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Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

You read a lot on the internet about rituals that can help you be better in the morning or leap over tall building with a single bound. Maybe some celebrity does this one or that one. Yeah, wonderful.

But what’s a simple solution customized for you — yes, you — that can make your happy moments happier, can help you overcome grief, increase your performance at work, and even stop procrastinating?

The #1 ritual to do every day is: use more rituals.

Confused? Science is realizing that often just having a ritual is the important part — and it’s been validated in a number of studies.

It doesn’t matter that Warren Buffett does it before breakfast — the most important thing is that you do it. It’s your ritual. And the more personal you make it and the more consistently you use it the more powerful it can be.

Often we just rush from thing to thing but having a little ritual you always do before a big (or little) moment that sets you at ease, focuses your attention or steels your resolve can have a huge effect on how you feel and how well you perform.

I spoke to Harvard professor Francesca Gino, author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan, about her research on the power of rituals to improve our lives.

Okay, let’s learn how you can use little rituals to help you be happier and perform better…


Rituals Increase Happiness

Ever do a toast before you drink? It made the drink taste better. Really.

Ever take joy in the ritual of preparing your morning coffee? It made that cup of joe that much better.

By focusing your attention on what you drink or eat, little rituals help you enjoy these moments more. Here’s Francesca:

It’s called “savoring” and I’ve posted before about how research shows it’s one of the most powerful happiness boosters. (It’s a big part of that mindfulnessthing you hear so much about these days.)

But rituals don’t just improve the taste of food. They can also make your kids healthier, more engaged with their family and help them get better grades.

Via Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy:

What’s a good family ritual? When I spoke to Bruce Feiler, bestselling author of The Secrets of Happy Families, he suggested having simple ol’ family dinner together. As Bruce writes in his book:

Can rituals make your relationship happier? You betcha. What’s a good one?

When you see the person you love, share good news with them and have them share good news with you.

This is a happiness one-two punch. It helps you savor and improves your relationship.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

And when they share their good news with you, don’t just grunt or nod. Show them some admiration. When I spoke to relationship expert John Gottman he said this was one of the most powerful things you can do to show your love.

(To learn the 4 rituals new neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)

So using a ritual during the good times can make them better. But what about the bad times?


Rituals Help You Overcome Grief

When loved ones die or relationships end you can be overwhelmed with grief. You feel like you have no control over your emotions.

What’s fascinating is Francesca’s research shows that rituals during the tough times can give us back that feeling of control and reduce the painful feelings. Here’s Francesca:

So what’s a good ritual when times are hard? Try writing about your feelings.

When I spoke with Jamie Pennebaker, a professor at UT Austin, he said the ritual of writing about your problems has been proven in literally hundreds of studies to make people feel better.

But don’t just document the event like you’re writing a police report. Get emotional. Open up and let those feelings out. Again, the best rituals are personal to you.

Via Expressive Writing: Words That Heal:

(For more on how to overcome grief, anxiety or heartache with writing, click here.)

Okay, so you have a ritual for when bad things happen. What about when you’re afraid bad things will happen — and you start procrastinating?


Rituals Kill Procrastination

You’re worried about that presentation at work. So you procrastinate. So you have less time to work on it. Which makes you worry more. So you procrastinate more. So…

Francesca’s research showed that rituals can help reduce that terrible anxiety. Here’s Francesca:

So what’s a good way to help beat anxiety and reduce procrastination? When I spoke to Charles Duhigg, bestselling author of The Power of Habit, he suggested you use a “personal starting ritual.” Here’s Charles:

And here’s the best part: your personal starting ritual can be something fun. Anything that puts you in a good mood and gets you going. And that can mean video games, surfing the web or whatever little indulgence you love. Here’s Charles:

Research shows that procrastination is often caused by a bad mood. So don’t beat yourself up and grit your teeth. Make it a ritual to give yourself a little of what you love to get you feeling good and ready to get to work.

(For more on how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)

Okay, so all these change how we feel. But can rituals actually make us perform better when it counts? Yup. Here’s how…


Rituals Make You Better At Your Job

Athletes have all kinds of crazy rituals like not changing their socks or carrying a good luck charm.

And you know what? This stuff works. Here’s Francesca:

In Richard Wiseman’s research on luck he found good luck charms make you feel more confident and that makes you perform better. And wishing others luck makes them do better too.

Little rituals don’t just boost your ability, they can also make you more creative.

Via The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success:

What have you suspected always brings you luck? Doesn’t matter if it’s silly. Whatever gives you confidence will work. What gives you that feeling that you can take on the world? That’s your new ritual when you need to be at your best.

(For more on how you can be luckier, click here.)

Okay, we’ve got some great rituals. Let’s round them up and learn the final secret to rituals that makes them even more powerful…


Sum Up

Here’s how to use rituals to improve your life:

  • Savoring Ritual: Make the good times better by having something you do to focus on the good things. Share good news with a partner or have a regular mealtime with your family.
  • Grief Ritual: When something has you down, write about your feelings. It’ll reduce the pain and help you cope.
  • Personal Starting Ritual: Beat anxiety and procrastination by having a fun ritual that says it’s time to get to work.
  • Peak Performance Ritual: If it makes you feel lucky, you will be lucky. Rituals increase confidence and performance.

Are you skeptical? Here’s the best part: it doesn’t matter. In Francesca’s research she found that you don’t even need to believe in the power of rituals for them to provide benefits:

So it doesn’t matter if the ritual comes from Warren Buffett or Steve Jobs. What matters is that it’s your ritual and that you actually do it.

The best rituals don’t come from celebrities. They come from your heart.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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