Intriguing new research, reported in Scientific American, reveals that rituals can have a strong influence on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These traditions or personal routines can reduce anxiety and increase our confidence before a high-pressure task. Many sports figures have rituals. Basketball icon Michael Jordan, for example, wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform for every game he played.
"Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear," the Scientific American article states. "Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective ... What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work."
Rituals can have a big impact on our lifestyles. In the Big Think video, "Is Your Lifestyle Making You Unhappy?" Dr. Andrew Weil reminds us that mental and emotional health in the United States is declining. In researching patterns of emotional well-being across different continents, Weil found that depression, for example, is virtually nonexistent in the few remaining hunter/gatherer societies. These societies are different in that they are connected with nature, don't eat highly processed foods, get plenty of physical activity, have adequate rest and sleep and, above all, derive great emotional support from their community or tribe. All these lifestyle aspects form a protective barrier against depression.
While we may not be able to overhaul our entire lifestyle, many of these things are under our control: They can be made into rituals of well-being that we adhere to for a better way of living and greater personal success.
Much has been written about the morning rituals of highly successful people, yet evening rituals can pave the way for a more optimal experience the next day. Here are 10 effective habits to implement into your nighttime routine. Pick the ones right for you, and enjoy a more productive day.
Sharpen your productivity saw.
Even with the best intentions, we seem to procrastinate when it comes to learning new ways of being productive and saving time. Because we have busy lives, we continue to function in unproductive ways rather than carve out some time to learn a new productivity tool. If this describes you, make a decision to devote a few minutes each evening to sharpen the saw in this area. It doesn't have to be longer than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. You can start by exploring Nozbe, a task management system. Also check out the extensive list of tools in Michael Hyatt's Toolbox. If this ritual makes you more productive in the long run, it's one worth adopting.
Capture your mind's residue.
We typically end the day with thoughts still flowing in our mind about the day's events and things we need to focus on at some time in the future. We all have these random, leftover thoughts—things washed ashore in our minds. Simply write these down so you can free up your mind to think of other things besides worrying about unresolved or leftover matters. Einstein put it best: "Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think." This is a practical ritual that will help you sleep better.
Forgive everyone for everything.
A myriad of things can happen during a day that are a vexation to the spirit: a rude shop assistant, a colleague who tried to steal your idea, a careless error someone made in your account that wasted your time trying to fix it. There are many such small things we all encounter every day. Establishing a daily habit of forgiveness helps us prepare for a better day tomorrow. It enables us to walk away lighter, without the accumulated baggage of resentments that get heavier and heavier if they are not offloaded en route.
Benjamin Franklin had a habit of examining his day as one of the last items he did in a very productive schedule. Do the same with a view to not only pat yourself on the back for anything you accomplished well, but also to forgive yourself for any mistakes you made, or problems you caused. Think of what you learned from what happened, capture the lesson and let go of the bad feeling. This helps you approach the next day with a clean slate. Every morning is a fresh start.
Focus on your mind.
There is more to life than chasing clients, making money and achieving recognition. In this beautiful, short video, neuroscientist Sam Harris says, "Your mind is all you have ... it's all you have to offer other people." It doesn't matter how much success we have—we won't extract the best of what life can offer if we cannot quiet our minds periodically.
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Set aside your to-do list, and other work-related issues, for 15 to 20 minutes every evening. Use that time to work on emptying your mind from any work-related issues and worries that might be occupying you at the present time. Find a way to just be conscious of the present moment and experience a feeling of peace and contentment.
Not sure how to do this? One easy way is to visit inspiring sites such as Zen Habits, (nominated by Time Magazine as one of the top 25 blogs) or calm.com (guided relaxation for two, 10 and 20 minutes). These types of sites take you out of yourself for a few minutes and help you return to whatever was occupying you with a calmer and more peaceful frame of mind.
Establish a bedtime routine.
Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin writes about the importance of having a bedtime ritual. One of her ideas is to make the routine of getting ready for bed easier by doing it earlier in the evening when you're not overwhelmingly tired. Also make it a policy not to check email just one last time before going to bed. These two small adjustments will enhance your restfulness.
End the day with a spirit of appreciation.
Research shows that we have, on average, three times more positive experiences than negative ones in any given day, but our mind's innate tendency is to give more weight to the negative experiences. Researchers discovered that discussing positive experiences enhances our well-being and leads to increased life satisfaction and even more energy.
At the end of each day, ask someone close to you what was the highlight of his or her day and share the highlights of your day. You can even do this as a self-reflection. It's simply a quick practice that takes no more than a few minutes and yields many benefits to you and those close to you.
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According to the research, our well-being influences those around us, up to three levels of separation. Establish a tradition of appreciating the greatness of even the smallest things as the very last thing you do before you go to sleep. These can be any positive experiences—no matter how simple—such as finding a seat on the bus on your way home, buying an item you wanted on sale or receiving a compliment from someone.
Put family on the priority list.
"Tennis is just a game," said U.S. tennis champion Serena Williams. "Family is forever." When golf legend Jack Nicklaus asked what his proudest accomplishment was, he said, "My family."
No matter how busy you are, honor your family rituals. In our relentless drive to achieve success, it's easy to slip in this area and devote less attention to those who matter more than the most important client on the planet: our loved ones. In the game of life, your loved ones are the Royal Flush.
Use the Brogan "Night Before List"
Chris Brogan, author and founder of Human Business Works, provides an interesting twist to the traditional to-do list. It's a powerful, five-part preparation template. Imagine how your life would change if you adopted this practice every night. Give it a try.
Tomorrow, I’m going to ____________________.
To be ready, I need to ___________________.
I will remember my ______________.
The random thoughts that just filled my head are ______________.
Also remember to _______________.
Set your clothes out for tomorrow.
If your exercise routine is in the morning, set your gear out the night before. You're more likely to get into your sneakers and leave the house if your work clothes and everything you will need the next day is ready. Chances are, you may have done this when you were younger but you let the routine slip. Establish it again as a nonnegotiable ritual, and see the difference this small adjustment makes in your day. Remember, the simplest things in life ground us.
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Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
A version of this article was originally published on June 24,2013.
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