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Why You Need Positive Energy Rituals

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Sep 30, 2013

Let's start by reinforcing an important principle:  Will and discipline are far more limited and precious resources than we realize.  They must be called upon very selectively. 

Research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behavior is consciously self-directed.  We are creatures of habit.  As much as 95% of what we do occurs automatically or in reaction to a demand or anxiety. 

Developing positive energy rituals works on three levels:Full Engagement Energy pyramid resized 600

  1. Insure we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on.
  2. Reduce the need to rely on our limited conscious will and discipline to take action.
  3. Translate our values and priorities into action.  They help us embody what matters most to us in our everyday behavior.

Most of us are prisoners of our negative energy habits and routines.  We make choices base on expediency, mobilizing energy without regard to the long term consequence.  We pick up McDonald’s for lunch, grab a donut with our coffee in the morning, get take out when we’ve worked late.  Drinking caffeinated soft drinks, coffee or perhaps 5-Hour Energy artificially pumps energy if we’ve not had enough sleep the night before.  Not exercising is a consequence of our inability to push ourselves physically when we feel so drained by all the other demands on our life.  For many of us it’s difficult to imagine once you build up some endurance, exercising might actually be a source of renewal.  And not just physically after long hours at our desk, but also mentally and emotionally.

Most of us half-heartedly attempt to change our behavior.  Seldom is this successful.  We’ve all been guilty of setting New Year’s resolutions, making firm commitments to new behaviors only to quickly fall back into our familiar patterns. Rituals serve as anchors, insuring that even in the most difficult circumstances we will continue to use our energy in service of the values that we hold most dear.

The truth is that great performers, whether athletes or fighter pilots, surgeons or special forces soldiers, all rely on positive rituals to manage their energy and achieve their goals. 

Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts, authors of Rituals for Our Times, write, “Every time we participate in a ritual, we are expressing our beliefs, either verbally or more implicitly.”

A family ritual tradition at our home is eating dinner together as a family.  “Families that sit down to dinner together every night are saying without words that they believe in the need for families to have shared time together.”   You may have had a ritual as I did, putting my boys to bed when they were young with a bed time story and prayer.  The Power of Full Engagement offers, “Nightly bedtime rituals offer parents and children an opportunity to tell each other what they believe about all kinds of matters.  The sheer act of doing the bedtime ritual expresses a belief in a certain kind of parent-child relationship where warmth and affection and safety are available.”

Here’s another powerful reason to establish rituals.  They conserve energy. 

In 1911, A.N. Whitehead,  described as the “greatest speculative mind of the 20th century," noted, “We should not cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing.  The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advance by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”  

Contrast will and discipline.  Will and discipline require pushing ourselves to action.  A well-defined ritual pulls us. 

While we can use the training regimen to build our self-control (When Stress is Good), more reliably is to offset limitations of conscious will and discipline by building positive rituals that become automatic and relatively effortless as quickly as possible.

This is one reason the first thirteen weeks of Strategic Discipline, following the Rockefeller Habits of Discipline are so critical.  In that time frame Positioning Systems teaches our client’s to develop priorities, metrics and meeting rhythms.  It’s why we agree with the authors of the Four Disciplines of Execution, meeting rhythms provide a cadence of accountability! 

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out, “the more exacting the challenge, the more rigorous our rituals need to be.  The bigger the storm the more inclined we are to revert to our survival habits, and the more important positive rituals become.”  Preparation of soldiers for combat is a good example.

If you want to win the battle with your competitors in business, isn’t business development critical to your success?  Rituals help us to create structure in our lives.  Isn’t structure critically important to the success of your business?

A financial lending executive commented in The Power of Full Engagement, “The biggest problem in American business today is the feeling that nothing is every finished.  There is no satisfaction to be derived from a job well done because there is always another demand to be met.  We’re all running on an endless treadmill.”  Rituals create boundaries.  Meeting rhythms in Strategic Discipline, reviewing metrics, and celebrations such as the victories segment at the quarterly meetings, give clearly delineated opportunities to renew and refuel but also to take stock and prepare for the next challenge. 

Many of us have negative associations with rituals.  Rather than being freely chosen, they were often imposed upon us early in our lives.  If a ritual feels empty, stale, perhaps even oppressive, the likely explanation is that it has lost its connection to a deeply held value.  To keep rituals alive requires a delicate balance.  Without structure and clarity that rituals provide, we are forever vulnerable to the urgent demands in our lives.  We’ve discussed this in Without Top Priority “Whirlwind” Wins.  If our rituals become too rigid, however the consequence is boredom, disengagement and even diminished passion and productivity.

We are challenged to hold fast to our rituals when the pressures of our lives threaten to throw us off track, to at the same time revisit and change them so that they remain fresh.  Healthy rituals straddle the territory between comfort of the past and the challenges of the future.

Next blog we’ll examine the key elements to building effective energy management rituals and why Precision and Specificity are critical to change of behavior.  We’ll also look at incremental change versus stretch goals and why a little progress is often essential to generate enduring change.

Topics: employee performance, Execution, The Power of Full Engagement, human behavior performance, Discretionary Effort

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Certified Gazelles Coach

Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

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