How are you starting your day?  The power of rituals.

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By Michelle Dalley

I consider myself very lucky to be an Aunty and Great-Aunt to my nieces two little boys, whom I just adore.  The oldest (Mr 5) has started his first season playing rugby and he loves it.  I went and watched him for the first time on the weekend; he played two games and scored four tries!  When I was talking with him about it afterwards, he told me that he knew he was going to score, so of course I asked him how he knew that.  His reply was, that it was because he’d touched the ground with his knee.  Intriguing… but I’d seen him do this and knew exactly what he meant.  At the start of the game and the start of half time – the teams line up and face each other off.  I had noticed that at these times Mr 5 stamped his right leg three times and then touched the ground with his knee.  He loves the haka and does it any time he can, so I had assumed that he was doing a little version of it.  When he told me about touching the ground with his knee, I recognised straight away that this was a performance ritual and I let Mr 5 know that lots of top athletes have rituals they do to get them in the zone, so he was onto a good thing.  You may recall English rugby player Johnny Wilkinson’s pre-kick ritual of stooping over and grasping his hands out in front of him. How awesome that Mr 5 had worked this out himself.

Rituals aren’t just useful in sports they’re also incredibly useful in life to help us set ourselves up for success.  Our brain loves habits and is very good at associating actions or experiences with emotions; this is why rituals are so powerful.  We can consciously choose our state (thoughts and feelings) and set up anchors (actions) to help us quickly associate into that state.  This is what my great nephew was doing by pairing the touching of his knee to the ground with the mindset of scoring tries.

When I think about my work, I have a number of rituals that I do to help me be in a particular state, such as preparing for coaching clients and being up the front of the room delivering training.  For the past two months I’ve been experimenting with a morning ritual that I heard from Dean Graziosi, author of Millionaire Success Habits.   This ritual is designed to set you up in a good state for the day, rather than for example, reaching for the phone and checking e-mails or scrolling through social media before even getting out of bed…  I’m sure you don’t do either of those things… but if you do, how does it make you feel?  Does it set you up to start your day feeling good or does it create something else?

The morning ritual

Here’s how Graziosi recommends starting your day:

  1. The first thing you do on waking is to say to yourself a minimum of three things that you’re grateful for.
  2. This is then followed by reminding yourself of three wins you had the day before.
  3. Next is three wins you’re going to have today.

I like to write this down in a notebook that I keep by the bed.  The wins don’t need to be hugely significant; they can be things like getting a particular e-mail sent, getting some exercise, having that crucial conversation or getting that sale you’ve been after.  Whatever you consider to be a win.

Since doing this as a daily ritual here’s some things I’ve noticed:  I’m much more likely to complete the things that I’ve identified as wins for the day; I feel proactive and on top of things; it gives me momentum to want to get out of bed and start the day; and of course, it just feels good!

Why does it work?

  • You’re training your brain to notice what is going well in your life. Due to the negativity bias (I’ll discuss this in another post) we’re wired to notice what’s not working.  So, this practice helps to over-ride that tendency and create more balance of positivity vs negativity.
  • When you do this first thing in the morning, your brain is in a more malleable (trance-like) state and takes in what you’re saying to yourself at deeper levels – so it’s important to talk to yourself well at these times (as well as when you’re just drifting off to sleep).
  • You’re setting a conscious intention for the day, which puts you in a proactive headspace, gives you focus and increases the likelihood that you’ll take the action.
  • Connecting with what we’ve achieved, what we’re proud of, grateful for and happy about releases good neurochemistry into our system such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin etc which is generally good for our overall wellbeing and resilience. And best of all – it just feels darn good!

Now, here’s the thing to consider, not all of our rituals are useful.  For instance, waking up and reaching for the phone to check our e-mails puts us into a reactive mode from the get-go.  Ruminating on something that went wrong yesterday just feels bad and influences how we go into today’s activities.

Consider how you’re starting your day and check whether it’s setting you up for success or setting you up for negative experiences or feelings.  Remember you’re in charge of where you focus your attention.  Give this morning a ritual a go and see what it creates for you.

“A daily ritual is a way of saying I’m voting for myself.  I’m taking care of myself.”  Mariel Hemingway

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