaints and definitely reducing the intensity of the complaints.

One habit that we have developed in our team is to ask quiz questions. One thing that binds everyone in our team is that we all love quizzing. So someone volunteers to ask a Question of the Day on our Whatsapp group. We also do a short quiz at the start of every meeting. This is our equivalent of meditation. Trying to answer questions gets us all to be mentally present for the meeting - we all are in the right frame of mind and meetings become a lot more effective!

Rituals, habits, systems are the building blocks for making any sustainable change. Change is happening all the time – sometimes planned and many a time, it is inadvertent.

I’d love to hear your experiences with designing rituals in your life or at work.